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According to the chicken experts at Silver Lake Farms chickens can stop laying eggs for a variety of reasons such as stress, lack of nutrition, insufficient light, old age, or because they are molting. It’s also completely normal for chickens to stop laying eggs in winter.
Why Chickens Stop Laying During The Winter
The biggest factor that causes chickens to stop laying in the winter is the lack of daylight. This physical response is linked to the chicken’s reproductive cycle. The lack of daylight hours is not perceived only through a chicken’s eyes but is also a direct physical response. Light energy is absorbed by a chicken’s feathers, skull, and skin.
Light is the cue that tells a hen’s body whether or not to release an egg yolk from her ovaries. Even if the air temperature is warm, if there is not sufficient light, many breeds of chickens will slow egg production down or stop laying altogether.
Breeds of Chickens that Lay in Winter
If you live in a climate that is going to experience cold winters, you should choose to raise a breed of chicken that is suited for cold weather. Generally, heavier breeds with smaller combs make a chicken more adaptable to freezing temperatures. Within those breeds are those that have proven themselves to be reliable for laying eggs during the winter months.
All the advice about getting your chickens to lay in the winter will not help if the breed you have selected is not a winter egg-laying breed. Let’s look at some of the breeds that are well-known for laying eggs in the winter.
- Buff Orpington
- Rhode Island Red
- Plymouth Rock
You can read more about these cold hardy breeds in my article, 9 Best Egg Laying Chicken Breeds For Cold Climates
Should You Put A Light In The Coop During Winter?
This can be a controversial issue for chicken owners. The argument is that some breeds of chickens take the winter off to replenish their bodies. If you are intent on prolonging your chickens’ lives, it’s believed to be best to give them the winter off if that is their natural tendency.
Many breeds lay all year round. Having a light in their coop provides some warmth and can be comforting to the chickens in the dead of winter. It can help prevent eggs from freezing and deter predators.
Interesting fact: chickens are born with a predetermined number of eggs they will be laying over the course of their lifetime. If you use a light in the winter to help keep them laying, they will still be laying the same number of eggs their genetics have determined.
If egg production is important to you, you can encourage your chickens to lay all winter by using artificial light. Since the costs of feeding hens that are laying eggs are higher, you have to justify if the number of eggs you are getting a week during the winter is worth the extra feed cost.
10 Tips to Keep Your Chickens Laying Eggs in the Winter
1. Warmth is not the same as light.
If you have even slept under a down quilt, you will understand how a chicken’s natural protective layers work. A chicken’s natural ability to stay warm will not be in jeopardy until the temperatures inside the coop reach 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
You probably don’t need to put a heater in the coop. Let the chickens huddle together for warmth and insure your coop is well-insulated, has proper ventilation, and is draft-free. Keep the roost well above the floor and provide room for huddling. They will take care of being their own little heaters.
2. Composting bedding can keep the coop warm.
You should allow for deep bedding material to help with insulation. You don’t want your eggs freezing in the coop. If you have sufficient bedding on the floor, it will begin composting over the winter and will warm the coop up naturally. This is known as the deep litter method.
3. Providing supplemental light.
Some breeds will continue laying despite the daylight hours. Others are going to need some encouragement to keep laying all winter. Most breeds need 12 to 14 hours of daylight to keep producing eggs.
Here are some tips for providing artificial light to help your hens laying this winter:
· Use a 40w lightbulb (don’t use fluorescent)
· 1 40w bulb is sufficient for a 10 x 10-foot coop
· Secure the lightbulb so there is no chance it can fall to the floor and start a fire
· Consider placing a protective wire cage around a bulb
· Keep the light out of the reach of chickens and away from bedding
· Add artificial light to the morning hours and evening hours to make it appear more natural to the birds
· Adjust the timer to match the changing hours of daylight to maintain 14 hours of light
· Check often that the light is working as the cold may reduce the life expectancy
· Keep a battery-powered camping lantern for power outages
4. Supplement your flock’s diet with corn.
In addition to their regular diet, consider feeding your hens cracked corn before bedtime. This high-calorie addition helps give the girls something substantial to digest at night and keeps them warmer. It’s rather inexpensive and is a hen favorite.
5. Happy chickens lay eggs.
To help reduce the boredom of winter, keep your hens physically and emotionally happy during winter to keep them laying eggs. Hang a head of cabbage or some other veggies from the ceiling with a string. If you want to get fancy, buy chicken treat feeders that challenge them to extract the food.
6. Consider expanding the coop area.
If your chickens are free-range in the other seasons, being snowbound in the winter may decrease their productivity. Hens need exercise and sunshine to lay their best. Consider expanding their snow-free ability to roam by adding a sun.room or covered area for the hens to be able to enjoy sunny days all winter.
7. Keep an eye out for frostbite.
Check the health of your birds when the temperatures plummet. If your hens are suffering from frostbite, it will take a toll on their health and they won’t’ be laying at the optimum. If you have a breed of chicken with large combs or wattles, be proactive if temperatures are dropping below the teens. You can protect legs, combs, and wattles, by coating them with petroleum jelly.
8. Provide extra room for outside feeding and wandering.
To relieve boredom and give your girls some extra opportunities in a snow-covered world, you can pile hay, brush, or even your old Christmas tree, on top of the snow around the coop. The chickens will relish having non-snow covered areas to explore, scratch, and peck. Keep feed and water outside with them as they may be so excited they won’t go back into the coop to stay fed and hydrated.
9. Make sure nesting boxes are adequate and have clean and dry bedding.
There may be more of a demand to spend time in the nesting boxes in the winter. The hens are cooped up and without their daily exercise, they may become more aggressive over the boxes. Make sure you have at least one box for every 4 chickens. While it may be cold and not as convenient to tend to your coop during the winter, be sure to keep the nesting boxes clean and well-bedded.
10. Adequate food and water are essential.
Make sure you are offering your chickens access to clean water all winter. You may need a heating system for your water to keep it from freezing. The alternative is replacing the water in the morning and the evening as it will freeze solid each evening in cold temperatures.
Cold temperatures mean chickens need more food to store body fat. Add the additional stress of producing eggs, and not having access to natural sources of food like insects, worms, and grubs available during other seasons, you may need to increase the amount of food and protein in the winter.
A good way to determine if your hens are being fed enough is to weigh them. Check their weight before winter, then several times during the winter. Monitoring their weight will let you know if you are on track with their dietary needs.