Chickens to Lay Eggs in the Winter

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Destornis, Jan 27, 2015.

  1. Destornis

    Destornis Out Of The Brooder

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    My chickens began laying eggs last year, but they had stopped in October or November due to the cold.
    How do some people get their chickens to continue laying in the winter? Is it added light or food?
    How bright does the light have to be? I have heard chickens need 16 hours of light to lay an egg if I am not mistaken.
    What kinds of food have to be feed to keep them to lay eggs? My coop is shut at night, with no wind blowing inside.
    Some people locally have their chickens laying eggs, and I do not understand how. My chickens are about 10 months old
    and like I said, they have laid eggs in the past. Please help out!
     
  2. justplainbatty

    justplainbatty Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Welcome to our flock! Extra light can help, but keep the nest box area dim. They should be on at least a 16 % protein layer feed. It's good to provide oyster shell or washed, dried and crushed egg shells every day. All chickens need grit to digest their food, provide that every day too. Do you know if they have molted at all? Sometimes it's a soft molt where you may see a lot of feathers on the floor. You may also see them eat the discarded feathers. If that is the case then feed them a flock raiser with 20% protein. If they are healthy, this regimen should help. Good luck and [​IMG]
     
  3. Lady of McCamley

    Lady of McCamley Overrun With Chickens

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    There are several factors in play here, and they all can make a difference differently depending upon your flock and location.

    1. Age....pullets lay their most prolific their first laying season, which is generally considered from first POL (5 to 6 months depending upon breed) up to 18 months of age. I find they do better if they come to POL around May/June, then they "typically" will continue laying through the winter and keep going through that next summer until they molt in the following October-ish and then take a break that second winter, usually not laying again until late winter almost spring again. How true this holds depends upon the breed and overall flock conditions (see molt below). Commercial laying hybrids/breeds have been carefully selected over many generations to lay prolifically the first laying season. Those breeds are Production Reds, Red Sex Links/Black Sex Links, commercial White Leghorn, and many of the commercial Barred Rocks (and probably 1 or 2 more breeds not coming off the top of my head right now...but those are the major ones). Wise management suggests then, if your purpose is to optimize egg laying, that half your flock be 1st season commercial layers, and not more than half second season layers. Second season layers are still valuable in that while they don't lay as prolifically, they lay larger eggs overall. (Reduction can be as much as 25% the second season, 50% by third season). I retire hens at 2 1/2 to 3 years of age generally by re-homing through my network of friends. I have one friend who really prefers the large egg of the older hen and has lots of foraging room so she can afford to keep a larger flock to offset the reduced egg number. Many people like to acquire a free 2 to 2 1/2 year old hen as they still have several years of somewhat decent laying.. I don't eat my spent layers since most layer breeds have little to offer by way of meat. Dual purpose breeds can be eaten after that time, but a spent layer is only good for the stew pot.

    2. Type of Molt. When and how a bird molts depends upon their genetics and breed. Again, the commercially selected prolific layers won't typically molt until their second winter (why they lay so well that first season)...they've also been genetically selected for a hard fast molt...the kind that leaves feathers everywhere and a half naked chicken. That's the best type of molt for laying as it is over with quickly and the bird can come back to laying sooner (although the industry just culls at 2 years as the "second laying season" is never as prolific as the first). Other more "heritage" breeds molt with what is called a soft molt...feathers come off slowly, almost imperceptible for some, and the chicken never seems naked. A soft molt can take weeks if not months to finish....all the while the chicken is not laying.

    3. Light. Lighting can help tremendously to keep egg laying going through the winter. It doesn't take much light...I've been quoted just enough light to see to read a newspaper at roost level. Yes, it takes 14 hours of light to initiate laying (in some research I've read 12), and at least 16 to keep laying consistent (some documentation quotes 14). The color of light impacts the birds, and generally warm is better. If you over light, just keep the lights on all the time producing too many hours of lighting, you can increase cannibalism and feather picking. You also need to be careful to not expose young pullets (younger than 16 weeks) to extended artificial lighting as they will mature too quickly before the egg tract is mature enough to handle egg production causing numerous problems including permanently smaller egg size and increased incidence of becoming egg bound. You don't have to light to keep egg laying going, but you will typically see about 50% drop in egg production during the winter. I don't artificially light as we don't do extension cords to the coop anymore after burning a coop down that way. I have rigged up closet type battery powered LED's, but you have to choose a warmer light than the cold blue, and you have to start in August/September so that there is no dip below 16 hours to keep laying optimum. I simply chose to keep half my flock in their first laying year and of layer types that simply have been selected to lay well that first season (ie RSL's, BSL's).

