If you are new to keeping backyard chickens, you may have noticed that their egg laying has begun to drop off as we head into winter. Days are getting shorter, and chickens need 14 hours of sunlight each day for maximum egg production.
You might wonder if there is any way to offset this, or what you should do to keep your chickens comfortable through the winter months.
Many breeds of chickens are quite winter-hardy and if you live in an area with cold winters, it’s definitely a good idea to keep chickens that don’t require a heat source in the coop to keep them warm. Americaunas, Braumas, Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Reds are amoung the many examples of cold-hardy chickens. Don’t worry about heat lamps in the coop for these types of chickens.
What all chickens will need in the winter, however, is a special electric unit that will keep their water from freezing: these are available at stores that sell chicken supplies, or you can look for them online.
In terms of their eggs, you can certainly let nature take its course and wait until spring to have lots of eggs again. If that’s not satisfactory to you, it’s possible to help your chickens lay eggs throughout the winter by “tricking” their bodies into thinking the days are longer than they actually are.
The best way to do this is to install a light on a timer in your chicken coop. You don’t want to artifically extend the nighttime hours, though; you want to set the timer to turn on the light at around 3:00 A.M. and have it go off at dawn. Keep in mind that 14 hours of light is best and adjust your timer accordingly.
In terms of other considerations for keeping your chickens comfortable, you’ll want your coop to be free of drafts and you’ll want your chickens to have a snow and ice-free area to roam, if possible. Plastic sheeting or tarps over and along the sides of their run (if you have one) should do the trick.
Lastly, consider bulking up on the shavings on the floor of the coop to add some insulation and make sure they’ve got plenty of food (organic, if possible) at all times. If your chickens are free-range, remember that their selection of plants will be very small in the winter, so you’ll need to feed them more than in the warmer months.
With attention to these few details, your chickens will sail through the winter just fine.
— Winnie Abramson writes the organic gardening and food blog Healthy Green Kitchen.
Photo credit: Winnie Abramson