How To Keep Your Chickens Laying Through The Winter

How To Keep Your Chickens Laying Through The Winter

Today we’re going to talk about keeping your hens laying through winter.

And since mine have started to drop off in production, this is a topic near and dear to my heart.

There’s many reasons why a hen can drop off production in the winter, and we’re going to look at reasons why that happens, both biological and environmental, and what you can do about it.

Some people like to give their hens the winter off, or let nature do its thing and go with the flow as their hens naturally drop egg production in the winter. Personally, I like to be eating omelets year round, so I try to keep my chickens producing eggs in the winter.

Why do chickens stop laying in the winter?

The biggest reason hens stop laying in the winter is because the days get shorter, and so there’s less light. Egg production is triggered by light, specifically by the pituitary gland and the amount of light that is affecting the pituitary gland. And since shorter days mean less light, it triggers the pituitary gland to stop producing the hormones that command egg production.

Chickens need about fourteen hours of light per day to keep laying eggs. Now this isn’t to say every hen needs fourteen hours, and we’ve even bred chickens that will keep laying throughout shorter days, such as Production Reds. But generally speaking, most chickens need fourteen hours or so of light in order to lay eggs consistently.

From an evolutionary stand point, more energy is needed to keep a hen alive during the winter. And chicks are less likely to survive in the winter because chicks have a harder time maintaining their own body temperature until they feather out. So there’s less evolutionary value in producing eggs during the winter. So from that angle, it makes sense why hens don’t lay in the winter!

Now for people this stinks, obviously, because we have to work to keep egg production up, or just simply go without eggs.

How can I keep my hens laying?

There are several things you can do to keep your hens laying through the winter. The main thing is adding light. In order to keep your hens laying throughout the winter you have to supplement the light that your chickens get with artificial light. In our coop, we use battery powered lamps.

If you’re lucky enough to have electric lights in your coop, you can use those, or you can also use solar energy. That’s a great option if you are off grid. We’re looking at getting solar panels for our coop this winter, but for now we’re just using battery powered lanterns.

One thing to keep in mind is you need to use a strong light.  When we first started putting lamps in the coop, the lamps just didn’t emit enough light and so it was useless. Obviously, you don’t need to blind your hens, but just using  a small LED flashlight, in my experience, doesn’t work. So we use battery operated lanterns, which shed enough light to keep egg production up, but not so much that it’s overwhelming for my hens.

I advise you to skip infrared heat lamps. That’s the red light bulbs. In my opinion, the risks are way too high. Those heat lamps get really, really, really hot! And all it takes is a hen knocking it down (and chickens are great at getting into trouble) and you might lose your whole flock to a fire.

Putting a light in your coop is the top way to keep your hens laying throughout winter. But let’s talk about some other things you can do that are really just as important.

Molting

So the next thing we’re going to talk about is molting. If you don’t know what molting is, when hens molt they’re losing one set of feathers and replacing them with new ones. This could take a couple months, and while hens are molting they aren’t producing eggs.

Now when a hen molts, her body naturally puts all of its energy into producing new feathers, hence the drop in egg production. This generally happens in the fall and in early winter after your hen’s first year. Usually when she’s about eighteen months old, although I have had them molt at younger ages.

Now there’s really nothing you can or should do to speed up molting. I know in factory farms with chickens, they try to speed it up. But you really shouldn’t be doing anything to speed it up. It’s a natural process. But one thing that you can do that might help is to feed your hens extra protein, so her body can redirect extra energy into producing eggs.

So if you have a hen that’s molting, you can try a 22% commercial feed, or something with a lot of protein in it. Try things such as mealworms, black soldier fly larvae, or wheat fodder. If you like to feed eggs to your chickens, eggs are another protein supplement you can give a molting hen.

I supplement molting hens with my Fluffiest Feathers Ever Chicken Supplement. It’s packed full of protein and nutrients to help your hens have the fluffiest feathers ever! You can find it in the store here: Fluffiest Feathers Ever Chicken Supplement

 

Make sure your hens have enough to eat

The third thing that you can do in the winter to keep your hens laying eggs is to make sure they get enough to eat, especially if your hens are used to foraging.

During the cooler weather, foraging obviously gets harder, and as the weather turns cooler, chickens start using more nutrients and energy from whatever they’re eating to keep warm. So if they get too cold, they’re going to take all the energy and put it to keeping warm instead of producing eggs.