    4. Feed. Only a well nourished chicken will lay well and produce eggs of good quality. You want to keep your laying flock on a good layer feed that supplies plenty of calcium and all the proteins and nutrients necessary while they are laying. Changing feeds can help if things don't seem to be going as well as you think they should. Look at your birds to see if they seem too bony. You don't want a "fat" layer as that means their energy is going to body mass, not eggs; but you don't want a bony thin hen either as she won't have enough nutrition to produce eggs well.

    By federal law, commercial layer feed is vegetable protein only stemming from the Mad Cow disease scare about a decade or so ago. However, chickens are omnivores, not herbivores, and need the full spectrum of amino acids. That's why you will see several amino acids added to the feed on the commercial labels. The most common layer feed is 16% protein. You can also purchase laying feed in 18 to 20% protein depending upon the brand, but you may have to ask to find it. If your layers have limited forage, or especially when they are in molt, or under stress (cold weather for example), they may need more protein. How much more protein your flock will need is dependent upon what your flock's foraging opportunities are. In small areas, a flock can easily over forage an area such that there is not much extra protein to be found by means of bugs and worms. I like to keep my laying flock on 18 to 20% year round simply because I have limited forage access...plenty of wing room but not a lot of extra buggies. While corn is important to generate heat in the winter, avoid too much scratch corn as they will fill up on the high energy but low nutrition "candy corn" and not leave room for their nutritional food (just like kids).

    With all of these issues to consider, I find that purchasing the reputable prepared feeds is generally best for me...From my experience with raising puppies within the Guide Dog program, who watches their feed issues very closely, I know that the big feed companies really do spend a lot of research on what will produce optimum nutrition for the targeted animal. So I purchase a well known brand targeted for laying hens. I avoid small knock off brands and homemade recipes UNLESS those doing so really know what they are doing and have a good balance of all the amino acids and nutrients at appropriate levels. This last winter I had a never ending molt with both young and old birds molting, so I switched feeds to Nutrena Feather Fixer, and I honestly did see an almost immediate (within 2 weeks) pickup in the flock and egg laying resumption by most. I can also recommend promoting a good gut flora with Apple Cider Vinegar and some periodic probiotics, such as plain yogurt, which helps support their immune system and overall digestive tract.

    5. Pests/Disease. If your flock is not laying as you think they should be laying, it is always good to check for pests such as lice/mites and worms...which can drain birds such that they simply do not have the energy to lay eggs well. These pests are almost always present, but the long winter months can increase their load. The intent of the poultry manager is to keep the load low so that the animals own immune systems ward them off such that their is no noticeable stress on their systems. Just because you don't see worms doesn't mean they aren't there...they are...the load is just low enough you aren't seeing them. Ditto for lice/mites in most situations. Stress factors, especially something like a hard molt or weather extremes, taxes their immune systems which gives opportunity for pest overgrowth. Be aware that some dewormers should not be used during molting as they can cause weird feather re-growth. This doesn't "hurt" the bird, but will make for funky feathers. I personally like to use Rooster Booster Triple Action Multi Wormer as it targets 3 of the most common types of worms in chickens, is FDA approved for use in laying hens, ie eggs used for human consumption (the only one at this time, main ingredient hygromycin B), and provides probiotics and vitamin/mineral supplementation. I do see a definite boost in my flock after using it. Typcially seasonal use for 2 weeks is sufficient.

    6. Stressors. Overly crowded birds and birds kept in dirty wet coops will become stressed and not lay well. Always keep enough space for your animals so that they can find a quiet corner if they need it. Provide plenty of nesting boxes to reduce nesting conflicts, and clean surroundings, especially food and water dispensors. Depending upon your size of flock, you may need to supply several feed/water stations so that all are receiving their necessary allotment. Watch for flock dynamics from overly aggressive hens, or roo's, that may be stressing others and creating disharmony. Watch out for annoying dogs or noises that can unsettle a flock. Be attentive to flock chatter and see what may be upsetting them so that you can fix an unnecessary situation (all hens chatter to a certain degree, especially the egg song.) However, work to keep your flock as stress free as possible. A happy flock is a well laying flock.

