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I need some encouragement  RSS feed

 
Posts: 51
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Ive got 20 dominiques. 2 roos 17 gals. Last winter they were great layers, and 14 are not even a year old. When it snowed they stayed in their 12 by 12 coop, or they were on the coops porch (about 4 by 12).  im in wisconsin, and its been in the negatives and teens, but is currently in the 40s. They have a light, but perhaps not enough. If i used a brighter one the light shines through the windows onto the porch and they roost on a railing and get gobbled up. I should mention all this hermit behavior has made the coop get very pooptacular.

I get 0 to 2 eggs a day.  They have reduced eating a lot. Im thinking about butchering all of them and quitting. The thing is, ive installed an automatic solar door, ive ran electrical conduit for a light on a timer and a gfci for a water warmer, ive made multiple nipple watering systems, ive put up 500 ft of fencing and spent so many hours with these gals. So ive sunk easily 1000 bucks on them not including feed costs. The nipple water system is new to the chickens. They liked the vertical nipples, but there was nothing i could do to keep them from freezing. The horizontal ones work great but im not sure they drink as well.

Right now, Buying eggs sounds so much cheaper and head ache free.
 
gardener
Posts: 1187
Location: Middle Tennessee
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Don't throw in the towel yet. This is only temporary, and I'm going through the same thing myself. Yeah it could be frustrating for me, but I'm happy to go through the winter egg drought for spring, summer & fall egg abundance. I see it as letting the chickens take a break. If 14 of your birds are less than a year old, they have at least a couple years of laying left, if not more like several years. Paying for chicken feed in the winter with little or nothing in return is just part of it for me. My birds molted back in the fall, and I had zero eggs in November and December. I got one egg yesterday. I can see eggs on the horizon as the days get longer, and it's only a matter of weeks before things start picking back up!
 
Posts: 3
Location: Southern NH
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I feel your pain.  You are right, buying eggs would be head ache free, but then again we don't really do this because it's easy.  We do it because we like a challenge, or because we love the animals, or because we value know where our food comes from and how it was raised.  We have just gone through the absolute shortest days of the year - it's only going to get better from here.

Some things to think about:

I find that it is less about the amount of light, and more about the duration.  If you are looking to make an adjustment in that regard, try to get them at least 16 hours of light a day even if it is not super bright.  At the same time you don't want to just keep the lights on all the time - that's likely to stress them out.

With them spending more time in the coop and less time out foraging, have you found any evidence that they have taken to eating eggs?  Sometimes out of boredom, sometimes because they are lacking some particular nutrient, but it happens.

Have you seen any evidence of someone stealing eggs, ie a rat or other critter?

It sounds like you have put quite a bit of effort into your setup, and I hope you manage to stick with it.  Good luck and if you find something that makes a positive change, let us know.  We all have our struggles, especially this time of year.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1740
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Hey John,

Stick with it. I second Brian's suggestion that you keep an eye out for egg-eating behaviour, or for an egg thief, but for the most part, I think James has covered it. And with the amount you've already shelled out and the effort you've already put in, those would be some expensive chicken dinners.

Aren't hens supposed to slow or stop their laying during the shortest days of the year? I know people who freeze their surplus eggs just to get them through the lean/dry time. There are people keeping chickens on this site that do this very thing, because it is usually accepted that in temperate climates these jungle understory birds get the idea that laying is a bad idea when it's cold and dark all the time.

That being the case, we are lucky, or very good at manipulating chickens' laying instincts, if we can get them to keep laying at all when it would otherwise be natural for them to stop.

And have you been hit with the near-record-breaking low temperatures the destabilised polar vortex brought to some of the States, right down to Florida, where it's raining iguanas? Lots of exeptional things are happening. I don't think this season is a good one to be making snap decisions based on winter laying ability.

The only reason to butcher them all would be to find chicken genetics from further north than you are, with harsher conditions, that have a reputation for laying through the winter.