So it’s really important in cool weather to make sure that your chickens are getting enough to eat. And if your hens will be cooped up all winter, or if there is a lot of snow and they don’t want to leave their coop, you’ll need to watch how much they’re eating and increase what you’re offering so that they have enough energy to make eggs.

And when I give this advice, I’m assuming that you’re also providing a supplementary light to promote egg production because the bottom line is that without the supplementary light, most chickens won’t lay. But making sure that they have enough to eat is also very important.

You can simply feed more of your hens regular ration or supplement with mealworms, if you don’t already feed them. If it’s gonna be a cold night, you can offer corn. But as a consistent way to increase their feed, I don’t suggest feeding corn. You’re better off offering just more of what they already normally eat, and making sure that they’re getting enough protein and calcium.

Calcium

To help keep your hens laying toward the winter, you should also make sure that they’re getting enough calcium. This is really important. Winter is an especially important time to offer oyster shells as a calcium supplement. You should do it all year round, but winter is especially an important time to do it.

I just offer oyster shells separately in a bowl or a dish. Don’t mix it with their feed, just offer it separately so they can take it as they need it.

Without the calcium supplement, hens will start to draw calcium from their own bones which you don’t want. It’s not to say that if you don’t offer oyster shells, they will absolutely draw calcium from their bones, but if they don’t get enough calcium in their diet, it will start to come from their own bodies.

So I suggest that you offer them oyster shells as a supplement and let them eat at it as they need it.

If you have any concerns about whether your chickens are getting the right diet or are deficient in anything, you can always take them to a vet to have blood pulled to double check. But as long as you’re sticking to a recommended diet and feeding enough, your chickens should be okay.

Just remember, that I’m not a vet, so this is just a public service announcement. If you have any concerns about your chickens not getting the right amount of nutrients, have a vet pull some blood and double check it.

Now let’s just talk about scratch for a minute. I think you should avoid scratch at all costs, especially commercial scratch. If you make it from home and it has enough protein, that’s one thing. But commercial scratch … I suggest that you just save your money and don’t buy it.

Personally I think you’re better off offering more of the regular feed, or offering some other tasty treat.

Stress

Now something else that can shut down egg production in winter, even if you do everything else right, is stress. When a hen’s body is stressed, she’s less likely to lay. So when it’s very hot or very cold, she is less likely to lay because her body is having a little bit more stress. But there’s also environmental stresses that can be brought on by winter and confinement.

Now as it gets colder, you might choose to keep your hens in the coop more often. Or when there’s a lot of snow hens will choose to stay in the coop rather than brave the elements. This can lead to some environmental stresses, especially if they’re used to getting out and about a lot.

This is the classic issue of overcrowding. Overcrowding can lead to a drop in egg production and behaviors like egg eating, picking at each other, fighting. So when there’s snow everywhere and they don’t want to go outside, what are you going do?

Here’s what we do. In the past, we’ve put straw on the ground in the run. We don’t use shavings because shavings absorb water and it can become a boggy mess in the run very quickly. So we use straw which gives them a nice, clean place to walk and it’s a little bit warmer than snow.

Then to convince them to go outside we offer them treats, like mealworms. Pumpkin is another favorite. You can offer them any treat that they really go nuts for.

The situation of chickens being in the coop too much really becomes one of weighing the risks and the benefits. If they stay inside, what kind of behavioral, or even nutritional issues will they develop if they’re in the coop for long periods of time without sunlight. Vitamin D absorption can become an issue which then causes problems with calcium absorption. So look at the risks versus the benefits in making them go outside for a couple hours.

Obviously I’m not saying you should make them go outside in negative thirty degree weather or thirty mile an hour gusts. I definitely wouldn’t have them go outside in that case.

I’d definitely wait for a day when the weather is better. If you have really bad weather every day where you live, I’d consider building them an indoor warm area, like a greenhouse. But in reasonable winter weather, there’s no harm in making them go outside for a couple hours, and it will only benefit them and help avoid cabin fever.

Boredom Busters

Another option is what I like to call boredom busters. You can find a lot of examples out there on the internet. You can move perches around a lot to give them some interesting environmental things to think about. Something mine love are pumpkins, and literally what I do is I just break it in half and let them peck at the flesh and enjoy that for a few hours. We have about thirty chickens in our coop and it takes them a few hours to get through it all.

