Get More Eggs in Winter with Light and Diet is by Amanda Pelletier, Alton, Maine
If you’re chickens are anything like mine they go on vacation near the winter solstice. For a week before and a week after they will reduce egg output due to the shortening of daylight and colder temperatures as Maine plunges into the heart of winter. There are many measures an avid chicken owner can undertake to get more eggs in winter.
How Many Eggs Does a Chicken Lay?
The first thing to understand to get more eggs in winter is chickens are hard working creatures. Your average year old hen can lay five to six eggs a week at peak production. Depending on the breed, a healthy backyard hen in Maine’s climate will give its keeper 320 eggs a year and over 600 for a lifetime total output. Modern chickens are descendants of jungle fowl from Southeast Asia that were caught and domesticated. They spread to nearly all points of the Earth through human trade and globalization.
ANCIENT JUNGLE CHICKENS—really!?
These ancient chickens only laid 12 eggs during their annual breeding season. The rise of agriculture and small flock breeding gave us the modern chickens that can lay all year. Better nutrition and careful breeding has allowed hens to mature faster and lay larger eggs more often over the past one hundred years. Understanding where the chicken comes from and it’s preferred environmental conditions helps to explain why they are not into laying eggs in the depth of winter.
Get More Eggs in Winter by Using Artificial Light
Chickens lay the most eggs in Maine during the summer months. This is when the days are the longest and nights are the warmest. The hens are happy and triggered by instinct to lay eggs while the environment around them is most bountiful. They eat insects, frogs and seeds as they browse your yard and are as happy as a hen can get.
For our homesteaders with power—who have no qualms about lighting up their coop like a poultry disco inferno—it is your best way to get more eggs in winter.
Depending on how warm and airtight your coop is you may want to add a heat bulb. It should keep it a safe distance from the hens and point it at the nesting area. Make sure they cannot shatter the bulb by knocking it over, perching on it, flying into it or by any other chicken mode of destruction. Mine is attached to the roof rafter.
Although any type of bulb will work to “trick” your hens into thinking the days are longer a bulb with a natural light tone is best, not one of those weird blueish colors.
To go a step further, add an all spectrum basking light which offers heat and therapeutic light that mimics real daylight. Be sure to use a safe socket. A simple aluminum reflector works best to put the heat and light beam right where you want it. This will set you back $12 and provide the very best light for your hens to get more eggs in winter.
I’m a modern homesteader with Amazon Prime and use it often to source affordable essentials—don’t judge. I know buying local is better for our local economy, but I can’t always afford it.
Get More Eggs in Winter by Letting in More Natural Light
Natural light might be hard to come by but it’s still the best for your hens. This is the best option of old fashioned homesteaders or for those without power. Does your chicken coop have windows? Clean them up to let in better light. How long are they outside? Kick them out on warm days if they stay cooped up or perched for hours after they wake up.
Try setting their food outside or toss a few “treats” out on the snow for them to peck at. I’m not a pet owner, I’m a chicken owner. so don’t think I’m out buying those fancy overpriced mealworm chicken treats. I mean some greens, tiny gravel grit or kitchen scraps. Exercise is good for chickens and homesteaders with cabin fever.
When we build our coop we used greenhouse corrugated roofing. This makes the entire roof a window. The downside is it needs to be cleared from snow after each storm. If you want to use it, be sure to set a good pitch. Oh, and make sure to use a push broom instead of a roof rake—it will catch on the screws.
Change Your Hens’ Diet to Get More Eggs in Winter
Eggs are mostly made of calcium. Layer pellets have calcium but are lower in protein. When you notice your hens going on strike, tell them it’s okay. Instead of continuing layer feed as usual add in some protein rich grower for these two short weeks. Mix it in gradually until it’s half and half about one week in then wean them back off.
When they are back on their regular ho-hum layer diet try adding crushed shells to their feed. We save our shells in an old sauce can with holes punched in the sides. This can keeps them dry with ventilation until it’s full—which in our hungry home takes about a week and a half. Keep crushing them down to make more room.
Use the top of your wood stove to dry them out periodically and kill off any bacteria. They can be set on a trivet or fire stone to be slowly heated. Alternatively, bake them in your oven at 300°f for half an hour until they shatter with ease. Careful not to burn them, it stinks. Once they are cooked, set them in a bowl to crush them with the bottom of a cup and mix then in with your hen’s food.
Oyster Shells Vs. Crushed Egg Shells
Chickens can also be fed oyster shells that are made for adding calcium and grit to their diet. But they are expensive, come in thick plastic packaging that is hard to repurpose and my hens found many of the bits too large. My hens like the shells better and they are free. Just start collecting them BEFORE your ladies take a holiday vacation.