If you are raising chickens and want them to grow happy and healthy, and to provide good-quality eggs, offering them the best chicken feed is essential. If your hens are consuming the right food, you will be rewarded with healthy chickens that lay many eggs for you. Feeding the wrong food, on the other hand, can be disastrous to their health and egg production.
You might have been in situations where your hens stopped laying eggs. You should know that this can happen for a variety of reasons, not just poor nutrition. For example, they can lay fewer eggs or none at all due to stress, light, age, or molt. Some of these reasons are normal responses, while others can be corrected using simple changes.
Laying Eggs in the Winter
One of the things that might worry you is the fact that hens often stop laying eggs in the winter, especially if you are not experienced with chickens. We have good news! This is rarely an issue and rather normal behavior. We are going to explain why.
We will begin with the chicken’s reproductive cycle that starts in her eyes. The day length is the major environmental cue for the control of reproduction. Reception of light for reproductive purposes by the bird is not primarily done through the eye but more thanks to the light energy which penetrates the skull, feathers, and skin, and is then perceived by an organ within the brain.
Light signs tell your hen’s body whether to release a yolk from her ovaries that will become the egg. Even if the winter weather is warm, in case there is not enough light, there are breeds that may slow down or stop laying eggs in the cold season.
In addition, very cold temperatures can also slow down this process because a chicken will consume more energy in keeping warm rather than producing eggs. Still, the main reason for winter slow down is shorter days which means fewer daylight hours.
Also, autumn is the period when your birds will molt and grow new feathers. This process takes a lot of energy and resources so your chickens will lay fewer eggs. It is not unusual for them to stop laying eggs altogether while their bodies generate strong new feathers for the following year.
How to Improve Egg Production in the Winter?
As previously mentioned, the fact that chickens lay fewer eggs or none at all in the winter is normal behavior and it should not worry you. Still, there are things you can do to improve the egg production, even in the cold season.
According to various studies, 14 hours of light per day is ideal for good egg production. Therefore, when the days are shorter in the winter, you have the option to add four or more hours of light. You will definitely see a difference in the number of eggs your chickens lay.
Also, the good news is that it does not have to be very bright. The same studies have shown that winter laying increases even with as much light as a single candle. Even something like a 4-watt night light can work perfectly.
Some people avoid wiring electricity inside the chicken coop due to the risk of fire. That is why you have the option to go for a solar-powered coop light, or even a battery-powered tap-light. Another alternative is a low-wattage LED light.
It is recommended to add light to your coop only in the morning. Since the natural light in the evening gradually fades as the sun sets, it would not make any sense to add the light at this time but rather in the morning.
You should also know that artificial light is very sudden and can confuse the chickens. They might not have the opportunity to wind down and find their usual places on the roost.
They can also be on the coop’s floor eating or drinking when the light goes out, and they would not be able to clearly see how to get back up to the roost having issues jumping back into the dark. Therefore, if you want to add artificial light, make sure you do so only in the morning hours. Also, make sure you allow the light to gradually fade in the evening.
In order to increase egg productivity in the winter, you may also need to add a heater. When temperatures usually drop below freezing, it is possible not to see the increase in the number of eggs you were looking for. This may happen because a high proportion of the feed your chickens eat is used to maintain their body temperature.
Consider Not Doing Anything
As previously mentioned, lower egg production in the winter is absolutely normal. We provided some suggestions to help you with this issue, but it is also advisable to let things take their natural course. This means that you should consider not lighting your chicken coop at all.
The issue with keeping daylight hours constant is that it may cause your hens to molt late, in the middle of winter when it is the coldest, and they need their feathers the most. The thing is that chickens molt every year regardless of the light conditions. Still, the change in daylight is what normally generates it and not temperature changes.
If your birds do not have this trigger from fading hours of light, they might hold on for a few months before finally molting in a period when it is too cold for them to be without feathers.
Other Causes for a Low Egg Production
Besides fewer daylight hours, cold temperatures, or molting, there are other causes that may lead to poor egg production. One of these reasons can be over-treating and over-supplementing chickens.
Added treats and bits can reduce the nutrients in a complete layer feed so the bird becomes less able to lay eggs constantly. Laying chickens require 38 nutrients for consistent performance and health. Calcium is the most important one. A hen should consume four grams of calcium daily.
Complete layer feeds are designed to offer everything chickens need in the right amounts. However, if you provide too many treats, these nutrients will become diluted. A general rule you can follow is the 90/10 rule. In other words, a hen’s diet should consist of at least 90% complete feed.
Another cause is stress. When a chicken is stressed, egg production will also suffer. Stress may be generated by various factors such as aggressive hens, predators, overcrowding, too much heat or cold, loud noises, poor nutrition, or illness. You should check your birds’ environment in order to make sure there are no stress factors in the area.
You can also use a few tips to create a stress-free coop. For example, predator-proof your birds’ habitat using galvanized wire and metal screens on windows and doors. You should also provide at least four square feet of indoor space, as well as five to ten square feet of outdoor space for each chicken.
It is also recommended to provide one nesting box for every four hens with clean and dry bedding. Also, you should separate hens in case the pecking order becomes aggressive.
Furthermore, you should always keep temperatures comfortable inside the coop, but not extremely different from the ones outdoors. These birds, especially the cold-tolerant breeds, can endure winter temperatures without added heat.
If you consider that a source of heat is necessary, make sure you only raise the temperature a few degrees. Chickens will adjust to the cold but if it is 75 Fahrenheit degrees in the coop and zero degrees in the run, they will not be able to regulate their body temperature.