If you can’t find pumpkins in your area, you can offer them squash or other gourds. And the nice thing is that since the flesh is a little bit tougher in pumpkins and squash, it can take them some time to get through it, they get extra food, and they also love the seeds.

In my experience, the squash and the pumpkin keep them occupied longer which, in the dead of winter, when they’re bored, is always a good thing. It also keeps them moving around, which helps them keep their body temperature up.

With your flock, you can use some of these ideas to help reduce their stress levels, or you can always come up with your own to keep your flock occupied during colder days of the year when they might not want to go outside and play. And the less stress that they have, the more likely they are to keep laying throughout the winter.

If you want more boredom buster ideas you can head over to my article about my favorite gifts and winter boredom busters for your chickens.

So to sum up, making sure that your hens get enough to eat, get enough light, and have low levels of stress, will help you keep your hens laying eggs. Do you have any ideas you have on how to keep hens laying through the winter? What are your favorite winter boredom busters for chickens?

7 DIY Coop Signs For Crazy Chicken Ladies

7 DIY Coop Signs For Crazy Chicken Ladies

I love chicken coop signs! I think they’re so fun and no coop is complete without one.

Every crazy chicken lady needs the perfect sign for her coop. Luckily for you, chicken coop signs are so easy to make yourself! So today I decided to put together some of my absolute favorite DIY chicken coop signs. These signs are great because most of them just require some wood and paint!

Let’s get started! Here are some of my favorite DIY chicken coop signs!

[This page might contain affiliate links, which means for any item you purchase using our links, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting our website and being a part of the Pampered Chicken Mama family!]

The Ladies DIY Coop Sign

I love this sign. Remind your “ladies” of how important they are every time they come into their coop! You could also throw in some rose petals to their nesting boxes to give your “ladies” an extra treat.

Tutorial: The Ladies DIY Coop Sign

The Waddle On Inn

I LOVE this sign! I need this for our new duck pen! This sign would be SOOOO easy to make. All you need are some wood letters like these ones here and you are good to go! I can just see my ducks in this cute coop munching on some yummy treats.

Free Range Chicken Jail

Not only is this the cutest coop ever (the inside is amazing), but I love this free range chicken jail sign! It’s so creative and your friends and family are sure to get a good laugh when they see it. You could DIY this sign with only some paint, wood, and a stencil (like this one here)

Check out the rest of this adorable coop here: Free Range Chicken Jail Coop

The Chick Inn

I love this coop sign! Again all you would need to DIY this coop sign is some paint, wood, and a stencil! Or if you’re short on time and still want a cute coop you can buy it here: The Chick Inn

Last One In Is A Rotten Egg

Don’t you love this one? This one is another simple DIY project or you can buy it here: Last one in is a rotten egg

Farm Fresh Eggs

Not going to lie, I kind of want this sign for my kitchen. But it would look amazing on a chicken coop! This sign is made with an old fence post and only takes 1-2 hours to create!

Tutorial: Distressed Farm Fresh Eggs Sign

Wicked Chickens Lay Deviled Eggs

I got a good laugh out of this one! You could easily DIY this sign with some paint, stencil, and scrap wood. Or you can buy it here: Wicked Chickens Lay Deviled Eggs Sign

Which of these coop signs is your favorite?

These Backyard Chicken Kitchen Decor Ideas Are Everything

These Backyard Chicken Kitchen Decor Ideas Are Everything

Don’t you just love chicken themed decor?

I love my chickens, and so I like to add subtle chicken decor items to my home to show that! There are so many fun chicken decor items out there that I absolutely love! Today I decided to compile some of my favorite chicken themed kitchen decor!

[This page might contain affiliate links, which means for any item you purchase using our links, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting our website and being a part of the Pampered Chicken Mama family!]

Rooster Paper Towel Holder

This rooster paper towel holder is perfect because it would blend seamlessly with a rustic farmhouse kitchen decor theme! It’s adorable and would add a fun rustic feel to any kitchen.

Find it here: Rooster Paper Towel Holder

Farmhouse Galvanized Metal Jars

These farmhouse galvanized metal jars are my favorite! They’re perfect for displaying in your kitchen and you could tuck away some treats you want to hide from the kiddos;)

Find them here: Farmhouse Galvanized Metal Jars 

Nested Hen and Chick Measuring Cups

These measuring cups are too cute! I’m obsessed with them! When you’re not using them they all fit together perfectly, so that you could leave them on your counter as decoration!

