Do Rhode Island Reds Lay During The Winter?
Few things are better than having fresh eggs each day. Some hobbyists are perfectly happy with scant egg production in winter, while others prefer to have eggs all year round. If you fall into the latter camp, you’ll be glad to know that Rhode Island Reds can lay all year long. They simply need the right conditions to do so.
Cold Hardy Chickens
Rhode Island Reds are an iconic breed for many reasons, including being a cold hardy breed. They have tight feathering and a good amount of fluff to insulate them from the cold. Their large combs can get frostbitten. If the weather is extremely cold, you can apply Vaseline to prevent frostbite.
It’s not usually necessary to provide heat in the coop for Rhode Island Reds. Many owners say that they have temperatures below zero, and their birds do just fine. You do want to allow them to acclimatize.
If they are accustomed to heat, shutting it off can be fatal. If they are allowed to adjust as the temperatures begin to get cooler, they can tolerate some surprisingly low temperatures.
Some owners believe heat lamps help with egg production. Red light is needed to stimulate egg production, but heat isn’t directly related. There is, however, an indirect relationship. Energy expended on keeping themselves warm cannot be used to make eggs.
Do Rhode Island Reds Naturally Lay in Winter?
Rhode Island Reds will stop or dramatically slow egg production in winter if they are exposed to natural conditions. Hens need at least 12 hours of daylight to lay, and lay optimally with 15 hours of daylight each day. If you’d like to get consistent eggs during the winter months, you’ll need to supplement their natural light.
Some hardy breeds, like Rhode Island Reds, will produce some eggs throughout the winter. However, the production will slow dramatically from the summer months. Chicks who are experiencing their first winter are also likely to continue laying. They will not molt till the next winter.
Why Do Chickens Stop Laying in the Winter?
The winter is a time of restoration for chickens. They molt, sporting bright new feathers. These feathers are 85% protein. This protein is a precious resource that is in short supply during laying season, particularly for chickens in the wild. So, they use the winter as their time to recover from the laying season, and survive the cold months.
The chickens’ eyes send signals to the brain, based on the amount of daylight. The hypothalamus and pineal gland are responsible for regulating when eggs are laid.
The pineal gland is responsible for circadian rhythm. It tells the brain when it’s time to be awake, and when it should sleep. Reduced sunlight causes the gland to produce more melatonin. Increased sunlight reduces melatonin, stimulating your hen to lay eggs.
In the wild, hens must use all of their resources to survive during winter. Foraging becomes difficult. They have increased food and water needs because their bodies must work to keep them warm. They are also more vulnerable to hungry predators during this time.
Keeping Rhode Island Reds Laying Eggs During the Winter
The key component to keeping your hens laying through the winter is light. They will need at least 14 hours of light each day. The best way to accomplish this is to install a light with a timer that gives extra hours in the early morning. You can also provide light in the evening, but this may result in afternoon laying.
Red Light vs White Light For Egg Production
Red light is considered to be better than white light. It increases production more than white light, and is thought to be more calming for the hens. However, if you are already using a white light, changing the color can cause the birds unnecessary stress.
Provide The Correct Diet
You’ll also need to provide the right diet. They need a feed with at least 18% protein during the winter. 20-22% protein is preferable. They need the extra protein to get through the winter while providing eggs. You can safely switch back to a 16% feed during the spring.
Access To Fresh Water
You should also ensure that they have access to fresh water during the day. This is especially important early in the morning. A heated waterer is an excellent investment if the temps are often below freezing. Here are some ideas on how to prevent your chicken waterer from freezing over.
Take Outside Temp Into Account
Lastly, the temperature itself should be taken into consideration. Hens can survive just fine in temperatures up to or below 0 degrees. However, the energy required to keep themselves warm in very cold temperatures can reduce the eggs they produce.
Should Hens Lay in the Winter?
It should be noted that keeping your hens laying all year long can take a toll on their health and longevity. Many owners believe that younger birds are better able to tolerate this, and that older birds should be allowed to rest during the winter.
Some owners see little downside to keeping hens laying all year round, while others find the idea problematic, and prefer to keep things natural. Ultimately, it’s up to each owner to determine whta’s best for them, and their flock.