Chicken Nesting Boxes: Owner’s Guide

Chicken Nesting Boxes: Owner’s Guide

Chicken nesting boxes are central to owning hens – it’s where the magic of laying eggs happens!

 

Choosing the RIGHT nesting boxes is pretty important – I’m frequently contacted by owners who think their hens aren’t laying eggs.

 

But often, the issue is these hens just aren’t fans of their nesting areas – so they’re laying elsewhere.

 

And we all know that one of the best parts of being a chicken mama is being a chicken grandmama! The excitement can’t be contained when you find the fluffy butts sitting on eggs because they’ve gone broody.

 

But, as I said above, hens don’t just lay anywhere – just where they feel safe.

 

In this article, you’ll discover everything you need to know – whether you’ll buy your “egg depositories” or plan to use a chicken nesting boxes plans pdf to build your own.

 

If you plan to buy nesting boxes, these are the brands we recommend:

 

 

It’s most important that the nesting box is easy for your hens to get in and out of – the look or material is less important than your hens feel safe.

 

What can I use as a chicken nesting box?

Pretty much anything can be a nesting box – a basket, a box, 5 gallon buckets, you name it. The most important thing is that a nesting box is:

 

  • Quiet
  • Clean
  • Dark

 

You can find lots of DIY nesting box plans online – just choose a style that suits your flock and your coop.

 

How many nesting boxes are necessary?

Flocks of different sizes have different needs – you don’t need a million nesting boxes if you only have a few hens! While there really is no hard and fast rule about how many nesting boxes for chickens you should have, a basic rule of thumb is 1 nesting box per 4-5 chickens.

 

Why so few? Chickens are social animals, and hens like to share their laying space. In fact, if you enter your chicken coop at just the right time, you might find 2 or even 3 hens cluttering up ONE nesting box!

 

So, if you’re asking yourself, “how many nesting boxes do I need for 20 chickens?,” rest assured that 5 boxes is enough for 20 chickens.

 

They might only use two of those and making one nesting box for each hen is overkill!

 

How many nesting boxes do you need for 6 chickens?

Remember that for every 4-5 chickens, 1 box is best. So for 6 chickens, 2 boxes is enough.

 

What is the best material for a chicken nesting box?

Wood, metal, and plastic are popular choices for nesting boxes. DIY versions can be made from scrap wood left from a previous project, or plywood would be awesome! You can also make economical plastic chicken nesting boxes out of 5 gallon buckets, milk crates, and even cat litter boxes!

 

Some people like the Roll Out nest boxes you see on Amazon. These are usually made of metal, which is easy to clean and sanitize.

 

 

(Just remember that these contraptions take up space, and gravity plays a huge part for this kind of system – for it to work properly, the roll away nest box angle should be considered.)

 

Whichever material you choose, just remember that it’s important your hens’ living area is frequently cleaned – so choose material that’s easy to sanitize.

 

What’s the best bedding for chicken nest boxes? What do you put in a nesting box?

 

  1. Pine Shavings
  2. Straw
  3. Hay
  4. Cedar Shavings
  5. Grass clippings
  6. Recycled or shredded newspaper
  7. Shredded leaves
  8. Nesting pads

 

For bedding, we use pine shavings. They’re easy to clean, easy to find in farm stores, and economical.

 

Straw and hay are fine as well – you will likely need to change the bedding more often. Some people claim straw and hay can harbor chicken mites. This might be true (but really, any bedding can if you don’t change it often enough).

 

Grass clippings and shredded leaves aren’t recommended. They’re not very absorbent and will get dirty a lot faster. Grass in particular creates a gross, moist environment fast. Newspaper isn’t very absorbent either, and the ink will get on your hens and possibly the eggs.

 

Lastly, some people object to using cedar in their coops, claiming the scent of cedar might harm chickens. While the jury is still out on this, pine shavings make a fine substitute.

 

However, if you find you really have a lot of problems with mites, cedar shavings might be a safer bet – it’s far more likely your hens will be harmed by mites than by cedar.