Otherwise, butchering them all would be a waste, and, in my opinion, an overreaction caused by unrealistic expectations of your flock.

Do they have a run around or adjacent to their coop? Is there a possibility to give them a hoop shelter? I don't know what your circumstances or the availability of resources are, but I would try to provide some kind of hoop or tunnel shelter on some kind of ground, preferably a garden bed, where you could toss compost and food scraps. Whatever they consider candy, provide it for them in the space outside their coop.

It's sort of a catch 22 situation, but I think the hermit behaviour is self-encouraging. If there was a way to stimulate daylight activity, preferably of the same sort as they would engage in during warmer weather, that might also get them behaving in a more actively chickeny manner.

As to the pooptacular coop, I like the idea of establishing a deep litter culture whereby I just keep piling on bedding to deal with the accumulation. Some people inoculate the bedding with cultured strains of beneficial bacteria to speed decomposition and keep it from smelling. I like the idea of having some kind of tarp or landscape cloth right under my bedding layer, such that when spring cleaning time comes, all I have to do is open one wall of the coop, pull out the bedding, spray down the landscape cloth, and lay it out in the sun.

So don't kill your chickens. At least don't kill all of them out of hand because you're frustrated by their natural inclination to not lay in the middle of winter. If you notice some that truly don't like the winter, or don't want to leave the coop at all, even when the others are clamouring in their hoop run for the candy you've given them, I would mark them out and keep an eye on them.

It occurs to me that nobody has asked what your long-term goals are with this flock. Were you initially looking to keep them long-term? Did you have any plans to have your hens lay and hatch out their own chicks? In other words, are you looking at your flock in terms of keeping traits you like and eating the eggs from the hens (or even the hens themselves) that exhibit traits that you don't want? In my opinion, that is the real reason to be culling your flock.

That involves intent over time, not reaction to temporary setbacks, and can yield great fruit. You could end up raising your own flock that loves the warm seasons, but still likes a little winter enough that the egg-laying drop-off isn't more than a couple of eggs a hen per week. If you see near-record cold temperatures again, I still wouldn't expect them to keep laying, but rather be surprised and happy that they deigned to think of me at all, if they did. If you get temperatures way lower than what your animals are used to even in winter, you can expect their activity levels to drop. And that would be even for a cold-specialised flock.

So rejoice! You have probably done everything right. This winter has been extreme. Wait until things get back to normal, weather-wise. There is no call for a slaughter, no reason to cull the girls. They'd probably not have much meat anyways.

Good luck, and keep us posted.

-CK
 
steward
Posts: 2723
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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My chickens, take a break every year for about a month or so.  They typically lay from february to december.  Everyone needs a break every once in a while.  Keep them fed watered and safe and they'll be back to work in no time. In my experience, there's not enough meat on a layer hen at this time of year to make it worth butchering anyway.  You're doing great by the sound of it.  Just keep doing what you're doing and keep an eye out for new eggs in a month or so.
 
garden master
Posts: 2020
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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Hi Johnmark, if you're interested in a drive up north, I have a good source for cold hardy chicks.  I have 11 girls (hatched this spring) and I'm currently getting 4-5 eggs a day from them.

Here's a pic of the inside of my coop.  I used a heated water bucket from Tractor Supply, added a lid, added side nipples and put 5 gallon bucket lid above it to discourage roosting.  It's working very nicely though I don't know if I really need the bucket lid.  I just have to refill the water every three days. 

Regarding pooptacularness, I'm doing what I believe is a "not-so-deep litter system".  I put a gallon of fine wood chips under their roosting bars each day.  I rake the floor each day to mix stuff around.  Thanks to the recent thaw the turds could melt into the litter and rake around nicely.  Previously it was like raking marbles.  Surprisingly it didn't smell at all (Yay!!!).  I started in the late summer with an inch of litter in there and now it's 4-6 inches deep.  I have 13 birds in a 10x12 coop plus a 10x16' run.

