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How Do I Keep My Chickens Laying Year Round In 8 Ways

Winter is the annual R&R season for chickens. The shorter days signal their bodies to take a break and save energy so they can be in mint condition to get back into the swing of things when spring rolls around again. Of course, this means a dramatic reduction in the number of eggs they produce, and many poultry owners take steps to try to keep their girls in lay year-round.

While it is possible to trick our feathery friends’ bodies into producing eggs even through winter, messing with a well-developed natural system is not always without risks. Let’s discuss “how do I keep my chickens laying year round” and how you can keep your chickens happy and comfortable when days are short and cold, so they can are better equipped to continue producing delicious fresh eggs.

How Do I Keep My Chickens Laying Year Round?

It is important to understand that every chicken hatches with a predetermined, finite number of eggs inside its body. Breed and overall health are significant factors affecting how many eggs a hen will be able to produce in its lifetime, and egg production naturally tapers off with each passing year.

Daylight is nature’s seasonal mechanism that signals chickens to start turning off their egg production system for a short break to save energy to get through winter. As the days get shorter, laying often decreases.

According to a publication by Michigan State University, the seasonal decrease in egg production is also a natural adaptation to ensure that chicks hatch in spring. Small chickens have a greater chance of survival if they mature during warmer months. It is, however, possible to manipulate the egg-production cycle by providing artificial light inside coops to extend the length of daylight hours.

While adding lights is more likely to get your hens to continue laying through winter, sound flock management strategies must also be implemented to support the physical stress that may result from encouraging egg production throughout the year. Winter is a challenging time for poultry as they focus more on staying warm and surviving than making eggs.

How Do I Keep My Chickens Laying Year Round

8 Ways To Keep Chickens Laying Throughout The Year

Shorter days in fall signal the bird to molt and get a new fluffy layer of feathers on in time for winter. Chickens cannot lay while they are molting as all the energy reserves are directed to producing the best possible winter outfit, so all hens will naturally take a short break to get through the molt.

Let’s look at eight ways to encourage and support chickens, so they will be more likely to lay consistently throughout the year.

1.   Add Artificial Lighting

Adding a consistent light source is one of the most effective ways to keep your hens laying, no matter the season. This is a controversial area, with some chicken owners swearing by it and others preferring to let their chickens take a natural break from laying in the cooler months. 

Light is the most critical factor that regulates a hen’s laying cycle. Ensuring that there are between 14 and 16 hours of light in your coop each day is one of the most effective methods that is likely to result in eggs being produced year-round.

If you do decide to add additional lighting, it must be set on a timer to add light in the early morning and late afternoon. Hens must be able to continue to roost naturally in the evening.

Chickens that receive enough light and are well cared for with plenty of food with a cozy coop will happily reward you with regular eggs throughout the year. However, there are plenty of things that may not go to plan, and it isn’t always a viable option, especially if you aren’t able to be consistent with the lighting setup.

Here’s a quick summary of some of the pros and cons you should be aware of when adding lights to your coop to encourage your chickens to lay through the cold months:

Your chickens are more likely to lay no matter the length of the daysLights need to be set on a timer so artificially created daylight hours remain at least 14 – 16 hours long
May keep the coop slightly warmerAny inconsistent lighting, e.g., through power failure, broken globes, etc., can result in hens reverting to a molt cycle which could be fatal in cold temperatures.
You will have more hours to do chicken chores if the coop is well litSeveral health conditions like vent prolapse are more common in hens that lay through the year with no breaks
 Chickens will require a lot more food to stay warm and produce eggs simultaneously during winter.
 Adding lights to your chicken coop will add to the overall production costs.
 More hours of light means you may need to add some boredom breakers to the coop as hens will be awake longer. Interfering with the natural cycle may also cause stress.
 Adding lights to a coop increases the risk of fire.

You can see from the above that adding artificial lighting to your coop needs to be carefully considered and consistently applied. Additional lighting should be planned well before the winter season and implemented gradually so chickens do not become stressed from sudden changes in light.

2.   Add Some Pullets To Your Flock

The first chicken molt takes place at around 18 months of age, so younger chickens that have only recently come into lay are exempt from the first cycle. This means that while their older sisters are taking a break, they are more likely to keep on laying, even in cooler weather.

So long as they are receiving adequate nutrition and have a cozy environment, chances are good that your pullets will lay without taking a break. Young hens are at maximum production phase during their first year, so set up in a suitable environment, they are more likely to lay throughout the year than older hens that have just spent energy replacing their feather coats.