Find them here: Nested Hen and Chick Measuring Cups

Mother Hen and Chicks Sculptures

I think these sculptures would look perfect in your kitchen, possibly on top of your counters or your refrigerator. These would also be stunning as outdoor decor for the garden!

Find them here: Mother Hen and Chicks Sculptures

Metal Chicken Shaped Egg Basket

Isn’t this egg basket perfect for displaying your eggs from your hens! This metal chicken shaped basket is the perfect decor item for a kitchen!

Find it here: Metal Chicken Shaped Egg Basket

Farmhouse Kitchen Towels

These kitchen towels are fun and pretty! I love the cute sayings and the subtle black and cream colors of these kitchen towels! They would fit perfectly into any farmhouse style kitchen!

Find them here: Farmhouse Kitchen Towels

Metal Rooster 

This metal rooster is the perfect wall decor item for your kitchen! Display this in your kitchen or dining room to show your guests how much you love your roosters!

Find it here: Metal Rooster

Chicken Refrigerator Magnet

This magnet is so cute and would be the perfect addition to a refrigerator! This magnet looks like it came from a tree branch which means it would fit perfectly with rustic themed decor!

Find it here: Chicken Refrigerator Magnet

Yes I Really Need All These Chickens Mug

I love this mug! I would drink out of this every day! Because yes I really do need all of my chickens!

Find it here: Chicken Mug

Which of these chicken decor items is your favorite? 

More farmhouse home decor ideas:

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Try This DIY Hanging Pumpkin Treat For Your Chickens

Try This DIY Hanging Pumpkin Treat For Your Chickens

Today I wanted to share a simple DIY hanging pumpkin treat that you can make for your chickens.

The idea for this project comes from reader Herdy Bell! Thanks for sharing it with us Herdy!

My chickens love pumpkins and since it’s right after Halloween there tend to be a lot of leftover pumpkins around! You can snag great deals on pumpkins at grocery stores or at farms after Halloween. I always stock up on pumpkin, so that I can feed them to my flock.

Remember, however, that pumpkins are treats – not a replacement for a good basic diet.

Now this project is pretty simple, basically you’re just going to hang a pumpkin in your coop.

You might ask, why would I hang my pumpkin and not just give it to them? Well you can definitely just slice your pumpkin in half and give it to them. Trust me they’ll love it.

But hanging the pumpkin provides some different environmental interest for your chickens. It’s something new and fun for them to do. Providing environmental activities is important, especially going into the winter months.

When winter comes and chickens tend to be in the coop more, bad behaviors (such as picking feathers, or picking on others) can set in very easily. And that can make your life difficult.

Providing stimulating activities in your coop or run for your chickens can distract them from developing negative behaviors.

Plus it’s just fun to watch your chickens play with and figure out new toys and treats!

Here’s how to make this DIY Hanging Pumpkin Treat

All you need is:

  • A pumpkin
  • Rope or twine
  • Serrated kitchen knife
  • Drill

Step One: Drill a hole 

Now the first thing you need to do is drill a hole in the stem of your pumpkin. You’re going to want to choose a pumpkin with a think, sturdy stem. Then you need to drill a hole through the pumpkin’s stem horizontally, as close to the base as possible.

After you drill the hole you can thread your twine through the hole. I recommend using thicker twine so that the weight of the pumpkin doesn’t break it.

You can also thread a second piece of twine through the hole to make sure that it’s secure. After your twine is threaded through, you just need to tie the two ends of the twine together so that you can easily hang the pumpkin from something in your coop.

Step Two: Scrape off parts of the outer pumpkin shell

Next you need to scrape off parts of the outer shell/skin. This will make it easier for your chickens to be able to get to the insides and seeds of the pumpkin.

You could do this a variety of different ways. I used a small serrated knife I had in my kitchen. All I did was start sawing at the side of the pumpkin with the serrated knife.

The point here is you want to take parts of the outer layer of the pumpkin off, so that your chickens have access to the soft insides of the pumpkin.

After sawing with the knife I was able to pull off parts of the skin and keep going. You don’t have to take off all the skin (that would take forever), just enough that your chickens will have access to the insides.

Step 3: Hang your pumpkin

Now you can hang your pumpkin in your coop! I would hang it fairly close to the floor of your coop/run, around 6-12 inches off the ground, just to be safe.