I put a hoop house off of the side of their coop and they spend their winter days in there.  I put probably 100 bags of leaves in there in the fall.  When it's sunny it gets very pleasant.  Today is rainy/slushy/snowy and it's still a nice place to hang out.  They are free range when it's nicer out.

I'm keeping chickens for the eggs, meat, entertainment and poop.  If I was only doing it for the eggs, I'm not sure it would be worth it.
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pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Johnmark, like you and Mike, I'm in Wisconsin.  I don't use any lighting at all in the winter here, but like Mike did, I built a hoop green house onto the chicken coop over the chicken hatch and effectively tripled the space the chickens have.  Mine don't like walking in the snow, so now they have a covered area that they can get out of the coop in to walk and scratch around.  Like others said, if you only want eggs, chickens may not be worth it.  I would have them even if I never got another egg from mine.  I don't butcher mine when they get past prime laying years.  My chickens help clear areas for planting, give me lots of manure for composting, eat tons of bugs, and are just fun to have around, as well as the eggs.  My chickens are a cold-hardy landrace that I have been working on and they still don't lay nearly as well in the winter.  That's fine by me, and I don't artificially change that.

What area are you in?
 
pollinator
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Maybe a PM is a better avenue to exchange such information :-)

David
 
Mike Jay
garden master
Posts: 2020
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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David Livingston wrote:Maybe a PM is a better avenue to exchange such information :-)



I'm sure Todd doesn't want his exact address, just a general idea of where in the state he's living.  Who knows, he could be 20 miles down the road from one of us? 

Of course, PM's are a great way to exchange more sensitive information.  I just didn't think Todd was getting that sensitive...
 
Posts: 114
Location: Nevada County, CA
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After seeing porcelain eggs in the feedstore, I was made aware of the bit of chicken psychology where its easier to lay an egg in a nest that already features an egg.

So instead of buying $3 fake eggs, I just leave an egg in each nest when I collect, mark the ones I leave, and collect the oldest everytime I go in.

I can only speculate on the effect, but going into winter this years feels like much less of a brick wall... and they just seem to lay so many more eggs, it blows my mind.

Good luck to you and the flock!
 
Mike Jay
garden master
Posts: 2020
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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I have those ceramic eggs in my nest boxes too.  They only sell white and brown so I went with brown.  The problem is that my girls lay brown and green/blue eggs.  Early on I was surprised to see the fake eggs move from nest to nest.  Once I was lucky enough to surprise a hen in the act of moving the egg.  She was standing in the nest box that she wanted the egg in.  She'd reach over the side (5" high) and cradle/hook the fake egg under her beak and pull it over the wall towards her.

Now that it's been several months, the fake eggs seem to stay put.  I couldn't leave an egg in each time, they freeze after a few hours :(

I should just take a blue/green egg, poke a hole in the end and draw out the innards, then fill it with something like plaster.  Voila, fake egg that's the right color. 
 
Ian Rule
Posts: 114
Location: Nevada County, CA
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That truly blows my mind, what picky ladies!

Ah ok, I dont have any issues with egg breaking or eating, which I suppose would be trouble for my system.
 
pollinator
Posts: 513
Location: Missouri Ozarks
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Lots of good suggestions in this thread.

On a practical note, if you're going to add artificial light to induce laying, add it in the morning only.  Let the onset of dusk occur naturally, so the birds will go to bed when they're supposed to, and hopefully where they're supposed to.

That said, my best recommendation would be to just let them be.  Give the girls the winter off, and let them experience a normal yearly cycle.  After all, if you manipulate the environment to get eggs in the winter, you're really only stealing them from spring.  That is, you're not getting more eggs, just altering the timing.  My preference is to deal with a spring surplus, either by letting some eggs hatch, preserving the excess eggs for winter consumption (plenty of ways to do this), selling them, or any combination thereof. 

