Too late to add light? Feed same amount without laying? Adding a rooster when?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by amama, Dec 7, 2016.

  1. amama

    amama Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 16, 2016
    Midwest US
    These are our first chickens so we haven't had a winter with them yet. We have 12 Black Australorp hens that are 14 months old that free range on 50 acres (well, they don't go all that far from the house). They weren't eating much feed, so we took away commercial feed to see if it mattered that much, and they started to molt and stopped laying, which wasn't what we wanted, so we added the feed back in. They started laying again, about 6 a day, (laid 12-13 a day during the summer) and then just stopped immediately after the days got shorter. I wasn't planning on using artificial light, but didn't know they would stop laying completely. I had read their breed would lay through the winter, but maybe I read that wrong or assumed that meant without artificial light.

    1) We have them for egg production, and don't want to feed them without eggs in return, so is it too late to start adding artificial light in the coop?

    2) Do those of you that have hens that don't lay through the winter, do you still feed them the same amount? I wouldn't think they would need as much when not laying.

    3) We would like to get a rooster to have chicks to start the next round of egg layers, but I didn't want to get one in the winter since it's too cold for chicks outside. Would February be too early to start that process?

    4) Will hens handle a rooster being introduced that wasn't raised around them?

    Thank you for your advice
  2. junebuggena

    junebuggena Chicken Obsessed

    Apr 17, 2015
    Long Beach, WA
    Molting birds need more protein than layer feed typically has. Molting birds, and birds that are recovering from molting do not lay. A high protein feed helps get them through the molt and back into laying condition sooner.
    Regardless of production rate, your birds should never be denied access to a balanced feed. Feed is something that should be available to them all day long.
    The winter solstice is only a few more weeks away, and then days will naturally begin to lengthen. Supplemental lighting at this point will not likely have much effect, as it can take several weeks to start working.
    It takes time for roosters to gain the willing participation of a new flock of hens. If you want spring chicks, get your rooster sooner, rather than later. Eggs don't just spontaneously develop, so you don't have to worry about unwanted chicks. Do get yourself an incubator. Adding a rooster to the flock will not cause your hens to go broody. And you can't count on your hens going broody when you want chicks. My Australorps are late summer/early fall broodies.
  3. QueenMisha

    QueenMisha Queen of the Coop

    1. You could certainly add artificial light at this point, but keep in mind that birds need breaks. No bird will lay year round and no bird will lay all the way through winter. Black Australorps are average layers and not really any better through winter or any other season than other typical breeds. If they're totally done with molt, a light should improve egg production.

    2. They use practically just as much energy keeping warm as they do laying eggs, so I would expect them to eat about the same amount year round. They should be free fed a commercial ration at all times. Chances are removing their feed is part of what put them all into molt - it's a commonly used tactic in the egg industry, where birds are given a nutritionally or proportionally inadequate diet to force a molt sooner than one would naturally occur (so they can return to laying sooner).

    3. Why exactly do you want to purchase the rooster as a chick? There are hundreds if not thousands of mature roosters available for free throughout the country, including some very nice rare-breed and quality birds. A chick cannot be purchased alone, so you would need to get several female chicks to go along with him. It takes quite a bit of feed and time to raise several chicks to maturity. Not to mention you cannot at all determine the personality of a chick, whereas a rooster who is over 6-8 months of age is quite unlikely to become aggressive if he hasn't already done so. In any case, chicks can indeed be raised and purchased as early as February - they may simply need to be kept under a heat lamp longer.

    4. A young rooster will be bullied quite a lot, though this is not always a bad thing. A mature rooster will be accepted immediately into the flock.
  4. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon
    1) We have them for egg production, and don't want to feed them without eggs in return, so is it too late to start adding artificial light in the coop? You can add light now. The time of year may make it kind of a moot point, as the days are going to start lengthening anyway here in a few weeks.

    2) Do those of you that have hens that don't lay through the winter, do you still feed them the same amount? I wouldn't think they would need as much when not laying. I feed everyone free choice. Even though you free range, this time of year I'm thinking there's not much out there for them to eat. Insects are scarce, there's no seeds, greenery is dormant. Not sure what they're surviving on? Even non-laying birds need more calories during the winter, just to generate body heat. And from my understanding, re-growing feathers takes a tremendous amount of energy, thus feed. I have a multi-age and generational flock. All my birds are either actively growing, laying, brooding chicks, molting and recharging, or headed to the table. Even the hens that are recharging for the winter still need quality feed, to ramp them up for production come spring.

    3) We would like to get a rooster to have chicks to start the next round of egg layers, but I didn't want to get one in the winter since it's too cold for chicks outside. Would February be too early to start that process? Not sure how much you know about chicken reproduction, so bear with me. Having a rooster does not mean you'll have baby chicks, it means you'll have fertile eggs. Fertile eggs need to be incubated, either by a broody hen or in by yourself in an incubator. So it doesn't matter when you add the rooster to the flock, you can easily control when incubation happens.
    Lots of folks start with chicks in Feb or March. Plan for about 6 weeks with a heat lamp, puts you at April or so for them to be weaned from the heat. That's usually a decent time of year for them to be out and about.

    4) Will hens handle a rooster being introduced that wasn't raised around them? Yep. He may have to earn their respect, but that's okay. A younger cockerel may take a bit longer to achieve mating privileges than an mature (one year or older) bird.
    1 person likes this.
  5. FoodFreedomNow

    FoodFreedomNow Chillin' With My Peeps

    I have a multi- and mixed-breed flock (including several Black Australorp and BA mixes) with roughly 20 hens and pullets of laying age. Some have recently molted or are molting now. I get about a quarter of the number of eggs that I was getting in summer. While BAs have many attributes, I agree with @QueenMisha that they are similar to other popular breeds (e.g., New Hampshire Red, Buff Orpington, Wyandottes, Leghorn) for winter egg production; all of the girls have slowed down.

