It’s the coldest time of the year, and also the time when the chickens seem less than enthusiastic about laying eggs. Yes, it’s only natural that the little birds would want to slow down somewhat when there’s a cold wind whipping through their feathers, but once you’ve gotten used to having a refrigerator full of farm-fresh eggs, you tend to be somewhat reluctant to buy a carton at the store to pick up the slack.
Although the hens will never match their spring egg-laying records in the winter, there are a few things you can do to keep them producing at a moderate rate. Here are a few hints:
- Always keep at least a few young hens in the flock. Often those chickens in their first or second year of laying are the ones that provide the bulk of the egg production when weather conditions are adverse. If you don’t want to buy a whole new flock every year or two, put a few eggs in the incubator each spring, or give a broody hen a chance to try her luck.
- Closely monitor your flock’s diet. Keep records of what types of feeds and supplements you are using. Know how much your chickens eat in a day. If you make a change in their diet, see what happens to the egg production in three or four days. If the chickens start laying more eggs, you’ve made an improvement. If they lay fewer eggs, the ration was better off before you made the change. Also pay attention to what the chickens are hungry for. Do they seem to want more feed or more scratch grains? Often they need extra scratch in the winter to give them the energy to stay warm.
- Provide shelter. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it certainly doesn’t have to be heated (at least not in Kansas), but it does have to keep out the wind and snow.
- Provide access to unfrozen water. While the chickens won’t need as much water in winter as they do in summer, they still need some water to stay healthy. Consider checking the water supply at regular intervals to keep your hens from getting thirsty.
- Treat your chickens. Feed them high-protein, high-fat treats from your kitchen. Save the fat you cut off of your steak or roast, the ham bone that went into your split pea soup, and the package of beef liver you just weren’t sure you wanted eat. No fish, though, or you’ll end up with fishy-tasting eggs!
Many books recommend putting a light out in the chicken coop to trick the chickens into laying, but the guidelines above seem to be more effective. If the hens have the warmth and the energy they need to lay, they will lay.
Meanwhile, you may have to cut back slightly on your egg consumption, just until production picks up again. Consider freezing some eggs this coming spring so that you’ll have a reserve supply for cooking and scrambling when winter comes again. More on freezing eggs in a future post.