Thursday, January 24, 2013

Winter Feeding and Eggs

I have been asked by a couple of readers in the last month about increasing egg production. I am not a veterinary doctor. I possess no degrees in this field, nor do I pretend to be an expert in this subject. But, I am willing to share what we do here at our homestead with you. This is only based on our experiences. Your mileage may vary. ♥

Most recently, Danetta Cates from Dexter wrote: "please share the secret of getting your hens to lay. We have been crippling along on about 1-2 eggs every other day with 25 plus hens."

Here you are!

Our set up is simple. We have an uninsulated 8ft x 8ft x 8ft hen house and a 3ft x 4ft x 4ft attached duck/goose house. There is a solid glass door. The next boxes run along the outside of the coop 1ft x 1ft x 8ft and is separated into 7 nest boxes, full of hay. We use wood chips as litter on the floor and on really frigid days, we'll spread some hay around, too. We do not use the deep litter method. We "muck" the coop each week and compost the old litter. (Sometimes when we have a cold snap like we've been experiencing, the clean out can't be completed as thoroughly as we'd want it to be, but as soon as it breaks into the 30's you can bet we are out there cleaning.) The coop door is opened enough to let the chickens, geese, and ducks to come and go as they please, but not wide open to avoid the rushing winds. They have a 40 ft long by 60 ft yard to walk about in, protected with a 6 foot high chain link fence, though they haven't moved more than 20 ft from the coop since the snow covered the ground. We do have an regular 40 watt light in the coop. It gives off very minimal heat, but it does provide some. It is on a timer to go on at 3pm and dims to off at 8pm. The flocks get shoo-ed into the houses after dark and the doors are closed in the winter time.

In the morning, we open the doors to let anyone come out as they wish. We feed them a good quality layer crumble. This is available all day long. As is water, which might mean thawing their container several times each day. Chickens will eat snow, but that only serves to lower their body temperature, which is the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. Additionally, on any morning that it is below 30 degrees, we supplement their breakfast with 6 cups of warm oatmeal. If I am out of real oats for them, I heat 6 cups of water and add about 10 cups of layer crumble to it, making it into a very suitable "chicken porridge" (I got that idea recently from my friend Tammy at Our Neck of the Woods.) I add raisins or apple slices if I have it available. Do not feed citrus fruits, though as I have heard that it can actually decrease egg production. (I don't know if that is true, but I am unwilling to test it out for myself.) I also mix in cooked scrambled eggs (made without milk) some days. In the afternoon, I spread a couple of large scoops of scratch for them or I set out some scratch/lard treats for them to pick at. (I made some HERE.) These high caloric foods are not suitable as a main diet, but they help to increase the flock's body temperatures. There is a combination of things at work here. I feel that if our chickens are spending their body's energy to keep themselves warm, to produce and regrow feathers, or to heal from stress or injuries, they have less energy available to put into making eggs. If I can help to keep them warm with food, hay, and activity, it is my experience that they lay more eggs.

That being said, I do not try to force our chickens to lay at peak levels all year round. We keep around 50 hens most of the time. During peak periods, we'll collect about 25 dozen eggs each week. Last week, we collected 8 dozen eggs. The week before that, we collected 4 dozen eggs. When the girls were molting, we collected none for 2 weeks straight. There is a natural cycle to their laying and they naturally lay less frequently in the winter months. We try to keep a balance with our hen's laying. We need them to lay some eggs, if they will- because it helps to offset the higher cost of feed during the winter when we have to supply 100% of their diet for them. Some people also use heat lamps and lighting to their coops. As I mentioned earlier, we have a low watt light bulb that we use most of the winter months. We do not use heating elements because of the great potential for a fire to occur. If you are going to add lighting, add the light to your coop during the morning hours, unless you can attach your lighting to a dimmer. This will avoid your chickens from being suddenly plunged into the dark, risking their not being able to find a safe roost spot. I know many people swear by having 14 hours of daylight in their coops for optimal laying. And, that may work for them. It is just not how we do things here.

I hope that answers the question for you. Thank you for asking! And, if you have a question about homesteading or animal care, post it on our facebook page. If I don't have an answer for you, I'll try to find out.

Sonja ♥

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  1. Great info! Thanks for sharing more on your setup. For about 6 weeks up until last weekend, only 1 of our 10 hens was laying. Several of the other ones were molting, but not all of them. We don't supplement light, so I blamed it on that.

    But then I got to wondering if it is a hormonal thing? Like when a lot of women work in the same place their monthly cycles get aligned. Maybe if some chickens stop laying others follow suit? Probably not, though, just a thought I had :) But now we are up to 4 of the 10 laying which is much better!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop! My egg production is gearing up again after slacking off for awhile, even with a light on :)