    My chickens free range, so I feed more (fermented feed) during winter than during more abundant seasons. I also increase the FF's protein content to make up for the lack of availability of bugs and to help with molting.
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    At 14 months old in the US Midwest how have they not gone through a winter? It’s not unusual for some pullets to skip the molt their first fall/winter and continue to lay throughout that winter, it’s not unusual for pullets to molt that first winter either. It’s pretty common for all chickens to reduce laying in winter, even if they don’t stop altogether. With hens the age of yours I’d expect a molt, though it’s always possible some might skip it.

    When chickens molt they stop laying and use the nutrition that was going into making eggs to grow new feathers. I personally do not increase protein when they stop laying eggs and grow new feathers, I do not increase protein when they finish the molt and start laying again. Mine get the same feed year around.

    Black Australorp have the reputation of laying well in the winter. Several production breeds can do that but somehow BA’s have gained that reputation. But this does not mean they totally skip the molt and lay the year around. Any chicken will stop laying when they molt. Some hens wait until spring with the days getting longer and the weather getting warmer to start laying after the molt. Some start up pretty quickly after they finish the molt, even if it is still the dead of winter. My flock is a barnyard mix but mostly based on production breeds, including Black Australorp. Most of mine start laying after they finish the molt, even in the dead of winter. But some don’t, they wait for spring. Each chicken is an individual. Some breeds have tendencies but not all individual of that breed follow those tendencies. BA’s have the reputation for starting laying after the molt, not laying during the molt, and not waiting until better weather to start back up.

    Chickens originally developed to lay eggs and raise chicks in the good weather months when food was plentiful. In the fall when food started getting scarcer they stopped that activity and molted to replace feathers that were worn out. They shut down egg laying during the winter when food was scarce and waited for the better days of spring to start the annual cycle. We changed all that when we domesticated them. By getting food year around they no longer had to shut down in the winter. They still need to molt but they can go back to laying much earlier, some even go broody in the winter, especially if you extend the lights, though most wait until spring or summer if they go broody at all. Most production breeds don’t.

    Could yours survive in the Midwest in winter without you feeding them? I don’t know where you are in the Midwest, how much snow and ice you get. I remember a trusted forum member that told a story about a flock of chickens going feral and surviving the winter on the Michigan peninsula so I’ll say it’s possible. They probably ate snow for water and somehow managed to find enough to eat to survive, he said there were dormant gardens they could forage in. But I would not say they were thriving and they were certainly not laying eggs. Chickens need a certain amount of various nutrients to lay eggs, not just proteins but many different nutrients. They are not likely to find enough of those in the winter to lay many eggs.

    Yours were probably going to molt anyway due to their age. Shutting off their feed probably stressed them enough to kick-start that process. How fast they get over the molt has a lot to do with how fast the feathers fall out, that’s controlled by genetics. Some are fast molters and some are slow molters. I would go back to how you were feeding them as a minimum. I’m not going to argue against increasing their nutrition, it will help the feathers grow back faster and prettier, but the main control on how fast they molt is how fast the feathers fall out. But the big contribution to getting them back to laying after the molt is that they need to build up certain reserves before they start to lay again. Better nutrition will speed that process.

    I don’t know how much increasing the light will help you. As mentioned the days are going to start getting longer pretty soon anyway. You have a breed that has a tendency for some to start laying when the molt is over no matter what time of year it is. That does not mean that all will, but the tendency says that some should. I don’t know how close yours are to finishing the molt. As mentioned it’s not an instantaneous process anyway, they need to make some internal changes to their egg laying plumbing to start laying, that can take weeks. I don’t usually extend lights but as important as eggs are to you it’s something for you to consider. I did one year when I needed early hatching eggs and they just would not start back up. I think it helped but not much. Most still did not start back up that quickly.
  7. amama

    amama Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 16, 2016
    Midwest US
    Thanks for the replies. I think I wasn't clear or didn't include enough info on a few things.

    1) We aren't far north in the midwest, so it's not brutal here although can get a lot of snow/ice sometimes. It also has been one of the strangest falls we have ever had, temperatures were super warm for a long time, flowers were starting to grow/bloom, and it hardly felt like fall or winter until a couple of weeks ago, so our grass is still very green and we have flies/mosquitos still, so the hens have foraged well, and there is still plenty for our goats to eat too. So it probably sounded really mean to withhold the feed, but it was back in early November, and they weren't eating very much of the feed, and had a lot of foraging options left. Last week was bitterly cold below zero nights/icy/snowy and we've been feeding them more than normal to help them stay warm. Now it's supposed to be 60 degrees on Christmas!

    2) QueenMisha, I don't want a rooster chick, I meant we want chicks to hatch. I would rather get a rooster from someone who has too many roos. I didn't know the flock would accept an older one better, so that's good.

    3) I didn't say the hens hadn't gone through a winter before, just that I hadn't gone through a winter with them, we got them as 5 month old pullets last spring.

    We ended up adding light just a couple hours a day for a little extra warmth in the coop when it was so cold last week.

    If I find a good rooster (not aggressive with people) around here, would I put him in a cage for a while away from the hens, then in the cage/coop with the hens before letting him free range with them? Are the signs of health in a rooster basically the same as signs of health in a hen so I know he can be put with them?

  8. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Chicken Obsessed

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    A single rooster is the easiest of additions. If you think he is healthy, you can add him directly to your flock. They will work it out. Whenever I have done this, mine are in love in 24 hours.

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