The chickens in winter

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When the cold weather set in a couple months back, we knew what to expect. Our chickens would need more calories to be able to keep themselves warm, so we gave them corn and seeds mixed with fat. They’d need water that wasn’t frozen, so we brought their two waterers indoors in shifts. They’d need air flow in the coop, so we cleared the snow away from the vent. Although we knew they’d be prone to frostbite on their combs, we didn’t cover them with Vaseline because we’d read that this strategy, while widely deployed, didn’t help at all.

An egg-laying machine

An egg-laying machine, and dignified to boot

And we knew we’d get fewer eggs. There might even be stretches when we’d get none at all. Chickens cut back on their production in the winter, in part because there’s less light, which plays a key role in governing their laying cycle, and in part because they often molt in the colder months, and that’s a drain on the resources otherwise devoted to egg manufacture.

Some chicken owners put lights in the coop to prevent the downturn in the cycle, but we figured we’d let nature take its course, and let chickens do what comes naturally in winter. I don’t know for sure that keeping lights on all year stresses the birds, but I know I certainly wouldn’t like it. Besides, there’s no electricity.

It has been one of the surprises of this enterprise that our chickens haven’t slacked off the pace at all. We have gotten at least five eggs from our eight chickens every single day, and six or seven is the norm. I’m sure we can attribute this, at least in part, to the fact that they’re nine months old and at the beginning of their peak laying age. But still.

“Why do you suppose our chickens are still laying all those eggs?” I asked my husband. “Is it because it hasn’t been that cold? Is there something in the food?”

“Nope,” he said, with perfect confidence, almost swaggering. “It’s all about the husbandry.”

Sheesh. He takes credit for everything.

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Comments

  1. I’ll envy you all over again each time I pay $3.65/dozen for free-range eggs here in Bend!

  2. I think it might be because of that wonderful afternoon when he fell asleep on the porch and they trotted into the house. They’re still just really grateful for that visit….

  3. There’s a set number of eggs in the system, which governs the final number you’ll get in a year. As you rightly said when they start is dependent on age and health/environmental factors. Some hybrid layers have been bred to produce up to 300 eggs a year, but are only kept commercially for 1-2 years.

    The hybrid layer chicks I bought in this year are just starting to reach maturity and the nest box is full again – I have 5 dozen eggs to find recipes for now. Low-cal recipes. It seems a waste not to put them in cakes and rich sauces.

  4. Mimi — I know it’s small comfort, but free range eggs cost even more than that out here.

    Paula — You remember! I loved that picture.

    Jen — So does that mean that, if our particular chickens lay like gangbusters when they’re young, they’re just depleted that much sooner? I’m not looking forward to sending them to the stewpot (although I’m committed to doing it). And, when you come up with all those low-caloried egg recipes, you’ll let me know, won’t you?

  5. Not depleted – think of it as an annual cycle: x number of eggs in 365 days. They’ll have a break (unless you resort to artificial lights etc) and start the cycle again. Well that’s how I understand it. Hybrid layers just have a shorter break than your dual purpose or fancy breeds.

    They do eventually reach an age of senescense when the laying stops altogether. Then you’ve got yourself a stewing bird.

    I have found some low cal recipes, but not the desire to cook and eat them. Got any links to low cal Boston cream pies? Or fat-free Krispy Kremes?