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Hows my environment - Page 2

post #11 of 15
The main reason chickens are not laying this time of year in the Texas Panhandle is the molt. Chickens developed a cycle where they lay eggs and raise chicks during the good months when food is plentiful and the weather is nice. Like other birds their feathers wear out and need to be replaced. So when the days are getting shorter they stop laying and use the nutrients that were going to make eggs to grow feathers instead. Then when the days get longer and the good weather returns they start laying and hatching again. Like Canoe said, the length of light is a major key. There is another one though, not as important as light maybe but still needed. They need enough nutrients to lay.

But we’ve domesticated them. We’ve changed them from laying enough eggs to hatch and raise a brood, then go through that cycle another few times before the bad weather hits, to where many never go broody and lay practically every day when they are laying. We’ve done that by selective breeding. Also, food does not get scarce in winter anymore, we feed them. We’ve disrupted that cycle some but the base instincts are still there. Now pullets that first start to lay may (not always but may) skip the molt their first fall/winter and lay until the next fall whether we add lights or not. Especially if we add lights hens might go broody in winter. But the vast majority of adult chickens will molt when the days get shorter. It’s not length of day that is important but whether the days are getting longer or shorter.

Stress can disrupt laying and maybe cause a mini-molt, the right time of year it can even trigger a full molt. Stress can come from running out of water for a period of time, a predator scare, a change in environment like a different coop or modifications to a coop, a disruption to the pecking order by adding or taking away chickens, a change in lighting length, or other things. It can be something as subtle as you not having security or street lights when they had light where they came from. That may have made the days shorter. Sometimes when you move a hen that is laying she never misses a beat and keeps right on laying, but sometimes they stop until they get used to the new location and get the pecking order stuff worked out.

Are your older hens molting? Sometimes so many feathers fallout that there is no real doubt, but sometimes that’s such a gradual process you can’t tell by looking at the chicken. If you see feathers flying around down there may be the only way to tell.

There is something else going on with your flock. Who knew such a small flock could get so complicated? Mature chickens outrank immature chickens in the pecking order. It’s not a matter of size, it’s a matter of maturity. Until they mature enough to force their way into the pecking order they often form a sub-flock and just avoid the bullies as much as they can. Point of Lay pullets are not quite mature. Mine normally hit that maturity point and truly join the flock about the time they start to lay. Yours sort of free ranging together is a good sign that day is approaching but when it comes to them laying their first egg, everything is a sign they might be getting ready until you actually see an egg. That wait can be pretty rough at times.

There are a lot of different factors involved in when a pullet will lay her first egg; heredity, days getting longer or shorter, a peaceful environment, nutrition, and who knows what else. I’ve had pullets start to lay at 16 weeks at the height of summer. I’ve had pullets lay their first egg the first week of December when the days were pretty cold for here and the days were about as short as they are going to get but still getting a bit shorter. Those pullets were nine months old. I do not provide extra light. It’s really hard to say when a pullet will lay her first egg, especially when you only have two. You don’t have enough for the averages to mean anything.

Hens can lay a lot of eggs over a long period of time and do fine, but eventually their bodies just get worn out. The number of eggs they lay gradually drops and the egg quality can suffer too. I’m not talking a few months, I’m talking about over a year to maybe a year and a half. If you look at the weight of an egg and the weight of the hen it’s somewhat equivalent to a woman popping out a baby every week or two. It’s not the same but darn it, in my opinion sometimes a gal just needs a break.

I like for my hens to follow the seasonal pattern and molt when they days get shorter. When they start up again the eggs are generally larger and of top quality. They have recharged their system. That’s why I don’t manipulate my lights. But others do and I have no problem with that. We all have different goals and different systems. What’s right for me may not be right for others. Most of mine normally go back top laying when the molt is finished regardless of length of day. Most, not all.

So after all this, what can you do in your specific unique situation to start them laying, which to me is a worthy goal. If your older hens are going through the molt, they will finish that. It may take a month, it may take four months. It’s not so much how fast the feathers grow back, it’s how fast they fall out. Each chicken is an individual with their own schedule. Once they finish the molt and for your pullets to start laying they have to make certain changes internally. From when the triggers that start this process start until they actually start laying can take as long as five weeks if they haven’t already started getting ready. Don’t expect instantaneous results, but with your pullets especially it may not take that long. Constant light is not good either. Like us, they need some dark down time at night.

What I suggest is that you look at your current day length and using timers gradually (10 minutes at a time every couple of days) until you’ve increased their day length to maybe an hour at most. That should be plenty. The days will continually get shorter until December so you need to watch that a bit but don’t obsess over it. A few minutes a day won’t matter that much. Then maintain that day length unto the natural light is equivalent in the spring when the days are getting longer. If you stop too soon you might trigger another molt. You don’t want to do that when they are getting ready to hit peak production season. This should not only kick start your pullets into starting to lay but also trigger your older ones to start laying when they finish the molt.

I know this is very long but for such a small flock you have a lot going on. Good luck!

This too shall pass.  It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.


"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith


This too shall pass.  It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.


