Egglaying 101 - need tips!

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by carlislechicks, Oct 24, 2012.

  1. carlislechicks

    carlislechicks Hatching

    Oct 22, 2012
    Hi, my 6 chickens are 20 weeks, but none have started laying yet. I raised them from Memorial day on, and it's getting cold here in Massachusetts. I've heard what I'm hoping is a big myth -- that you have to leave a light on for 15 hours of daylight for the hens or they won't start laying til spring, and if you miss one day of the artificial light, that's the end of eggs for months! I have family members who are so eager for the eggs to start coming, so in reading other posts, perhaps we should expect nothing and maybe they'll start coming. But any advice about the following:
    1) light affecting chickens who mature in the end of fall and how this affects their laying
    2) how do you keep laying boxes poop-free? We are doing the deep litter method in the coop, and it seems like it might be impossible to keep the eggs poop-free. But I've read that they can't be eaten if they have poop on them. Is this all true?
    3) Any tried and true hints about encouraging laying at this time of year?

    Thanks! (Sorry so long -- new to this site and forum!)
  2. faykokoWV

    faykokoWV Mrs Fancy Plants

    Nov 4, 2008
    Cross Lanes, WV
    First thing, depending on what breeds you have, it could be another month, maybe even two before they start laying

    the shortening of the length of sunlight tells the chickens that its winter and time to stop having babies, so they are genetically programed to stop laying eggs. Breeding for utility purposes has reversed this somewhat, but they usually lay less in winter. You can set a light to come on at around 5 am to lengthen their light exposure and encourage production. you can have it set to turn off as soon as the sun comes up - so maybe only 3 hours of extra light. its better/safer to have the extra light in the morning so that it doesn't cut off on them suddenly when they are trying to roost.

    Quality feed is always important, make sure to switch them to layer feed

    nesting boxes will be poop free if they aren't roosting in them. If your hens are sleeping in the nesting boxes, you might want to make your roosts more attractive too them. How are your roosts set up?

    you can wash the eggs before you store them and they are fine to eat.
  3. Spangled

    Spangled Songster

    Jan 12, 2012
    Serenity Valley

    I agree with FaykokoWV, btw, and I may repeat some of what she/he said. Sorry about that.

    At 20 weeks, you might be okay. It will depend on what breed(s) you got. Some will mature a little later and probably won't lay until spring. But there are plenty of breeds that will start laying at 21 weeks, like clockwork if they've been fed as instructed the previous months. A good rule of thumb is to try to get your chicks to be 21 weeks before October 1st. (right after the equinox when the daylight hours equal the dark hours) Chickens are ruled by light and those decreasing days signal that it's time to lay fewer eggs. But it works just the same way when the days are getting longer and after solstice (right around Christmas) the chickens will start working toward laying more eggs.

    A chicken that is born in the early spring will often lay right through their first winter without extra light. They won't lay as many December as they did in September, but you'll still get an egg about every other day from the standard breeds known to be a good-excellent layers. At least that's how it's always been for me.

    I guess what I really need to spell out is that if you get chicks that are breeds like New Hampshires, Delawares, Plymouth Rocks, Australorps, Speckled Sussex -- that were hatched in April -- they will very likely lay by October 1 and will then lay through the winter. But that's info for when you get replacements for your current pullets (young hens) in a couple of years.

    Your current 20 week old pullets may still lay this season and may lay through winter. I would wait through the end of November and then if they aren't all laying, do as above poster mentions about the lighting. I have had chickens that I hatched late in the spring start laying in November and then lay quite well through the winter. It does depend on breed. And it does depend on how you feed and water them. And it does depend on how cold it is in your coop. And it depends on a number of other variables, but those are the main ones.

    If you can find 18% layer, that would be better than 16% layer feed to get them kick started without putting on lights. I prefer not lighting them if I can get away with it, and I have so far except when I need to get a couple of old lady hens laying in February so that I can get an early hatch going. You can also supplement with fishmeal to get the protein level up a little if all you can find is 16% layer. A 50# bag will keep well outside during cool months. Just put the bag in a covered trash can and then give them a little in a separate feeder or about 1/2 a cup roughly stirred into 5# of feed. Feed stores for farmers carry fishmeal. I think they are listed under Feed in the yellow pages. It's where farmer-types go to get horse and pig feed and different grains to mix their own feeds. It's not TSC. It's a little pricey last time I bought some. Maybe $36 a bag. Still cheaper, though, than buying canned fish to feed them, which is also an option.