 

Some people add herbs so their hens have a nice-smelling space and to help them relax and prompt laying.

 

If you want to use a nesting box pad, there’s lots of commercial options. Here’s some brands I recommend:

 

 

Remember: This bedding will basically be the mattress for your hens. Before throwing in anything you find, keep in mind that your hens will be sitting on it – and if they’re comfortable, they’re more likely to use the nesting box.

 

Make sure the bedding is soft enough for the eggs to land on, and that they won’t get cracked if your hens roll them around.

 

The nesting box material should should also be easy for you to clean and sanitize – and prevent chicken mites.

 

Here at the farm, we add ¼ cup of our WormBGone nesting herbs 3-4 times a week to each nesting box to keep internal parasites away and MitesBGone to ward off chicken mites. We also make sure that we change the bedding mix once it gets soiled or wet.

 

The amount of material you use should correspond to the nesting box size as well – you want the nesting box to look full without seeming stuffed (and too stuffy for your hens to easily get in and out).

 

Do nesting boxes need to be elevated?

They can be sitting on the floor or raised. Keep in mind, however, that your hens are prey animals, and they’re easily startled during egg laying time. Nesting boxes that are elevated will help your chickens feel safer and prompt egg laying better than those on the ground. It also keeps the roosters from bothering them during a private moment. It’s also easier to keep poopy shavings away if you elevate the chicken nesting boxes.

 

How high should nesting boxes be off the ground?

18 inches to 2 feet is best so that all your hens can reach them. Chickens can’t fly very well – heavy breeds like brahmas or specialized breeds like silkies don’t fly much at all. So, you’ll want the boxes easily accessible, and any higher than 2 feet might be difficult for some breeds to reach.

 

If you plan to install the boxes higher (or if your coop came with them elevated), it would be great if you also install a perch or ladder to help the flightless members of your flock.

 

When should you open nesting boxes for chickens?

Once hens reach their laying stage at approximately 17 weeks, you can cut the ribbon and pop the champagne! At this stage they will already be accustomed to sleeping in the roosts they won’t get into the habit of sleeping where they should be laying.

 

How do you get chickens to lay eggs in a nesting box?

If your hens aren’t naturally using their nesting boxes, you should first try to figure out why. Are they not safe? Is the area too noisy? Are they dirty? Do your hens free range (which means they might choose a different location to lay)? Again, hens lay where they find it safe and comfortable. Make the nesting box bedding fluffy and clean. You can also use nesting herbs to attract your hens, and if you get really stuck, you can put training eggs in the boxes. These are fake eggs you put in nesting boxes to let pullets know that that is where they should lay their eggs. While this seems silly, chickens really do take the hint!

 

If your hens insist on laying their eggs everywhere, you can block the “wrong” places. This makes them go on a hunt for another safe place.

 

Just remember that if your nesting boxes aren’t:

  • Quiet
  • Clean
  • Dark

You might have a hard time getting your hens to use it!

 

How big do nesting boxes need to be?

Your chicken nesting box size is also important when talking about comfort. 14” x 14” x 16” boxes would be cozy enough for Brahmas, Ameraucanas, Araucanas, and other breeds. Consider how large your chicken is – you want the nesting boxes to be big enough for your hens, but not so big that they feel unsafe or exposed (remember, dark nesting boxes are best!).

 

How do you stop chickens from pooping in their nesting boxes?

It can be hard to stop them pooping in their boxes – chickens (like all birds) don’t have a bladder, so when they gotta go, they just go. Additionally chickens poop and lay eggs from the same area (the vent), so when your hen is laying an egg, some poop might accidentally slip out.

 

That being said, your chickens are more likely to poop in their boxes when they’re NOT laying an egg – meaning, if they’re using their boxes as a bed.

 

No matter how many nesting boxes per chicken you have, remember that the boxes aren’t their sleeping quarters. That’s what roosts are for.

 

Chickens would only poop in the nesting boxes when they treat them as their home (sleeping in them) because they do a lot of pooping at night. So it is essential for them to be trained to sleep in the roosts first before opening the boxes.