3.   Choose A Cold Hardy Breed

Some chicken breeds cope with winter conditions better than others. If you haven’t already acquired chickens, do some research and choose a breed that will cope with the weather conditions in your area and are also steady egg producers.

Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, and Buff Orpingtons are popular choices in areas that experience extremes of climate. Breeds that do well in cold temperatures tend to have smaller combs, wattles, and large body mass. The better equipped the chicken is naturally to shrug off icy weather, the more likely it is to lay consistently throughout the year.

How Do I Keep My Chickens Laying Year Round you can choose a cold hardy breed

4.   Winterproof The Coop

Winterproofing a chicken coop does not necessarily mean adding heating. While some chicken owners do this, it can be hazardous. Heat and chicken bedding are never a good combination. What is essential is that the coop is protected from harsh elements but at the same time has sufficient ventilation to prevent moisture buildup.

It is also vital not to add heating and then remove it suddenly in cold weather as birds build a tolerance to the conditions. If you live in an area that experiences winter power outages, it may be better to insulate the coop more thoroughly and use natural warming techniques like deep litter method for the floor and consider insulating the floors.

Laying boxes must be clean, warm nooks where hens feel comfortable and safe. There should be ample roosting space where they can sleep.

Free-range chickens don’t need to be kept exclusively inside over winter. Let them decide if they want to go outside during the day or not. Many chickens don’t mind walking about in a light dusting of snow, or you can scatter some hay over the ground just outside the coop so they can step outside more comfortably.

5.   Feed To Support Egg Production

To support your flock to maintain body heat and produce eggs, you will need to feed a balanced diet that includes plenty of protein and calcium. Producing eggs is a nutrient-heavy activity which is why chickens do not lay during the annual molt – their bodies simply cannot provide enough energy to create new plumage and deliver eggs simultaneously.

Cold weather brings a similar challenge as the chickens tend to divert all their resources to stay warm. It is advisable to stick with the same high-protein feed used during the molt to encourage laying through the cold season. Revert to a 16% protein feed at the start of spring.

6.   How Do I Keep My Chickens Laying Year Round? Pay Attention To the Water

Water is an essential element that must be in liquid form for your hens, even on the coldest days. Ample water must always be available to keep your hens healthy and stress-free.

7.   Coop Hygiene Is Critical

Even if your chickens are free-range, your hens will probably spend more time inside the coop during the cooler months. And while they are staying snug and cozy indoors, it can also be a breeding ground for parasites like mites and poultry lice.

Of course, parasites in the coop will create discomfort, which causes stress which means your hens are less likely to lay. Inspect and change laying box bedding regularly, and preventative treatment with food-grade diatomaceous earth can also be helpful to keep your coop pest free during winter.

Another vital aspect is to keep the laying boxes free of poop. Bored hens with artificial lighting will have more time than usual to explore their environment and may hop about inside laying boxes even when they are not laying. A dirty laying box is not an inviting space for hens to lay eggs.

8.   Beat Boredom

Anyone who owns chickens will know that they are busy-bodies! Adding some stimulating activities is an excellent idea in winter, especially if you add lights to increase egg production. Instead of snoozing for long hours, hens will be active, and if they are stuck inside a coop, that can be a recipe for hen-pecking lower-ranking birds or even starting undesirable behaviors like egg eating.

A 2019 study published in Poultry Science found that besides only resulting in better-adjusted birds, adding stimulating activities to an environment also positively impacted overall health. Birds that weren’t bored showed a better response to infection. In short, a relaxed, happy chicken is more likely to lay eggs than one that is agitated or stressed.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take too much to entertain a chicken, and there are lots of inexpensive and fun things you can add to the coop that will keep your girls happily entertained. Here are some tried and tested chicken party favorites:

  • Hang a cabbage ball – This is just a whole cabbage suspended above the coop floor. As the hens peck it, it swings and sways. Good nutrition and a fun activity.
  • Recycle your old plastic bottles – Drill some holes into your empty plastic bottles. Then add some chicken treats like dried mealworms or corn, and replace the cap. The treats must be able to fall through the holes as the bottles are pushed around.
  • Add a hay bale or two – A change of scenery is sometimes as good as a holiday! Hoping off the ground and looking down over your coop mates from a little hay mountain can be fun. It’s also good exercise.
  • Add a safe mirror – Our hens know they are gorgeous and love seeing themselves. Place a mirror in a safe ground position in the coop where the girls can pose to their hearts’ content.
  • Hang a few shiny CDs – Chickens are curious birds and like to investigate moving objects, especially if they are super shiny.
  • Scatter treats inside the coop, so chickens need to scratch and investigate to find nibbles. It will keep them active and out of mischief.

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