If you’ve had chickens before, you know how it goes. You feed them, give them treats, hold them, and love them, but sometimes they are just freeloaders. Especially in the wintertime! And I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to keep anything that doesn’t pull its weight. So I need to keep my chickens laying in winter.
But how do you do that? And is it ethical to try to keep your chickens laying in winter? Those are some eternal questions for chicken keepers.
Should I force my chickens to lay in winter?
Whether or not you should make your chickens lay eggs in winter depends on what you are keeping your hens for. You need to really think about why you have chickens. Are they pets? Are they to feed your family with delicious homegrown eggs? Or are they for an income source?
For me, my chickens are a little bit of all three, but they are more for utility. We use our chickens’ eggs all the time, and sell some sometimes. We also hatch chicks to sell. Everything on the farm needs to provide something of value to us. I believe that’s the only way to be able to afford to strive for self reliance.
If your chickens are an income source for you, it would probably be nice to have them lay year-round.
And if you use all their eggs to feed your family, you might need to keep your chickens laying in winter.
But if they’re pets, you probably don’t mind the winter slump. Letting them rest in the winter, like nature intended, can extend their laying years and may allow them to live a longer life.
Why do chickens stop laying eggs in winter?
The biggest issue with keeping chickens laying eggs in winter is the reduction in hours of sunlight. Hens need about 14 hours of daylight every day to signal their bodies to lay eggs. This is basic survival, because if hens lay and hatch chicks in the winter, the chicks would likely die.
The average daylight hours in the United States in winter is about 9-10. So, the hen’s body naturally stops cuing it to lay.
Another issue with trying to keep chickens laying in winter is molt. In the fall, and sometimes into the winter, chickens naturally shed their feathers in a process called molt. After their molt, the chickens’ energy is put into making new feathers. So they will usually stop laying eggs at that time also.
Cold weather is another factor that affects eggs production. As it gets cold, the chickens have to expend more energy into keeping warm. Less of that precious energy will be directed into producing eggs.
How can you help keep your chickens laying in winter?
There are a few things that chicken owners can do to keep their chickens laying through the winter. While I personally haven’t tried all of them, I know a lot of people have had success with doing one or more of these tricks.
Provide artificial lighting
Providing artificial lighting in the coop has been my go-to to keep my chickens laying in winter. Adding just a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening keeps all my girls laying nearly every day. If you want to do this, simply install a regular lightbulb in the coop and put it on a timer.
This doesn’t have to be a heat lamp. I actually wouldn’t even recommend a heat lamp in the coop. I’ve found that just a regular 60 watt lightbulb is sufficient.
You should keep your light on a timer, don’t assume that you’ll be able to remember to manually turn it on twice a day. The light needs to be on very consistently, as a drop even for a few days can put your girls into not laying again.
I’ve used a very cheap timer for my coop, but you could spend more (if you really want!). The timer I have now was about $5 at the hardware store, and it’s lasted me 2 seasons.
Provide extra nutrition
If your chickens are molting, they need extra protein. Feathers are almost all protein, so when they are growing new ones, most of the protein they get in their food goes straight to making feathers.
I occasionally give my chickens dry cat food when they are molting. They should still get their normal layer feed, but the boost in protein from cat food (which is usually 23% protein) can help them recover from the molt faster.
In the winter, chickens should also get more food and more treats to keep them laying at their full potential. The cold makes them burn more calories. As such, they need the extra nutrition to keep themselves warm.
There is less to forage for in the winter, so the food you give them is normally the only food they get. Make sure they are getting enough!
I always give my chickens cracked corn in the winter time. The corn takes longer to digest in their crop, so it helps keep their body temperature up for longer amounts of time. Mealworms are a nice treat as well, as they are high in protein.
Chickens also need to be well-hydrated in order to lay eggs. So make sure they always have fresh, unfrozen water available.
Ferment the chicken feed
This one I haven’t tried personally, but I know of many people who ferment their chicken feed to help keep their chickens laying in winter. Fermenting the feed raises the nutritional value of the feed, so you can feed less, and get more nutrients to your girls. It also increases egg size and shell strength.
You do need to keep your fermented feed from freezing, which is why I haven’t done it myself. We live in a small house, and I just don’t have any extra heated space to keep a bucket of feed inside.
Add pepper to their food
This is another one that I haven’t done to keep my chickens laying in winter, so I can’t attest to its efficacy. But I’ve heard that adding cayenne pepper, or another warming herb, into their feed can increase winter egg production.
Cayenne pepper doesn’t taste particularly hot, but don’t worry if it’s hot for you. Chickens don’t have very many taste buds like we do, and don’t have the “spicy” receptors. So they shouldn’t have any problem eating something that you would consider too spicy.
I’ve heard that black pepper or ginger would have the same effect. Any kind of warming herb can help boost your chickens’ temperature and, therefore, keep egg production up.
Use the deep litter method in the coop
I always use the deep litter method in my chicken coop, year round. Start with pine shavings, 8 inches deep, and don’t clean out the chicken manure. Once a week or so, turn the manure into the shavings. This mixture will start to decompose slightly, and will add some heat into the coop.
A good, developed deep litter adds about 10 degrees of heat to the chicken coop. And it’s so easy to maintain!
Deep litter only needs to be changed twice a year, and it doesn’t stink! It’s honestly the best way of dealing with chicken manure, and heating the coop at the same time.
If you choose not to force egg laying in winter:
If you don’t want to make your chickens lay in winter, you will want to learn to preserve you egg surplus in the spring, summer, and fall. Otherwise, you won’t have any eggs in winter, unless you buy some. And trust me, no chicken owner wants to do the dreaded store-bought egg purchase of shame!
Storing your eggs on the counter
If you go through your eggs rather quickly, and don’t have too many of them, you can keep them on the counter. Unwashed eggs can be stored on the kitchen counter for up to 2 months, provided they don’t get too warm. Keep in mind that if you wash your eggs, they MUST be kept in the fridge.
Storing your eggs in the fridge
If you have a lot of eggs, it might be better to keep them in the fridge. Fresh eggs can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 months, especially if stored in a proper container.
Freezing your eggs
If you want to store your eggs more long-term for scrambling or baking you can freeze your eggs. Simply crack an egg into a slot in an ice cube tray, and mix slightly with a fork, then pop in the freezer. Once frozen solid, you can store these in a freezer bag for later use. They will stay good for almost a year. Freezing eggs does change the texture a bit, but they are great for baking.
Pickling your eggs
Pickled eggs are delicious, and can extend the life of your eggs to about 3 to 4 months. Of course, you are limited to just eating them whole, instead of being able scramble them or use them in baking.
Storing eggs in waterglass
Waterglassing eggs is a time-honored tradition of storing eggs far into winter. It is one of those nearly-lost old skills, but most people that do them, put them in a crock in the pantry.
Dehydrating your eggs
Dehydrating eggs is a good way to preserve your eggs for future use. And it’s easy to do it at home, if you have a dehydrator! Dehydrated eggs can stay good for about 6 months if stored properly.
There’s no wrong way
All in all, they are your chickens. You can do it however you want. Don’t let anyone shame you for doing it one way or another. It’s totally okay if you decide to force your chickens to lay in winter. And it’s okay if you don’t!
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