Managing Laying Hens in the Winter

20180123_121042-1     For most chickens, winter is a time of rest and repair.  They have just finished a long summer of laying and their bodies are depleted of energy.  Most people will see a decrease in egg production from their flock as the days grow shorter.  It is discouraging to think that one might have to start buying eggs from the grocery store again. We miss those beautiful golden yolked eggs.

Chickens will stop laying during the year for many different weather related reasons. Hot spells, storms, steady rain can all have an effect on how the girls are laying but almost all hens dramatically slow down in winter for the entire season.  All breeds reduce egg production but the silkie never has had a steady egg production to begin with.  You might see nary an egg until spring.

First of all it isn’t natural for hens to lay at all in the winter, but selective breeding has made it possible to continue to get eggs all year long.  Hens instinctively know that winter is not a good time to be raising a brood of chicks but they can be tricked into thinking that spring is on the way.

Reduction in egg laying is caused by two factors. The first is the molt.   A molt causes the replacement of feather on the chickens body by shedding all of the old feathers and growing new ones.

Feathers are made out of protein.  Replacing all these feathers is very hard on the hen.  After the fall molt she needs a rest and a break from laying.  Increasing the amount of protein in the diet will decrease the time it takes for the hen to regrow her feathers and return to laying.

Make sure that you have a good Gamebird feed that is high in protein.   Feather Fixer is also a feed that many people use during a molt.  In addition there are high protein treats available to help with new feathers growing in. Mealworm Frenzy is a dried mealworm supplement but you can also serve the live mealworms to your birds.  Omega Fields has a high protein chicken supplement that can help with new feather growing and cat fish pellets or fish choware high protein treats.  Remember that these supplements are for treats only. They should not replace a good Gamebird feed which also includes needed vitamins and minerals.

During a molt reduce their stress level. Don’t move them to new quarters or introduce new flock members. Increase their regular feed so that it is around 20-22% protein.

The second reason for a decline in laying has to do with the length of daylight.  Shorter days are telling the hen to suspend laying because it is not a good time to hatch out a family of baby chicks.  For more information on the effects of shortened days check out “Changes to Silkies as the Days Grow Shorter.

One way to increase the rate of lay is to manipulate the length of day using artificial lights in the coop.  You don’t need much light to fool the hens into thinking that the days are getting longer. A 25-40 watt bulb is sufficient to do the trick.

I use 40 watt Led bulbs on a manual on/off night light fixture.  You plug the entire assembly into a timer and plug it into an outlet.  You could even use a string of Christmas lights on a timer.

Have the lights on a set schedule with the timer, not just whenever you think about turning the lights one. Erratic lighting will encourage chickens to molt which you do not want in the winter.  They need their feathers in order to keep them warm in the winter.

The combined artificial and natural light should total around 14 hours.  Make sure that the supplemental light is coming on during the morning hours.  If you do it in the evening it will confuse the birds to have the lights suddenly go off and them may not make it to their usual night time spot.  This will cause them stress.

Set the timers so the light comes on between 4 am and 8 am.  Remember to check periodically to make sure that the bulb is still working.  Make sure you have a back up plan in case there is a power outage. Battery powered camping lanterns work well.

If your birds are getting up at 4 am they probably are not getting outside until sunrise.  Your chickens may get bored during this time.  This can result in them pecking at each other.  Food and water should be inside the coop so they have something to do.  Chicken toys such as Treat Balls and Peck and Play balls relieve boredom.   If you are a late sleeper you could install an Automatic Coop Door where you could decide when you wanted them let out.

One other thing that can influence egg laying is the temperature outside.  The colder it is, the less eggs seem to be laid.  Heat lamps, which create warmth, can stimulate laying.  250 watt red bulbs give the feeling of night time.  For  more information on heat lamps check out “Heat Lamp Use.”  Sweeter Heaters also create warmth in the coop.