 

If you have chickens using their nesting boxes as a sleeping place, evict them! Shoo them or gently remove your hens when you find them getting too comfortable snoozing in those boxes.

 

How do you keep a nesting box clean?

You need to clean it regularly! Make it part of your egg gathering routine to do some housekeeping. Remove soiled bedding, feathers, and poop that you find. If it’s really gross, you’ll have to completely remove all the bedding and wipe down the laying area. You can use water, all-natural wipes, or other cleaning solutions to do the job.

 

Shavings are the easiest to clean while straw is the hardest! It is also the perfect place for pests to hide so it would also help out big time when you think about what to put in chicken nesting boxes.

 

How do you clean your chicken nesting boxes? Leave a comment below!




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Raising Backyard Hens For Eggs Is Easy!

Raising Backyard Hens For Eggs Is Easy!

If you’re thinking about raising chickens for the first time, you might feel a little bit intimidated by the process. You may even be asking yourself, “how do I get started raising chickens?”

Luckily, chickens are some of the easiest animals you can raise – but it’s important to learn how to do it correctly. In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the most important information you need to know in order to get started. 

Why Raise Backyard Chickens?

In these uncertain times, a lot of people are concerned about food security. Raising chickens means always having a supply of fresh, organic eggs (even as the prices in the stores skyrocket). 

Chickens are easier to care for than dogs or cats. They only need:

  • A home
  • Food
  • Water
  • Protection from predators
  • Veterinary care as needed

Unlike dogs, you never need to walk them. You can also leave them alone for a couple days (with food, water, and protection from predators) if you need to leave town for a few days. Hens are quiet, and like parrots, these birds can provide companionship. They’re also a great pet for kids!

How Do I Get Started Raising Chickens?

Buy the Chickens!

Your first step in raising chickens? You’ve got to buy the chickens, of course! Don’t rush out to the feed store to purchase your chicks right away. Make sure you have a brooder set up and ready to go so that you have somewhere to put the little fluffy butts. This should include a heat lamp and plenty of food and water. 

If you plan on raising adult chickens, you can skip this step. Otherwise, keep reading – we’ll give you more information on where to buy your chickens below.

Feed

You are also going to need an ample supply of feed to give your chickens. We’ll talk more about this later in the article, but make sure you have your feeders ready to go. 

Waterers

The same rule applies to waterers. You are going to need a water for your chickens so they can stay hydrated at all times. Invest in good water because they can last for quite some time when cared for properly.

A Coop

Last but not least, you’re going to need a coop in which to house your chickens. It doesn’t have to be huge, but there are some considerations you will need to make.

Where Can I Buy Chickens?

The first thing you need to do is purchase your chickens. Decide on your breed first. If you want your chickens to be pets as well as egg producers, some friendly breeds that give lots of eggs are Australorps, Orpingtons, Speckled Sussex, Brahmas, and Cochins.

Next, start the search for your birds. Hatcheries are often chosen by beginning chicken keepers because they raise and ship chicks in a safe, humane fashion. Yes, that’s right – you can get mail-order chicks!

When you order from a hatchery, the chicks are sent at one day old and sent directly to the post office. You’ll pick them up there. You will be able to choose from a wide selection of breeds. If you;re not allowed to have roosters in your neighborhood, you have the option to purchase only hens (female chickens). 

There are hundreds of hatcheries out there, but it’s important to find one that is reputable. We use Cackle Hatchery, but other good options including Murray McMurray and Meyer Hatchery. Do your research and make sure your hatchery of choice has plenty of positive customer reviews! 

You may also want to check out local farm stores. Most people are familiar with shops like Tractor Supply, Rural King, and Orschelns. The only downside to purchasing chicks from a farm store is that you are often limited to what they have in store. That said, some stores allow you to place an order ahead of time in which you can specify how many and what breed you are interested in buying. 

A final option is to consider local breeders or even your neighbors. The internet is a glorious invention that makes it possible for us to find chicks for sale just about anywhere! Just remember to inspect your chicks carefully before you bring them home to make sure they are healthy. 