And that’s it! I love how simple and easy it is to make this DIY treat for your flock! Thanks again Herdy for sharing your idea with us!

More Chicken Treat Articles:

5 Herbs Every Chicken Mama Needs This Winter

5 Herbs Every Chicken Mama Needs This Winter

While there are a lot of herbs that are great for your backyard chickens, there are a few that are very important during the fall and winter months.

 

Their tiny bodies have to work hard to stay warm and healthy during the winter, and while a good layer feed is ALWAYS the basis of any healthy diet, you don’t need to stop there.

 

There’s herbs you can provide your chickens that’ll support healthy immune system functions – which is especially important when the mercury dips!

 

Here’s the top 5 herbs you should keep handy!

 

Oregano

Oregano is one of my favorite herbs for backyard chickens. It supports healthy immune systems, and hens love to GOBBLE down the little green flecks.

 

You can offer fresh or dried oregano – both are great – and you’ll want to use the leaves of the oregano plant. Mix with their feed, offer separately, OR make a “tea” by immersing them in water.

 

Whenever we have a chicken or duck that needs some extra TLC, I turn first to oregano!

 

You can find oregano for your chickens here: Oregano for Backyard Chickens

Echinacea

Without a doubt, you’ve heard of echinacea!

 

Echinacea has been used traditionally to support healthy immune system functions for centuries, and it’s a great herb for your chickens, too!

 

You can use the leaves or the roots of the echinacea plant – while the roots are more powerful, they’re also more expensive. Chickens love picking at the leaves!

 

It’s easiest to mix echinacea with their feed or use it as a top dress. If your chickens aren’t sure what to do, add an extra treat such as mealworms or dried river shrimp to the mix – your flock will quickly figure it out!

 

To make it easier for chicken owners to get echinacea, we’ve included it in my herbal blend StrongHen (TM). Wherever you buy echinacea, be sure it’s 100% pure!

 

 

Calendula

Calendula is not only good for giving your eggs the perfect golden yolk, but it’s also great to offer your hens during the winter months. In fact, it’s a bit of a “superherb” that’s used in traditional herbalism for many things: to support skin, immune system functions, healthy digestion, and more!

 

As a bonus, it smells DIVINE.

 

The beta carotenes that gives these flowers their pretty yellow petals are also super healthy nutrients for your hens. Calendula has some antimicrobial properties, and is packed with many other vitamins that will help your flock be healthier during the cold winter months.

 

Plus your hens will love picking at these pretty yellow flowers, so it’s a great winter boredom buster.

 

You’ll want to use the dried flowers and/or petals. You can add to feed, create a tea (it makes a pretty sweet tea), or add to nesting boxes.

 

Find calendula here: Calendula for Backyard Chickens

 

herbs for backyard chickens

Elder

Elder is packed full of immune support power for your chickens.

 

Elderberry has been used as a traditional herbal remedy for centuries and researchers are discovering that it’s a powerful herb for keeping chickens healthy!

 

In a 2014 study, researchers found that elderberry helped prevent Infections Bronchitis Virus in chickens (source).

 

For humans, elderberries and elder flower are used to support healthy immune functions. With chickens, you can use the berries and the flowers – hens love both!

 

While humans can use elder in a tincture, you’ll want to stick with dried or fresh berries and/or dried flowers. Particularly if you offer dried berries, add it to their feed – your hens will love to pick at their tiny dark treats!

 

In our herbal blend StrongHen (TM), you’ll find elderberries (along with most of the other herbs I mention in this list). It’s an easy and economical way to get all these herbs in one product.

 

Garlic

Not only is garlic perfect for adding flavor to your meals, but it’s also great for supporting the immune system of your backyard chickens!

 

Garlic has been traditionally used for generations to support healthy immune functions, and it’s no different for chickens! The allicin in garlic gives the herb it’s characteristic smell AND it’s where the power of the herb originates.

 

It’s easiest to offer garlic steeped in your flock’s water. You can use fresh or dried garlic – both are great!

 

You can find garlic for your flock here: Garlic

PCM StrongHen (TM)

My StrongHen herbal mix combines the powers of oregano, echinacea, garlic, elder, calendula, and other great herbs to keep your chicken’s immune system strong. This mix is perfect for fall and winter because it gives your chickens the immune boost they need to stay healthy!

You can find PCM StrongHen here: StrongHen

Have more questions about keeping your flock healthy in the winter? Check out these articles: