As soon as the winter months approach I start to hear chicken keepers expressing concern for their flocks well-being in the cold weather and the displeasure with a drop in egg production.
Which leads to these questions:
Do I put lights in my coop to continue egg production?
Do I put heat in my coop to keep my chickens warm?
On this homestead, the answer is no and no!
There is no place in nature, that I know of, that has sunlight for 13 hours a day in the winter months. Nature doesn't intend for these birds to continue to lay. The winter months present a time of rest and rejuvenation for our livestock. The harsh environmental climates of winter cause our flocks to be less active to conserve on energy for things like staying warm and recovering from the fall molt.
There are many who add light to their coops as the days shorten to lengthen the egg laying season. I believe the shortening of days resulting in a decrease of egg production is the chickens natural cycle and a well -deserved reprieve for the hens. It is a hen's normal cycle to molt in the fall and take a break from laying over the winter. This enables her to shed any damaged feathers, grow a healthy new coat for protection against the elements in the colder season, and to conserve her energy for warmth.
Light or heat sources in the coop are a fire hazard. Is that a risk you are willing to take with your birds and with your own home (which is likely in close proximity to that fire hazard)? Dried pine shavings or straw for bedding mixed with heat lamps or a spark from a moist outlet are recipes for disaster. Please, say no to heat lamps in the coop.
Also, your chickens don't need it!
They are outfitted for winter with a fluffy, down coat under their feathers. With a draft free coop to get out of the wind and elements your flock will do just fine!
Yes, adding light to the coop in the winter months will cause a hen to lay eggs in the off season, but it also takes time off of how long she will be a productive hen in your flock. A hen has a set number of eggs in her ovaries that she will lay over the course of her life. What she has is what she has and once they've all been laid...well...that's all she wrote!
For those reasons, we've worked hard to keep a mixed flock for egg production where the high producers can lay eggs naturally in the warmer months and we keep breeds like the Icelandic Landrace Chicken that are less affected by the cold and typically continue to lay in the winter in order to offset that break for the rest of the flock. Good husbandry is doing what works best not only for you, but also for the care and cultivation of your animals. We try to honor that mentality in our practices.
If you'd like to spoil your flock over the winter and give them a little pampering, then consider some natural methods of boosting their immunity. Here are a few tips:
Apple cider vinegar and/or garlic cloves in the waterers.
Dried herbs in their feed such as calendula, oregano, echinacea, and elder.
Warm old fashioned-rolled oats with dried fruit or legumes
Greens or sprouts
Your flock will surely thank you as you establish your practices in natural chicken keeping! Flockmaster in training...