Want to learn more about where you can buy baby chicks? Here’s a helpful resource to get you started.

How Much Should I Pay for a Chicken?

In most cases, a baby chick will cost less than $4 apiece. Often, that price is quoted by hatcheries with all expenses – including shipping fees – rolled in. After all, buying chicks should not break the bank! 

Hatcheries will sometimes offer discounts if you buy in bulk – with discounts usually given for purchases of 25, 50, or 100 birds – or if you purchase unsexed chicks. 

You can also purchase adult chickens that are ready to lay. While the price of these can vary widely depending on the breed and age of the bird, try not to pay more than $10 to $20. It’s very easy for you to find yourself scammed or overcharged!

If you want to buy adult chickens, keep an eye out for free birds on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and via other Facebook groups. Again just be aware of scams and don’t be afraid to ask for health records for the birds!

What Do Chickens Eat?

Chickens are easy creatures to feed, but you will need to pay attention to what you are feeding them – especially in the early days.

Young chicks (those under the age of 16 weeks) need to be fed a chick starter ration. This contains 18% protein and all the nutrients your chicks need to be healthy. You can purchase chick starter from your local farm store. If you want it shipped directly to your home, you can purchase chick starter from our website here. 

Once your chickens get a bit older, you’ll need to provide them with alternative feed. Laying feed is fine for laying hens – it contains extra calcium – while broiler feed is best for meat birds. If you want layer feed shipped directly to your door, visit our store here

Now, chickens are some of the best backyard pets you can raise because they are incredibly versatile creatures that can be fed a wide variety of scraps and leftovers. If you want to read a full list of what chickens can and cannot eat, be sure to check out this post

frugal feeds chicken water feeder hacks

What Type of Waterers Are Best?

Having plenty of fresh, clean water at all times is just as important as having plenty of fresh feed. Although you can use basic waterers from Amazon (here’s some options), or even just a dog bowl with water for your adult chickens, you’ll need to be more careful about how you give water to young chicks. 

Chicks can easily drown in open bowls of water, and while some people simply put rocks or pebbles in the bottom of their adult chicken waterer to prevent this, accidents can still happen. Therefore, you will want to use a mason jar-style waterer, which tends to be much safer to use. Here’s a video that will walk you through everything you need to know about chicken waterers. 

What Type of Coop is Best?

You can purchase your own chicken coop on Amazon or you can build your own chicken coop. Here are some free plans to help you get started. There are all kinds of styles you can choose from, including coops that are portable and meant to be moved every day, those that are designed for small flocks, and those that are best for oversized breeds. 

Either way, remember that you will need at least six to ten feet of space per bird in your coop. You’ll need even more than that out in the run, so make sure you leave plenty of outdoor space for your birds, too. 

Also in the coop, you will need to leave room for nesting boxes and roost bars. The roost bars should be no more than a few feet off the ground and positioned away from the nesting boxes. 

You can purchase a coop for as little as $200 on Amazon. But remember that any structure can serve as shelter, as long as it’s dry, draft-free, and provides protection from predators. So, if you have a garden shed or even an old play house that’s no longer used by your kids, you have the start of a great coop!

How Much Room Do Chickens Need?

Experts recommend 10 square feet of space per chicken. So, if you have 3 hens, then your coop should be 30 square feet. Your flock will also need a fenced-in run so they can get sunshine and exercise! If you can’t build a run, don’t worry. While it’s not ideal (due to predators), you can allow your chickens to run around your yard part of the day to stretch their wings.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I keep my chickens safe from predators?

There are all kinds of creatures that like munching on chickens! From raccoons to coyotes, weasels to foxes, your chickens need to be protected from these threats. The easiest way to do this is to build a strong, secure chicken coop that can withstand any threat. Make sure it has no openings or gaps through which a predator can sneak and lock your chickens in each and every night.

You can find more tips on how to make your chicken coop predator-safe here

What temperature is best for baby chicks?

