If you depend on your chickens for your family’s eggs, winter can be a tough time. Chickens, especially the breeds created to be dynamic egg-layers, will still produce to some degree during the winter, but the numbers will be far lower than what you got used to during warm weather. More of the chicken’s energy is going toward keeping them warm, and their production is also linked heavily toward the day’s light cycles.
As days get shorter, egg laying begins to dwindle. The best way to encourage extra egg laying in the winter is to add heat and light to your hen house. You can do this easily, but there are some precautions to take, especially with heat sources.
Let There Be Light
Light is a big trigger for the egg-laying cycle. If you have electricity in your hen house, you can put an existing ceiling light or other light on a timer to go on at 6 a.m. and off again at 9 p.m. If you do not have electricity, it is difficult to add extra daylight hours, but you can bring in as much of what is naturally available as possible. Put windows in your hen house and leave them uncovered to get the maximum amount of sunlight during the winter months. You can cover them in the summer to keep excess heat out when you don’t want it.
If you add windows to your chicken coop or hen house, make sure you seal them well to keep out drafts. Ventilation is necessary in any enclosed chicken house, but drafts are dangerous in the winter.
Heating Up the Situation
Light may not always be enough to encourage chickens to lay in the winter. If you live in a very cold climate, which is most of the northern half of the U.S., you will likely need to add heat to the mix. Like adding light, doing this is very simple if you have electricity running to the area where you keep your chickens. However, it is also one of the more dangerous elements you can add to a chicken house, and you must take care when placing your heat source.
Never use standard house floor heaters. The best heat source for a chicken house is a heat lamp, but it needs to be hung high enough that chickens cannot reach the bulb if they jump for it. Enclosing the heat lamp shield with wire mesh is another good way to help ensure chickens will not be able to get at the bulb inside.
A heat lamp needs to be high enough that the heat reaches the floor area but not get it hot enough to cause bedding to catch fire. Five to six feet is usually a good height from the floor to keep the area where the light hits warm but not overheated. However, for the first few days, keep a close watch on the heat of the bedding or ground where the heat lamp is warming.
It isn’t necessary to heat the entire area if it is a big house. Chickens will huddle in the area of the heat lamp when they want extra heat. Make sure you have plenty of space heated so they don’t overcrowd each other, though. One lamp for every six to ten chickens should be plenty.
Without electricity it isn’t as easy to add heat. Increasing the natural light will help, but the nights will cool down the chicken house so much that even maximum exposure to natural light won’t warm it up enough to encourage egg-laying.
What to Do If You Can’t Add Heat or Light
If you do not have the electrical ability, window exposure, or desire to place electrical units in your chicken house, you will have to make do with far less eggs. One way to do that and still have eggs for cooking and baking during the winter is to freeze excess eggs during the peak laying months.
Never attempt to freeze raw eggs in the shells. They will expand and explode in the freezer, and all you will get is a great big mess. Crack open each egg and place it in a baggie or other freezer-safe container. Pierce the yolk of the egg and mix it together with the whites, or remove the yolk before putting it in the container.
If you freeze whole eggs (white and yolk), add a teaspoon of either sugar or salt to the mixed eggs. Adding sugar or salt helps to prevent the yolk from getting thick and sticky when frozen. Salt works well for eggs intended for use in meal dishes, and sugar works great for eggs that will go into baked goods.
Mark the containers or baggies so you know how many eggs are in each one and if they are salted or sugared. If you make a certain recipe often or make a certain number of eggs for breakfast, you can package eggs in that quantity for easy addition to your meals during the winter.
©2011 Off the Grid News