As winter settles most backyard chicken owners think that they’ll need to start buying eggs. There’s something about the winter that keeps the chickens dormant and keeps them from laying eggs. But why do they stop laying? Should you force them to produce eggs? And most importantly, how do you keep chickens laying during the winter? Let’s start from the beginning.
Why (and when) do chickens stop laying eggs during the winter
As you may know, the laying cycle of a chicken is very much in tune with the amount of daylight they receive and the time of the year. When the winter arrives, the lack of daily sunlight signals chickens’ brains that it’s time to rest, molt and get ready for another year.
However it’s not just the lack of sunlight what makes hens stop laying during the winter. You may notice that during the winter your food is more calorie dense. That’s because keeping your body warm takes more calories. Same thing happens with your chickens! If they receive the same amount of food most of those calories will go to keep them warm instead of producing eggs.
Remember, in the wild, food is harder to find during the winter. When the winter kicks in, chickens are designed to use the calories they can get to survive their time ahead and prepare for the winter instead of reproducing. Now that they’re domesticated however not all chickens stop laying eggs during the winter, specially those that lay lots of eggs, but the frequency and amount of eggs will decrease significantly.
So what can you do?
How to keep chickens laying during the winter
As we talked about before, chickens stop laying eggs due to lack of food and lack of sunlight. Here’s how to solve them:
- Artificial light: As we discussed above, hens need light to produce eggs. Calculate how much light they would usually get during the summer and set up an artificial light inside their coop to emulate sunlight. You should be aiming for up to 16 or 17 hours a day. Keep in mind that power outages are common during the winter and that light bulbs don’t last that long during the cold. If your light fails during the day you’ll probably force your chickens into a molt. Keep the color consistent and avoid fluorescent lights, which don’t work well during the cold. We talk about rechargeable coop lamps and some other winter coop upgrades here.
- Adequate food: If you want your chickens to keep laying eggs during the winter, you’ll have to give them sufficient nutrients for them to both remain warm and lay eggs. However, you don’t just want to feed them more, you want to give them a diet adequate for the winter. Feed them with more protein and calcium than usual. If your artificial light turns on too early, leave them some food and water so they can eat before you let them out. This will keep them busy and avoid them pecking on each other out of boredom. You can learn more about winter feeding here.
- Artificial heat: Keeping them warm at night will not only keep them cozy and happy, they’ll keep them laying too. You may be thinking you can do two things at once by just getting a heat lamp that’ll keep the coop warm and well lit. Please, do not do that. Coop fires due to heat lamps happen every winter. They happen very easily and within a matter of minutes. Don’t risk your chickens and get them a heater like this one from Amazon. They’re cheap and completely safe for your coop.
- Constant water access: Although your chickens don’t need as much water during the winter, water may freeze easily! Luckily however, chickens actually prefer warm water during the winter. You can prevent freezing by getting a water warmer here, just make sure to change it every 24 hours!
Should you force them to lay eggs during the winter?
You probably don’t live out of selling the eggs your chickens lay. In that case, you may want to consider letting them rest during this time. Why?
Although your chickens no longer need to worry about their survival during the winter now that they have you, they can still use this time to rest and prepare for the next season. In fact, vent prolapse, ovarian cancer and other diseases are more common in chickens that are forced to lay eggs during the winter. By allowing them to rest you also allow them to replenish their bodies for the next year.
However, that doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy eggs during the winter! Unwashed eggs can store for months in the fridge. You can also freeze eggs quite easily! Simply break them out of the shell and into an ice cube tray. They’ll last for up to 6 months!
What do you do? Do you force your chickens to lay eggs during the winter or do you think they deserve a rest? Let us know in the comments below!