As the days become shorter and light levels drop, those of us who enjoy keeping chickens on our property may notice a significant decrease in their egg production. The cooler temperatures and lack of daylight send signals to our layers that it’s time to rest and conserve energy for springtime and can cause them to molt. Two glands are responsible for triggering this change: the hypothalamus, which regulates growth and reproduction, and the pineal gland, which controls the circadian rhythm. The key to keeping your layers producing throughout the winter months is to keep them warm, fed, and happy with a little extra care.
Whether you’re using incandescent or fluorescent lighting in your coop, consistency is crucial. Typically, laying hens need approximately 12-16 hours of daylight to keep producing, whereas the average number of winter daylight hours in the southern US varies from 8-9. Set your lights on a timer and adjust the timer as the season progresses to keep the number of daylight hours consistent. Always make sure your light is safely and securely positioned within your coop and that you have enough wattage for the number of chickens in your flock.
In the winter, hens expend more energy each day trying to keep warm. To combat this increased energy usage, it’s important to give your flock more feed each day and to consider increasing the amount of protein found in their feed to help them through the long, cold winter months. If your chickens have had access to forage during the spring and summer, the lack of available forage during winter makes it even more important to use a nutritionally balanced feed formula to ensure they don’t miss out on valuable nutrients.
If you haven’t tried lacto-fermentation, this winter is a great time to give it a try. Fermenting your feed not only makes it last longer, but also introduces positive probiotics, and increases digestibility. The process is similar to making sauerkraut with cabbage. Start with your crumble, pellet, or grain feed in a BPA-free plastic bin or glass container and fill to about half of the way full. Add dechlorinated water until the feed is covered by 2-3 inches. Cover your container with the lid and leave in a pantry or on your counter (but out of the sun) for 3-5 days, taking care to stir the mixture at least once a day. Check for signs of mold before straining and serving!
By giving your chickens a little extra TLC this fall, you may be able to extend their laying season. Remember, there is nothing wrong with keeping it natural and allowing your chickens to go through molt and waiting patiently until they produce again in spring.