As with all baby animals, young chicks are extremely susceptible to temperature fluctuations when they are first born. Baby chicks need to be kept in a warm place until they have all their feathers. 

The brooder should be at least 95-100 degrees for the first two weeks of their lives, and then reduced five degrees each week until the chicks reach four weeks old.

Not sure if your chicks are too warm or too cold? Here’s a video that will tell you quick ways you can figure it out. 

What kind of nesting boxes do I need?

You can build your own nesting boxes or you can purchase some prebuilt ones from the farm store or Amazon. Whichever you choose, make sure you have at least one nesting box for every four chickens. You’ll Want to fill it with fresh, clean bedding and check it at least once a day to keep it from becoming overrun with eggs.

Here are some more tips on what to look for and consider when researching nesting boxes. 

When do chickens start laying eggs?

Wondering when all of your hard work is going to pay off – and your chickens are going to start laying eggs? If you’ve purchased layers, they should begin laying eggs right away. 

You can learn more about when chickens start laying eggs by watching this video, but as a general rule of thumb, baby chicks start laying when they’re six months old. Some breeds, like White Leghorns, Sex Links, and Australorps start laying as early as sixteen weeks old, but others can take up to eight months to start laying.

How often do chickens lay eggs? 

Most hens lay four to five eggs each week, but some breeds (like Production Reds) lay more and some less (such as Mille Fleurs). You can encourage better laying patterns by feeding a high-quality feed. Check out this article for more information!

Final Thoughts

Getting started with backyard chickens is very easy – and chickens are simple to care for! As long as they have shelter, food, water, protection from predators, and appropriate veterinary care, they’ll do great! If you do decide to dive right in, we have all the resources you need on this website! If you’re not sure, and have a million questions, then reach out to us at [email protected] and we’ll do our best to answer them!

Is Layer Feed Really Necessary?

Is Layer Feed Really Necessary?

Heard about this thing called “layer feed,” but not sure how it’ll help your chickens? Unsure if your chickens’ diet is the best? In this article, you’ll learn all about layer feed, and why it’s critical to raising a healthy flock!

Living things need to eat. In fact, that might be one of the biggest motivators for gathering a group of chickens in our barns and sheds. We look after them, and they provide us with collections of eggs and meat. If you read our article about what chickens can eat, you know that to produce an adequate supply of eggs for us, our hens need the right nutrients for the job.

To aid in this, industry experts created specially-created feeds called layer feed. These feeds help hens with egg production. They also some smaller bonuses to our chickens.

What Is Layer Feed?

Layer feed is a mixture that helps chickens grow strong and healthy. It offers them a balanced mix of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It’s feed specifically for laying hens, and has healthy amounts of protein and calcium. Your hens need a lot of both to lay healthy eggs!

Example of layer feed ingredients

How Much Protein Should A Layer Feed Be?

A feed with 16-18% protein is best, with the right nutrients for your chickens to remain healthy. A layer feed isn’t the same as a chick starter, which is formulated for baby chickens.

A common question we get is about how to switch to a layer feed from chick starter. For the first part of your chickens’ lives, they should be on starter and grower feeds. Then once they begin laying, you should switch them to a layer feed. It’s easiest to switch gradually over the course of a week. A sudden switch could lead to diarrhea and other gastric problems.

Laying hens will eat about a quarter pound of feed each day. Free-ranging hens need less than this, as they will be foraging for much of their own feed. Despite their foraging, they will still need a significant amount of layer feed to help maintain a proper nutritional balance.

You might wonder can roosters eat layer feed, since they don’t lay eggs. In short, yes they can. They’ll be perfectly healthy. It’s unrealistic to house roosters and hens together and feed different meals.

Can Chicks Eat Layer Feed?

Your chicks have different dietary requirements than your fully-grown chickens. They will need different nutrients. Layer feed has extra calcium, which can cause your chicks to not grow correctly. It’s always best to feed your baby chickens an 18% starter ration.

Does Layer Feed Have Grit?

No, it does not. Grit is a coarse and abrasive material that chickens can safely ingest. It helps them grind up and properly digest food. It has no nutritional value, so you should offer it separately. You can read more about grit here.

