For those of us in northern climates, the cold weather is an indicator of the slowing of egg production, a time for the hens to rest a little more and produce a little less.
Interestingly, temperature seems to have less to do with slowing production than hours of daylight. It seems that the bird’s reproductive systems are highly affected by the amount of sunlight received per day – “When day length falls below 12 hours per day, egg production decreases and may cease completely. (eHow)
Generally, there are many factors affecting the egg laying rate of a bird; the age of the bird, it’s feed and housing conditions, and whether or not it gets free range to run outdoors; remember a happy hen is a productive hen.
Probably the greatest determinant of a bird’s year round productivity is its breed. The breed of the bird will help to identify strong layers vs. say, show birds or dual-purpose birds. Some breeds are known as ‘cold hardy’, these are birds that have been breed for optimal performance in northern climates.
In addition to relying on hereditary traits for optimal productivity, many people supplement the amount of light their birds get with artificial lights in order to stimulate production.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, “… When darkness falls artificial lighting can be introduced for two to three hours, which may increase egg production by 20 to 30 percent.”
To create lighting schedule that’s right for you, “… a good rule of thumb is that the total length of light per day, both artificial and natural, should be no shorter than the longest natural day length the hens will experience…” (thepoultrysite.com) In other words, calculate the average day length during your summer hours and replicate for your birds in the winter.
For your convenience, we whipped up the little widget below that calculates your latitude (based on your IP address), and then recommends how many hours of supplemental light you should apply based on the day length at your latitude:
And if that seems like too much work for you, feel free to take the poetic advice of Terry Golson and just let your hens rest up over the winter in preparation for another busy season come Spring. According to Terry’s HenBlog “Before there were battery-cage “farms,” eggs were a seasonal food. By New Years an egg was precious.”
* Originally published on December 14, 2011