Then just deal with the fact that you're not going to get (many) eggs in a cold climate in the winter, just like you're not going to get tomatoes and okra in the same situation.  Maybe, then, reframe your expectations.  Look at your chickens, perhaps, as proficient egg producers during the spring and summer, as meat producers (cockerels and cull hens) in the fall, and as garbage disposals and garden fertilizer producers in the winter.  Of course these things overlap, but changing your (perhaps unrealistic) expectations can go a long way.
 
pollinator
Posts: 206
Location: North Carolina, USA Zone 7b
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Hang in there Johnmark, we've all been there and survived!   My first year was nerve wracking and exhausting too.   I spent a lot more on infrastructure than I anticipated, and it took forever to get the girls laying and into a routine, predator prevention, etc   Now here I am starting year three and feel like I still spend too much time adjusting things and dealing with the mortality rate and irregular egg production, etc etc   I'm in a very moderate climate so I can imagine your climate is 3 times the challenge.   But I've started two businesses and new hobbies and know from experience that it always gets easier eventually, and with animal husbandry I would expect 2-3 years through the seasons to be a realistic practice before giving up (unless of course, the cost of learning is just not manageable)    My personal goal before I knew anything (haha!) was to live like an old homesteader and have no-cost, high quality eggs eventually.    So far I'm saving a little bit compared to the price of pastured eggs and meat at my farmers market.   Meanwhile I'm planting more grass,  fruiting perennials, buckwheat and every plant I learn about for forage in summer, spreading thick layers of leaves and woodchips everywhere to breed bugs and grubs, and hoping to not have to buy chicks next spring.  

I've been using a single nightlight in the center peak of my coop with a timer on for 12 hrs a day and am getting the same #eggs as in summer. 

AND - I read recently, can't remember where,  that diet has more to do with winter laying than daylight hours - greens are important so sprouting is suggested.  Groan!  More startup cost and learning curve!!!   I'm going to try doing that though, it makes so much sense to keep them strong and healthy if we expect them to lay in winter. 

Good luck and keep coming back for emotional support :)  Permies is great "Homesteaders Anonymous" haha
 
Susan Pruitt
pollinator
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p.s.  Nice pics Mike Jay.   There's also a guy on YouTube "Swedish Homestead" who has done a couple videos on his deep litter method for winter - it's nice to see how well his works.
 
Johnmark Hatfield
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Thank you all. Next summer ill add a hoop house i hope! Great suggestion. No ones been butchered and i feel a bit more sane now. Time and Money are tight and when i'm shelling out 15 a week for feed and getting maybe a half dozen, it can be discouraging.
 
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Mike Jay, I love your housing set up!  Perfect for snowy climates!

For those in colder climates, you might consider more than one breed.  One that lays well in the winter and one that lays well in the warmer months.  

https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/chantecler

Chanteclers are known for good egg production in the winter months when it is  cold.   Obtain good genetics which carry this excellent egg producing gene.   I know of a group of Partridge Chanteclers who are "pumping" the eggs out right now in the winter months.  They will almost cease production in warm months.

Water is critical for good, consistent egg production.   It's difficult to maintain in the winter, I know.  I've finally gone to a small buckets of water with a livestock heating element in it to keep water unfrozen and available for each of my breeding pens. 

Typically, chickens reduce their egg laying by 10% following each molt, so keep in mind that you will eventually need to refresh your flock with new chicks.  We all fall in love with our hens, it's difficult to think about harvesting them because they have been so faithful  AND because they usually don't stop laying completely.  But their production does drop drastically as they become "elderly".   Just something to think about as you plan.  I really have a difficult time with this......I love my girls!

 
A lot of people cry when they cut onions. The trick is not to form an emotional bond. This tiny ad told me:
What makes you excited about rocket ovens?
https://permies.com/t/90100/excited-rocket-ovens
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