"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith

post #12 of 15
I also agree with all that is said above. Just make sure to set your timer to have the light turn on in the morning, to start their day earlier. Not at night to make their day longer. If the light suddenly shuts off at night, leaving them in a dark coop, they won't be able to get situated for the night. Also, each bird varies. My ee hens won't lay all winter whether I put a light in or not. I'd just give them time to settle in.
post #13 of 15

I want to jump in with questions!!  How cold is too cold?  I was told when it gets down to about 0 degrees they need a heat lamp.  My light is a heat lamp, hanging from the ceiling of the coop.  I can stand up inside my coop.  I have a "window" that is the full length of one wall and the top 1/3 of that wall that is covered with chicken wire and has a wooden door that we close at night. (No sense advertising to chicken eating critters that they are there!)  With the people door, chicken doors and windows closed at night it is pretty tight and we have never had any problem with losing hens to the local critters. (skunk, mink, and racoon are what mostly get them our here.)


I am still opening the window during the day, and was wondering just today if I should stop.  From this conversation I get the idea that I shouldn't...but how cold is too cold?  I am in Utah.  It will get down to below 0 for a few days on average.  Just want to know what ya'll do! :0) does cold effect the laying?


It is NOT cold here yet.  It has gotten down to 40's at night.  It shouldn't be effecting my eggs (at least that is what I think).  They have a light on every night all night - I just don't have a timer.  So I know they are getting enough light.  It is a heat lamp, as I said - plenty warm!  So why has my egg production dropped from an 18 count a day down to single digits?  I have customers and I don't know what to do!!


The girls are all new - in the 8 month range.


Here are the two things that have changed...either one possible problems?


1.  I was feeding oyster shell and they were eating my profit!! LOL  I changed to a calcium rock that a neighbor gave me to try.  They are not taking as much of this as the oyster shell...but that would only effect hardness of the eggs, not numbers...right?


2.  They really starting taking off - laying well - when we processed the largest roosters that were abusing them. (we started out with more roosters than hens - and we have 2 dozen hens)  We are down to 6 roosters, but they are big enough to process now and are bothering the hens. (I call it gang rape)  I separated the roosters, which is tricky - we really don't have anywhere to put them.  It means leaving the run closed with the roosters in there, or having all the hens in the run and letting the roosters free range.  I have been alternating - every other day.  The girls always have access to the coop for laying in the nest boxes...but about 6 of the hens were laying in odd places before this. LOL  4 in the goat's hay box, 1 under a bush and 1 under some tall flowers in the front yard.  They are all fenced in a farm yard, but we have a few that figure out how to get out no matter what we do.  Long story very long...their routine has been interrupted by the separation.  Sometimes they can't get to their preferred place to lay.


I thought separation would help the production - it has tanked!! We got 4 eggs yesterday!  It is just the routine thing?  I have just today figured out how to keep the roosters completely separated - we had some that would end up with the hens - they just jumped to fences.  I think today will be really separate...


They also started eating less when the weather started to cool down.  We had a slight dip in egg production a while ago, but I realized we were below 12 hours of sun, and started the light right away.  After that we were getting the 18 count a day.


ANY help would be appreciated.  Sorry it is so long.

post #14 of 15

I agree completely with the two posts above.  The coop is way too small.

post #15 of 15
How cold is too cold? How high is too high? How far is too far? To some questions there are no good answers. I know I’m sounding like a smart aleck. It is a good question, it’s just hard to answer.

I’ve seen chickens sleep in trees in below zero Fahrenheit weather. People in Nova Scotia and the Michigan Peninsula has written about chickens sleeping in trees there the entire winter and those temps have to be well below zero. Those chickens are not going to be sleeping on a dead limb overlooking a bluff, squawking defiantly in the teeth of a blizzard. Like the wild birds that overwinter where you are without the benefit of a heat lamp, they seek shelter when the weather gets too rough. It’s not the cold so much they need to avoid, it’s the wind.

What chickens need in cold weather is not heat, they need protection from wind and good ventilation. Protection from wind is pretty easy to understand. It’s the ventilation that sometimes surprises people. In trees they have good ventilation but in coops they may be more limited. There are a couple of potential problems. When their poop gets concentrated and breaks down it forms ammonia. Ammonia can be fatal if the concentration gets high enough. Luckily ammonia is lighter than air so just a small hole over their heads will allow that ammonia to escape. Problem averted.

The other problem is that the excess moisture from their breathing, their poop, and waterers if there is thawed water in there can raise the humidity. High humidity can lead to frostbite. You need enough air movement to remove that moisture without a strong breeze hitting them. Warm air both holds more moisture than cold air and warm air rises. On a perfectly calm day the heat form their breathing, fresh poop, the thawed water, and maybe even the ground if the air temperature is colder than the ground will move a surprising amount of moisture laden warm air out of openings up high. On a windy day a couple of openings over their heads allows a strong breeze to pass over their heads but will also create enough turbulence to remove the air in the coop without a strong breeze hitting the chickens. One mistake a lot of people make is to lock their chickens up so tight in cold weather they don’t get enough ventilation. People in the southern states in the US cause their chickens to get frostbite in temperatures that should pose no risk at all.

How cold is too cold? I don’t have a hard and fast number for you, I just know too cold is pretty darn cold if you keep breezes off of them and give them good ventilation. If you lock them up tight, anything below freezing poses a risk. Even above freezing ammonia could be a problem.

The main reason chickens north of the equator stop laying this time of year is the molt. It’s not the cold, it’s the days getting shorter. I went through some of that in my post above. I don’t know when you started that 24 hour a day light, that may have been after they started molting. If so, it’s too late to stop the molt.

There’s a problem with 24 hour a day light too. It stresses them and can lead to egg laying problems. Just like you and me they need some dark downtime or their system gets all messed up. If you want to add light go ahead, but try to give them at least 10 hours of darkness. You’ll get better results.

This too shall pass.  It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.


"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith


This too shall pass.  It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.


"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith

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