    Also, part of why chickens won't lay through winter is that there isn't enough time during the short days for them to get enough nutrients to produce an egg. It depends on the feed, the chicken, the temperature in the house, etc. I try to take them out some warmed up leftovers fairly often in the winter. But really ... what's costing me more? Extra lights or the cost of warming up some food?

    About the laying boxes ... are they above or below where the chickens roost? Chickens tend to roost in the highest place they can get to in the coop. If the nests are higher than the roosts, then often the chickens will sleep in the nests. If the roosts are too packed, then the chickens may roost on the edge of the nests. I have one of those nests sets with 6 holes. The top three nesting holes are higher than some of the roosts. I have to close off those nests or the chickens will sleep in there. Of course, that may not be why your chickens are messing up your nesting boxes. Chickens are so unpredictable and they act differently for different people. I give some of my friends chickens some springs ... brothers and sisters to the ones I have here ... these chickens are all genetically very similar ... and those silly chickens act like completely different breeds at my friends' homes. It's just really odd.
  4. RedDrgn

    RedDrgn Anachronistic Anomaly

    May 11, 2011
    West Virginia
    My Coop
    Your girls are young and this is their first winter, so depending on their breed, the diminishing daylight won't affect them that much. They may start laying slightly later than if it were mid-spring or early summer, but they will start laying. We started our flock in July 2011 and got our first egg on Christmas Eve of the same year. By February, everyone was laying and by the beginning of April (our wellie held out of us a looooong time!), they were all laying regularly. So it just depends, and despite breed, each chicken is different and will start whenever they get around to feeling like it. [​IMG]

    Next year will be entirely different for you, though. For one, your flock will go through its first adult molt, starting any time between the end of summer and middle of winter. They don't lay when they're molting because all of their energy is going towards feather replacement. Some get through a molt very quickly and others take months. There is very little that you can do to expedite the molting process, though increasing the amount of protein they consume will help them.

    On top of a molt, you have diminishing daylight to contend with, which will affect some breeds more than others. Adding a light to provide 14 hours of light each day is recommended to keep egg production steady. Some people add the light and others don't. That's up to you.

    Keeping your nest boxes clean is mostly about where they are located. If they're near/under roosts, they're going to get poop in them. If they're anywhere that chickens can kick poop into them from the floor of the coop when they scratch about, then they will get poop into them. If they're sleeping in the nest boxes, same deal. No matter how ideally you locate them, they will get some poop in them from time to time, but it can be minimized. Just observe the habits of the flock and determine what is happening that's getting so much poop into the boxes, and then adjust accordingly.
  5. WalkingOnSunshine

    WalkingOnSunshine Crowing

    Apr 8, 2008
    Others have addressed most of your questions, but I just wanted to add:

    1. You can eat eggs that have poo on them. Wash them in water that's as hot as you can stand--water that's hotter than the egg will cause air to come out of the pores of the egg, bringing dirt and bacteria with it. Colder water can force bacteria into the egg. If you're still concerned about bacteria, then use a commercial chlorinated egg wash. Most big hatcheries sell it by the pound. It's expensive, but a little goes a long way.
    2. If you're having trouble with dirty eggs, you might try using straw in the nest boxes and shavings on the floor. I have found that straw keeps eggs much cleaner, even if you have some stinker birds that want to sleep in the nest boxes. I always have a couple, even though we have lovely roosts that are eight feet away from the nest boxes and are higher than the nests. [​IMG]
    3. If your birds are just 20 weeks right now, it is possible that they won't lay at all this winter. Sucks, I know. But I have had late-season pullets before that didn't lay a single egg until it warmed up in the spring.
    4. It is entirely up to you whether or not you use supplemental lighting to have a 14-16 hour "day" through the winter, but I highly recommend it.

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