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 – 10/10/17

Cage Training For The Silkie Show


Fall poultry shows are coming up and hopefully, if you are planning on showing, you have selected your birds that you are bringing and are in the process of conditioning them.

Conditioning means that you have separated your selections from the rest of your flock and have made sure that the boys and the girls are not in the same pen.  Separate areas are important as rowdy boys can break or tear feathering on the females.

You should also be feeding them a diet that is high in protein to keep those feathers in tip top shape.  Showbird food or Feather Fixer are good choices.  I also add vitamins to the water or Roster Booster to improve the over all health and beauty of the bird.

About a month before the show you will want to start training your birds to be comfortable in a small wire cage.  These are the type of cages you will find at a poultry show.  They are about 24 X 24 in size.  Place the cage on saw horses so that they are about table high.

This enclosed cage will be very different from what your silkie is used to out in the coop.  I would start with short time spans and then gradually increase how much time the bird spends in there.

You will need to teach your bird how to eat and drink inside of the cage.  A good waterer for silkies is the pop bottle waterer.  You buy the bottom where the birds drink from and then place a plastic pop bottle with water in it on top. They provide a spring to secure it on the side of the cage but I use small bungee cords and place something underneath the bottom to support it. I use an empty cat food can.  I like these because they are small and don’t take up much space in the cage and because the silkie is less likely to dunk their heads and get wet and messy.  You will want the judges to see a clean, dry bird.  It is a good idea to remove the waterer before judging starts to keep your bird looking perfect.

The food container hangs on the side.  I like to put food they really like in there while you are training them.  Treats such as mealworms, sunflower seeds and berries, or cracked corn will teach your bird how to eat from the little container.  They will begin to associate treats with time spent in the cage.

Learning to eat and drink from these different containers is very important.  Silkies who have not had their feathers trimmed around their eyes will have a hard time finding the food and water in the cage.  Use pink hair tape or blue painters tape to pin up the feathers in the crest which will allow the birds to see.


Place the feeders and waterers in the front of the cage.  This will get them used to being on that side of the cage where the judge will be.  A judge does not want to see a bird cowering in the back.  They should be up front where they are easy to see and judge.

The judge will have a little baton that he uses to get the bird to pose properly.  You should practice with a dowel or stick so that your silkie is used to seeing it in the cage and feeling it against its body.

Shows are very noisy places.  You may want to place a radio by your cage so that the bird gets used to loud noises while they are in the cage.  I have the radio tuned to the Oldies station that has lots of commercials.

Practice taking your bird in and out of the cage.  The judge will be taking the bird out head first and placing it in the cage head first. You should practice the same way.  Hold the bird with one hand under the keel one hand on top of the wings.  Birds will struggle if they are not used to being handled.  Judges would rather not work with struggling birds.  Spread the wings out and check all over the bird the same way a judge would.

Give the bird a treat while handling them so that they associate people holding them with treats. Treats include Chicken Crack, Happy Hen Treats, Grublies, and Mana Pro Garden Delights.  Roosters will especially need practice in handling.  Sit with them on your lap when you are watching tv and cuddle up with them.  You will enjoy it and so will they.

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 – 10/2/17

Vitamins, Silkies, and Wry Neck

20161122_152047    Silkies are sometimes described as a more high maintenance breed of chicken.  Owners are known to give them baths and pedicures and to trim around their eyes when they are so fluffy that they can no longer see.  Many live a pampered existence.

Silkies are often thought to need a higher protein chicken food than most other breeds.  We feed all of our adult silkies a Gamebird Conditioner feed which is 20% protein.  But, does the feed contain all of the vitamins needed for outstanding birds?

Most commercial feed companies will make sure that there is the proper amount of vitamins and minerals for the type and age of the bird. For example, layer feed will have the higher amount of calcium that the hen needs to create egg shells.

However, with any product, the age of the feed is critical to its nutritional content. Vitamins are sensitive to changes due to light, heat and moisture and can lose potency over time.

Some people try to create their own feed mixtures and this can leave the birds with incorrect amounts of certain vitamins and minerals.  Corn and scratch are enjoyed by chickens but are empty calories.

Silkies need extra vitamins during times of stress, very cold weather, when they are breeding , when they are chicks and growers and when they are ill.

There are two kinds of vitamins.  Fat soluble and water soluble.  Water soluble vitamins are not affected by the fats in the chickens diet. These would be the B and C vitamins.  If too much is ingested, it is excreted through the urine.  Fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K.  More care needs to be taken not to over supplement these particular vitamins.


Cluck N Sea Kelp is a nice mixture of Kelp meal that can be added to the regular feed with many benefits. Poultry Power can be added to their food and is a good source of vitamin E.  Life Lytes Mega tabs is another product that can be added to the water. It is a good souce for vitamins A, B12, D and E. Durvet Vitamins and Electrolytes   is what I use to add to both my chick’s and adult’s water.   Rooster Booster is a product I would use with adults for show conditioning or if I was having problems with roosters not performing.  Nutri Drench can be used if you have a sick chick and need something fast acting.

Now a word about Wry Neck…. Wry Neck is evident when you see a bird tucking her head between her legs.  It usually hits young chicks but can happen in older birds.  This can be caused by a vitamin E deficiency .  Vitamin E and vitamin B complex are both known to be good for neurological disorders.

Wry Neck is different from a peck on the head, which silkies are very susceptible to. Their vaulted look when chicks is caused by an opening in their skull like a baby’s soft spot. Pecks can lead to head injuries that look very similar to what you see with Wry Neck.  Vitamin E and Selenium (helps animals absorb vitamin E) can be helpful with these injuries.

If you think that your silkie has wry neck or a head injury, the first thing to do is separate  it from the rest of the flock.  Stress will make it worse, so it needs a quiet environment.  Take a vitamin E capsule and squirt it onto its feed or into its mouth.  Take  25 micrograms of a selenium tablet (or break a 50 mcg tablet in half ) and crush that up and add it to the feed.  Give this to the chick two or three times a day.  You may have to hand feed it if it is not eating by itself.  It may take as long as a month before the condition disappears.  Keep giving it the vitamins for two additional weeks beyond where they appear to be recovered. Wry neck affects 8% of chicks across all breeds.  It is not contagious.

Since silkies are more prone to head injuries, you may want to take care  not to place them in a pen along with more aggressive chickens.  Keep them away from bully birds and do not place them in crowded situations.

As a preventative and just for general good health, I place 1/16 tsp of vitamins and electrolytes per 2 quarts of water.  This is at the feed supplementation level.  More could be used if the bird was showing illness.  I also add 1/2 tsp of apple cider vinegar to the 2 quarts of water.  The chicks are given vitamins every day but the adults are given it every other day.  With the adults  I alternate with Red Cell ( one half capful per gallon of water ) and regular vitamins as well as days where they just get plain water.  Use less vitamins on hot days as they will drink more water than usual.

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