Can Broiler Chickens Get Layer Feed?

Broiler chickens need a higher protein percentage than egg layers. The best feed for them are these heavier protein content feeds. In a pinch, your broilers would not suffer from layer feed. But the lower protein content might mean your chickens are smaller than expected.

How Much Does Layer Feed Cost?

Layer feed can range in price. A budget feed at your local farm store might cost about $.50-.60 / lb. If you are looking for non-GMO or organic homemade mixes, they will be a little more expensive. But your chickens will have a better diet. This is the Non-GMO layer feed we use.

Should I Make Homemade Layer Feed?

Whether to make homemade layer feed vs. store-bought layer feed is up to you. It depends on your lifestyle, free time, and the particulars of your farms. There are many recipes available online (like this one here). The following is a list of ingredients that are most often included in homemade layer feeds.

  • Oat groats
  • Regular naked oats
  • Black sunflower seeds, 
  • Hard red wheat
  • Soft white wheat
  • Kamut flour
  • Millet
  • Whole corn
  • Crack corn
  • Popcorn
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Sesame seeds
  • Brewers’ yeasts
  • Sea kelp
  • Alfalfa
  • Barley
  • Fish meal
  • Flax seed
  • Food-grade lime or aragonite

Each ingredient brings its own value into the mix: oils, protein content, nutrients, vitamins, amino acids, calcium, and energy. The ratio of ingredients can vary, and the higher protein ingredients will probably be more expensive than the grains. As a result, the grains will usually compose the bulk of the homemade layer feeds. Seeds and supplements like peas will certainly be more expensive, but they add tons of nutrients and variety to the layer feed.

You can extra supplements depending on the season. If it’s time for a worming or mite-prevention cleansing, food grade diatomaceous earth, garlic, or cider vinegar can all be added to help with keeping your birds’ bodies healthy – both inside and outside. You can give these supplements temporarily or long-term. You can mix the ingredients into garbage pails or metal pails by hand.

One of the biggest advantages of using store-bought layer feeds is the scientific measurements of protein. Excess protein can create problems in many barnyard animals. Renal dysfunction is one problem that does occur with too extreme a protein quantity. But a low protein content can result in smaller or abnormal eggs. It can also cause your chickens to stop laying and/or to become flighty.

You also might wonder whether you should ferment chicken feed. There are many resources online that show you how to ferment chicken (here’s ours). It’s certainly not necessary, but it’s very easy. The main idea is to submerge your flock’s feed under water, and allow beneficial bacteria to grow. If you’re worried about gut health, and want to do everything possible for your flock, then fermenting feed might be for you! You can also ferment chick starter.

Do Pullets Prefer Store-Bought Layer Feeds To Homemade Layer Feeds?

This is a very specific question that requires significantly more research for a definitive answer. Current observations show that there is no preference. Picky eaters are everywhere, so there just might be one in your flock. Chickens are live creatures, and some can certainly be more picky than others. If this is a research question that you decide to pursue, please let us know! We would love to hear your results!

Is Layer Feed Really Necessary?

There will always be people who think layer feeds are unnecessary. And in some situations, they’re possibly right. But industry studies show that a 16% layer feed is the basis of a good diet. Personally, I would stick to “tried-and-true” facts.

Where To Buy Layer Feed

Layer feeds are available everywhere, and we even sell our own – and very popular – blend right here. Petco, Tractor Supply, and even Wal*Mart all stock layer feeds. Chances are good that a simple Google search of “layer feed” and “nearby” will net you a source for the feeds.

Photo of our layer feed

Layer feeds have become a single stop for your egg-laying hens. They are easy to mix, contain a good balance of ingredients for your little ladies, and help your flock produce the “butt nuggets” we all know and love. By looking after the eating habits of our girls, we are improving the quality of our own food: our eggs.

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?

When Will Chicks Start Laying Eggs?

When Will Chicks Start Laying Eggs?

You might be wondering “when do chicks start laying eggs?”