    Unfortunately there isn't a simple one size fits all answer to your question. Each flock owner must assess their flock with the known contributing factors and find the right balance to produce optimum laying.

    Good luck to figuring out the best solution to help optimize your flock laying.
    Lady of McCamley
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2015
  4. maddog3355

    maddog3355 Out Of The Brooder

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    Lady wrote by federal law commercial layer feed is vegetable protein only. I don't know where you read that at but its not that way in Missouri.
    There are somethings we don't like about commercial operations but they have it figured out to get the most eggs from the least amount of feed. I think everybody should visit such a place. It will throw the overcrowding issues out the door and they never shut the lights off.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2015
  5. Destornis

    Destornis Out Of The Brooder

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    Thank you for all the help. I have learned from much of this, and they are on a 16% layer. Can too much protein have a bad effect on them? I have dual purpose breeds of chickens. The light is not too bright, but just like a regular lamp light. It does not shine directly on the nest boxes, and is on a timer (starts when the sun goes down and stays on for about 4 hours.) Would the chickens have to stay up for the full 16 hours, or less?
     
  6. justplainbatty

    justplainbatty Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Oh goodness! You are confusing your hens' circadian clock! Have the light come on before sun rise and let them have natural dusk to go to sleep. Having the light on at night is aggravating and stressful for them. It's like a power outage at night, they don't like it anymore than we do!
     
  7. Destornis

    Destornis Out Of The Brooder

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    Ah wow! I didn't realize. This is the 1st day that the light is on, so it should be 4 hours early in the morning? Or when should the light come on, or go off? Two hours early and two hours at night? Maybe just 3 hours in the morning? This is my first time having a light to continue egg laying..
     
  8. Lady of McCamley

    Lady of McCamley Overrun With Chickens

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    Interesting you say that...and I just did a brief search to check the reg's as I really strive to be accurate.

    I have personally had at least 2 different feed stores tell me on several separate occasions that I cannot purchase chicken feed with animal by-products because of federal law...and I took their word for it.

    The reg's are too cumbersome to wade through for every nuance, but the bottomline appears to be that it is definitely a combination of state and federal oversight, so I wonder if Oregon, being the "green" state that it is, has interpreted the BSE reg's (easy summary linked here: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm164473.htm) even more strictly. Organic chicken feed definitely cannot have animal by-products per federal law (this is the easiest link: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5102526

    I personally WANT some animal by products in my chicken feed as chickens are not herbivores...they need that animal protein...but apparently (at least in my state) I cannot find that on the shelf as the powers that be are interpreting the federal reg's, even for non-organic, as not allowing animal by-products. All the feed store shelf feed is a combination of corn, wheat and soy with various additives that are not, from what I can tell, animal by-product....and per the sales clerks at the feed store.

    Too bad shipping from Missouri would be prohibitive...I already have to make a "border run" to Washington to get Sudafed with the real stuff that works (pseudoephedrine) since Oregon has banned it here. Although I can drive over the border to Washington, purchase it (I get the biggest box I can), and drive back without any infraction...which gives a thought...maybe I'll check a feed store in Washington!

    Thanks for the correction.
    LofMc
     
  9. Lady of McCamley

    Lady of McCamley Overrun With Chickens

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    This article helps explain a lot of the lighting methods and indicates you can have a choice to when you want the lights to come on, but it generally is better to have the birds roost with the setting sun (but not essential to production).
    http://umaine.edu/publications/2227e/

    LofMc
     
  10. Lady of McCamley

    Lady of McCamley Overrun With Chickens

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    Too much protein is bad for them, but if you stay within the 16 to 20% range, they will be fine. It is only when you are trying to raise broilers with layers or turkeys with chickens that issues can arise if you've got the broilers on something like a 24%, or worse 28% turkey, then you can stress the kidneys of the older birds and cause joint malformation of the growing layer pullets.

    Read the article I linked above...it describes the best way to light...and yes, they need 14 to 16 hours of light, bright enough to cover the nest boxes...but you shouldn't extend it all in one day but gradually increase...and then never let it drop, not even for a day, or you will see a decrease in production, or worse force a molt which can decrease production for weeks.

    LofMc
     

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