As the fall and winter months roll in, daytime and egg production decreases. In addition to the daylight decrease, other factors may affect your chickens' egg production as well. You may ask yourself, "What is it about the daylight difference and this time of year that slows egg production?" or "How can I increase my chickens' egg production?" The solutions are relatively easy and has boosted my chickens egg production by a large margin. So what about daylight?
Chickens require 14 hours of sunlight to lay one egg. Once fall and winter arrive, 14 hours of sunlight is unheard of, or at least in the place I live. Where I live, the sun rises around 6:30 - 6:45 a.m and sets around 4:40 p.m. You can help your chickens to think that sunlight lasts longer by placing a light bulb in there coop and putting it on a timer. Chickens will think of it to be sunlight, and lay more eggs because they receive the required amount of "sunlight". Major egg factories use light bulbs to provide "sunlight" to their chickens and maximize their egg production.
Another factor that may affect egg laying is their diet. Chickens need a higher protein diet in the fall and winter to help them stay warm. Feeding them scratch every other morning helps them to stay warmer and gives them more protein. I used to only get a maximum of 4 eggs a day from my 12 hens, and was wondering why. Then my dad suggested I feed them some scratch every other day. So far, his advice has proven to be beneficial and I now get around 8-9 eggs a day.
Make sure to clear a path for your chickens if there is a blanket of snow on the ground. Chickens don't prefer to walk in snow, and I would see my ducks and chickens trying to keep their feet warm if I didn't clear a path of snow leading from the entrance of the coop to the food and water stations.
To get your chickens wanting to eat their food, try mixing in some warm milk or water in with their food. Also be sure to keep their water liquid, not ice. Since an egg consists of mainly water, they need to drink plenty of water in order to lay an egg. If their water is frozen, it will affect egg production. You can simply put their water jug on a stump about 8" tall in their coop to keep it from freezing. However, if ducks are present in the chicken coop, a barrel or trough with a barrier around it that is tall enough for your birds to get plenty of water, yet so the ducks are unable to swim should work fine. Just be sure to put a pond heater with a cage around it to keep it from freezing. Pond heaters can be found at most hardware and farm stores. To build a barrier will depend on the shape of the trough. We cut a 50 gallon water barrel in half (length) and use that as the ducks' pond in summer and the chickens' and ducks' waterer in the fall and winter. I cut three 4"x 4" to the appropriate height, and measured the distance from one end of the waterer to the other. I nailed a 6" x .5" plank to the pieces of 4" x 4" and put the barrier around the barrel. Since our waterer for our chickens is against a wall and one side is too high for the ducks to climb over, I only had to make a barrier for two sides.
Keep the coop warm. The temperature of the coop should remain between 40- 90 degrees Fahrenheit (4- 32 degrees Celsius). To keep their coop warm, add a heat lamp. Heat lamps can be found at most stores, including supermarkets, hardware stores, and farm stores.
Keep them safe and worry-free. If your chickens notice any predators around them, they will also decrease in their laying. In the winter when it's cold and there is little to no vegetation, many animals may stalk your birds, and if your chickens are not properly protected from them, you could lose some of your flock. We have had a hawk around our flock for a couple months now, but since we put some fencing on the top of our coop, he is unable to steal one of my birds. Try to secure the fencing around the perimeter of their coop as well, and put concrete on the fence towards the bottom. It would make it harder for the predator, such as a cougar, bobcat, etc. to get to your chickens.
A common myth is that a rooster will help a hen to lay more eggs. A rooster will not increase egg production, but is needed to fertilize the eggs. If your hens are not laying as many as you would like, adding a rooster will not make the hens lay more eggs.
However, winter is a great time to let your girls take a break. A great amount of labor goes into each and every egg, so naturally a hen would like to take a break. If you would like your hens to take a break from all their hard work, do not add a light. Allowing hens to take breaks also increases the amount of years that they continue to lay eggs. You will still get eggs from your hens, but not as much. You may even notice that you get 1/3 or 1/2 of the eggs you would get in the summer. Still allow scratch, as it helps to boost your birds' metabolism and helps them to keep warm.
These tips have certainly proved to work for my chickens, and they should work to maximize your chickens' egg production. I saw my chickens' egg production double, and I am sure that following these simple steps will have the same result on your hens as well. I recently thought about giving my hens a break, and think I will do that, but still completing the steps mentioned so they stay warm, cozy, and happy.
The illustration was drawn by me and is what our water station looks like in these cold winter months. The picture was taken by me.