 

People tend to purchase their chicks in March. Around June, when they’re six to eight weeks old, owners start to wonder why they aren’t laying eggs yet. The short answer is:  they’re not ready yet.

 

 

The longer explanation involves their sexually mature status. Chicks who are two months old aren’t ready to lay eggs. In fact, you have to wait until they’re six to seven months old to see the first eggs. Of course, this is dependent on a few factors.

 

Age

Five to seven months old is the minimum age chickens tend to start laying eggs. But depending on the breed, your chicks may not lay any eggs until they’re at least a year old. In addition, their reproductive systems might not be healthy. Therefore, their yield may be less at this age. Or, it might take longer for them to lay eggs. There are even some who never produce an egg in their lifetime.

 

Season

The time of year is also a factor in egg production. For instance, if you buy chicks in January, they might start egg production in July for two reasons. One, they have reached the minimum age. Two, it’s warm, and there’s 12 to 14 hours of free light in the form of sunshine. This is when chickens tend to give out the most eggs due to a hormonal response.

 

On the other hand, if you purchase chicks in August – at least in the northern hemisphere – and they reach 6 months in February, there’s a good chance they won’t lay eggs. Or, due to the lack of natural warmth and light, they won’t produce many. Therefore, you’ll need to wait until at least May for the chickens to actively lay eggs.

 

Diet

Like humans, hens are unable to produce if they don’t have a proper diet. Lack of one thing or another can lead to their sluggishness and other health issues. You want to give them a 16% layer feed so they get enough nutrients to start egg production. 

 

Additional sources of essential minerals and vitamins are found in fresh veggies, fruits, dried insects, and raw peanuts (meaning unsalted and unroasted).

 

Giving all of these to chickens ensures they have the broadest spectrum of nutrients required. But if you have chicks that have not gotten a decent diet, then you want to start them on a 18% chick starter. Without this, it might take them longer to start egg production because their bodies haven’t reached their healthiest state. 

 

This is why we don’t recommend letting your chickens forage for their feed on a full-time basis. Yes, other bloggers out there recommend this free-range option, and you need to decide on the best choice for your chickens. However, if they go free-range, there might be chickens who don’t produce eggs as soon as you want them to.

 

Remember, what your chicks eat goes into the eggs. In an extreme example, some of my chickens went after dead mice that were killed by my cat a month before. Do you want eggs that feature a breakdown from these dead rodents and the worms that most likely grew in their remains?

 

In the end, that’s why we recommend sticking with the 18% chick starter and the 16% layer feeds. This ensures they’re getting a healthy diet filled with nutrients that we put in our own bodies.

 

Environment

A final consideration we’ll discuss is their environment. Situations like heat stress, extreme cold and an influx of predators can minimize egg production. Extreme weather is also an issue, especially in the summer. 

In early spring, with its cool nights and mild days, chickens lay lots of eggs. However, by August, their production might go down because of the heat. Chickens have a body temperature of about 106 degrees. When it gets hot, they don’t have the same ability to cool themselves like humans do.

 

If your chicks turn 6 months old in August, they might not consistently produce eggs until October. Of course, that’s for areas that feature a significant cool down in the fall. For instance, in the Midwest, there tends to be an uptick in egg production from September to November. It goes down for the rest of the winter.

 

In addition to climate, you want to look at the living situation of your chickens. If they’re in a coop with a lack of space, or they’re crammed in with a number of roosters, it can decrease their egg production. The same thing if predators or small vermin like mice can saunter in and out.

 

Unexpected critters can stress both adult and younger chickens, thus reducing their egg production. This is why you want to ensure they live in a coop that is as predator and vermin-free as possible.

 

Many Factors In Egg Production

Getting fresh eggs is one of the reasons people decide to raise chicks, and they’re anxious to see production begin. However, there are factors that delay this. Age is one of them, diet is another, and environment is a third. 

 

If you review the advice mentioned above to keep your chicks as healthy and safe as possible, you will see a surplus of eggs before you know it.

 

More reading:

How often do chickens lay eggs?

Why chickens stop laying eggs