Silkies are very hardy in winter temperatures far below freezing.  If their eggs remain at these temps for too long they will crack.  It takes temperatures below the freezing point for eggs to crack.  That means they need to be 28 degrees or lower for there to be a problem.  Hopefully a silkie will cover the eggs until you can pick them up or that a soft bed of pine shavings can act as an insulator.

Make sure that your hens have plenty of water in the winter.  If their water is frozen most of the time this will lead a huge drop in egg productivity.  Hens need a great deal of water to create an egg.  Use a heated water base to make sure that the water is always open.  For more information on using heated water bases check out “ Using Heated Water Bases. ” at the VJP Poultry blog.

In addition, offer supplemental oyster shell so that the hens have plenty of calcium for eggshell formation.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson



Silkies For Sale – 1/17/18

Silkies For Sale – 12/31/17

Silkies For Sale – 12/22/17

Does a Silkie Need a Christmas Gift? 12/05/16

I have always loved this video – VJP Poultry’s- Ballet of the Unhatched Chick- because it shows chicken’s somewhat playful side. Some people refer to this as “Chicken Football” because they are all chasing after the one meal worm that someone has in its beak.   Do chickens play? Do they get bored? Do they require a gift at Christmas? These are all questions people have asked about their birds.

Well, Cyber Monday is over, but there is still time to order your chickens a few treats online before December 25th.  Most of the customers at VJP Poultry consider their chickens to be family pets. They lavish love and attention on their silkies and I would bet      that some of them are planning a few Christmas surprises in their chicken’s stockings.

Most gifts are the kind that silkies can eat or the kind that silkies can play with. Let’s start with the chicken toys. Most of the chicken playthings are balls that can be filled with treats. The chicken pushes the ball around and treats fall out. Some of the balls are more complicated and the chicken needs to work at it to get the treats out. An example would be Lixit Chicken Toy  or Peck and Play Ball .

The toy that I liked the best was the Chicken Veggie Ball .It is described as “an entertaining way to provide nutritious treats to a backyard flock”. You can put a head of lettuce or  cabbage inside it and watch your flock kick it around like a soccer ball. This idea has been around for a long time. Oldsters used to tie a rope around a head of cabbage and hang it on a hook inside of the coop for the same effect. All of these toys are good boredom busters for your birds in the wintertime.

The most unusual toy was the Chicken Swing. The chicken hops on and is able to pump the swing back and forth. Probably not the best gift for a silkie as they may have a hard time jumping on , but other breeds seem to swing just fine on it.

Silkies always like special food treats. There is the Flock Block which lets them peck away and find treats of corn and seed. They are manufactured by many different companies and you should find it at your local feed store.

The treat my flock loves the best are meal worms.  Real or freeze dried, they go crazy for them. I have, in the past, kept a meal worm farm going in my house. The live worms are a great source of protein and a wonderful way for you to bond with your bird. They will come running every time they see you if they think that you have worms for them in your apron pockets.  You can also purchase freeze dried worms from Happy Hen Treats .

There has been a craze of late for putting chickens in sweaters and other kinds of outfits. You are not doing your chickens any favors by doing this. It will compromise their ability to self – regulate their body temperature. Best to leave the clothes off the birds unless it is Chicken Diapers for inside of the house. You can give them a little jewelry by giving them leg bands that have charms on them.  If you are looking for a gift for a guy, check out Gifts For Guys Who Like Chickens.  We also have Gifts For Silkie Chicken Lovers for anyone who likes silkies.

If you are interested in gifts for the Chicken Lady or for chicken loving kids or gifts for the home for chicken lovers check out our weekly silkie blog at We also have silkie basics at Silkie Supplies.

So, do chickens play? I think so. All animals play. I know that the chest bumping I see among juvenile silkies seems to have a very playful nature to it. Do Chickens get bored? Yes, often this will result in pecking to the extreme. Do they need Christmas gifts? That’s up to you. I know that my little silkies will be getting some nice meal worms come Christmas Eve.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson