Ensuring Winter Egg Production, by A.J.

Canned, dried, frozen, and preserved foods are excellent for winter survival. And they always have been. A fresh bit of produce or dairy, however, can go a long way in keeping you healthy by providing fresh vitamins. And they break up the monotony of menus, as the cold days drift by.

Eggs are a prime food for such circumstances. Packed into each egg are a quality assortment of vitamins, protein, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids that are fresh, and simply a gold-mine during a long winter of canned goods and stockpiled food. I personally consider fresh eggs are one of my most valuable winter survival foods.

Eggs from a healthy free-range hen will give you:

  • Protein. About 6 grams per egg. Approximately equal to 1 ounce of meat.
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Beta Carotene
  • Folate
  • Omega-3
  • Omega-6
  • Choline
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B2
  • Iodine
  • Antioxidants (lutein and zeaxanthin)

…and many more nutrients, which makes a big difference when the garden is under the snow and fresh vegetables are months away. Especially when vitamin supplements are hard or even impossible to get.

For those of you who have chickens, you know how egg supply drops drastically—and sometimes stops—in winter. I’ve raised egg layers over a decade. Implementing the right strategies, we have a steady daily production of about 10 eggs per every 20 hens, all throughout the winter.

Here are my three tips:

#1. Lighting

The most common thing you’ll hear for year round egg production is to use artificial lighting to fool the hens into thinking it’s still summer. I personally have only used lights during one winter. I used solar powered lights. In a grid down situation I don’t want to use my limited power resources on my chickens. I’d rather use them for other things. Nor would I want light advertising their presence and drawing anyone passing by in the woods at night who might want to help themselves to an easy meal with my flock. I don’t live as far north as some of you, so I do have more hours of natural sunlight per day and can get away with not using artificial lighting easier than most.

It is indeed what commercial farmers use for a steady production, and a good option for some. I personally decided it was a poor use of my resources, too high-maintenance, and not as easy for a long-term survival situation as the next two strategies below.

#2. Protein

While it may seem counter productive to feed chickens protein, just so you can get protein back, it’s not. And it’s a very tried-and-true strategy from before the factory farming industries started and changed the industry. If you go back 100 years in America’s farming history, you’ll find that the youngest son often had the job of hunting pests and predators during the winter to feed to the chickens for protein. A lack of steady protein after the crickets, grasshoppers and other insects disappear with the first heavy frosts is one of the three reasons laying stops in the winter months. Feeding on the fresh carcasses kept the chickens laying, and, as a side benefit, it gave real life practice that honed the hunting and sniper skills of the child to razor sharp.

Pests and predators vary from state to state, but everything from possums and raccoons to coyotes and wolves are fair game. Dried meal-worms from your local feed store work as well, but are obviously not a reliable source during any grid-down situations when supply chains are weak.

#3. Biological Clocks

If I could only implement one of these tips, I would choose this one. It has by far made the greatest difference of anything I’ve tried.

Lets suppose you’ve had your hens for a couple of years. As summer is winding down, their bodies start slowing production and getting ready to molt, and layer on fat for the cold dark nights. It’s hard to override this natural cycle without a lot of time and effort on your part. So, what should you do?

It has to start in the Spring. If you hatch out a fresh batch of chicks at just the right time in Spring, then they will become mature just as Autumn starts to set in. Their hormones will be coming in so strongly as they gear up for “adulthood” that they will override the seasonal down-shift as their hormones reach the peak and they go into full gear.

The Best Time for Hatching

Now here’s the tricky part. Short days come at different months in different parts of the country, so you have to figure out for yourself what the best date is to hatch your chicks so they are at their optimal hormone peak at the time laying usually tapers off in your area. Or you can ask a knowledgeable neighbor in your region.

Here’s how I figured out the prime time for me to hatch chicks every year.

First I kept meticulous eggs laying records for a few years. I pinpointed the 2-week time in fall when production slowed.

Second, I figured back 6 months and marked the date on my calendar. Why 6 months? 5 months is average for a chick to reach laying age, but I found through experience that for optimal winter laying it works best if you give it an extra month.

For you folks who order chicks by mail or through the feed-store, simply have them arrive at that time.

I hatch my own eggs in an incubator. So, after I went back 6 months and got the exact date I wanted my chicks, I then went back 21 more days. That’s the date I started my incubator full of eggs.

Using this method about ¾ of my spring-hatch flock lays eggs steady through the winter. Granted, the eggs are small to start, but they quickly get up to full size.

Often when hatching chicks early on your date it will still be very cold. In short-term emergency situations, or in TEOTWAWKI, electricity is often scarce, and even if you do have it, you may not have enough to want to power a heat lamp over the chicks all the time. Wood stoves are always an option for the first few days. What I have found to work the best though, is farmer Justin Rhodes’ method of simply using a cardboard box at nights. You can place the young chick’s container in an extra room in your house or a warm barn. Then you take a box just barely larger than your chicks when they huddle tight together, and poke a couple tiny holes in it. At night you simply place it over top of your chicks in their enclosure, and they can easily keep themselves warm with mere body heat in a tiny area like that. Particularly after they are 3+ days old. That cuts your heat-lamp troubles and electricity needs for them in half!

I’ve used the cardboard box method during the nights successfully in power outage situations, and have never lost a chick due to the lack of a heat-lamp.

So to round things up, of the three tips mentioned above, I implement the second and third together, and have excellent results. All three implemented simultaneously would be ideal. I also let my chickens out of the coop to free-range whenever possible for whatever they can find during the winter afternoons whenever the dog is available and can keep predators away. And that makes a difference in production as well as the quantity of fatty acids and vitamins in the eggs. (if your hens spend time in the sun, studies have shown their eggs will be significantly higher in vitamin D).

A word about the old laying hens

If you do hatch out chicks strategically every Spring, as I do, then you end up with a lot of older hens. Hens are most productive for the first two years of their lives. Every year I have three ages of hens in my flock: my young “winter-laying” pullets, last year’s hens, and then those that are just getting older than two years.

Throughout the Fall and Winter I butcher the last group; all those older than two years. They are slightly tough, but they make the richest bone broth when simmered all day, and keep the soup pot full throughout the cold months. We butcher 1 or 2 a week as needed, and they usually last us until Spring—just in time to hatch out a batch of fresh chicks for next Winter’s laying hens.

For those of you who want to read further, or build a good farm library, my personal top two recommendations for books on chickens are:

  • Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow. It’s a classic handbook for a very good reason. If you’ve never raised chickens, this would be my top recommendation. For those of you who have experience it does make a handy reference book for when the Internet in not available and you need to look something up.

  • Pastured Poultry Profits, by Joel Salatin. This book is primarily about meat-chickens as a farm enterprise, but it has some great all-purpose chicken information, as well as one chapter on raising egg-layers in the back of the book.




40 Comments

  1. We started feeding our chickens the left over cat food and the egg production really increased. My wife told a friend and she had the same results, dry or canned did not seem to make a difference.

      1. We buy a bag of 5000 at a bird food store. Put them in a 2 x 3 ft tupperware container with about 3″ of wheat bran. Every once in a while add thin slices of potatoes or sweet potatoes, grapes, strawberries, peaches–any old fruit or veg that is getting icky. law a few half sheets of newspaper on top of the meal for them to hide in. They grow up into beetles then give you more worms. I use them to feed a lizard rather than my chickens, but still. Every two years or so I might get another bag of them to add in to replenish but they pretty much just keep themselves going.

  2. Great article, I was not concerned with egg laying this winter so I just let it ride. For obvious reasons that probably won’t happen again. Today my son comes running in with our fort two eggs of the spring at home. It’s his job for the few we keep at the house. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as proud. The wife and I are also very thankful at this point!!! Luck and blessings to all!

  3. I have friends who drop off their leftovers and vege peels for my chickens so I share some eggs with them. I also give my chickens anything the other animals won’t eat, because chickens eat everything. We catch frogs and crickets and throw them near the coop. We also shoot the destructive squirrels inside our compound, gut the carcass and toss them near the coop. I save the egg shells, grind them up into powder and put it in a bowl so the chickens can have some calcium. Makes for strong healthy animals.

  4. Thank you, AJ! Great article with excellent tips and suggestions! In these times, and those that are probably on the horizon, having hens will turn out to be a tremendous resource.

    We’ve enjoyed our hens for many years, and found that some varieties are better winter eggs layers (among them the Black Australorps). These birds produce very large dark brown eggs, and the only adversities we’ve experienced with the Black Australorps were 1) a single occurrence of cross bill, and 2) that birds either all white or all black seem to be more easily targeted by our area predators.

    We’ve also resupplied our chicks through mail order, local feed store supply, use of an incubator, and natural hatching. Our best results overall have come from natural hatching, although we do end up with a significant number of roosters! We have a smaller hatching pen, work with just a couple broody hens (often Buff Orpingtons, but not always), and support our mother hens with easily accessible food and water.

    A few words of caution.

    1) Hunters from the wild love chicken. One year we lost two setters and their nests when a wild hunter was able to access the smaller hen house. Even if you think the hen house is “strong enough” to prevent access, think again and make it stronger yet.

    2) Our chickens are allowed to free-range most of the time, but we do protect them by keeping them in the hen house from time to time (much to their chagrin as they are freedom loving creatures). We take extra protective measures in the spring when other wild animals are hunting more actively to feed their young, and when we know we have a hunter in the area (if we see the activity of hawks nearby as an example, or if we lose a bird).

    3) It’s important to be sure free range hens are secured as quickly as possible at dusk or just after for their safety. Wild hunters seek chicken around the clock, and some are nocturnal. Our hens love their freedom, and don’t want to go back to their hen house until the last moment possible. We find it truly wonderful that our hens are so freedom loving, but this does also create some risk — and we must be attendant to that risk. Watch the light carefully, and secure your birds as soon as possible every evening.

    Having enjoyed our egg layers so very much, we would not be without them — and encourage others to start their own hen houses!

    Remain steady. Be safe. Stay well everyone!

    1. I have read discussions of guard dogs for grazing livestock on this site. Just recently saw a movie where the dogs were used to protect chickens. Of course, it was a large flock.

      Anyway, I reckon that a trained and loyal dog would chase off a lot of predators. YMMV.

      Carry on in grace

      1. A very good thought about a protective dog, and one we’ve considered… We love dogs, and miss having them in our lives. One suggestion was an Australian Shepherd. We may need to research this further. Thank you so much for the idea and encouragement!

  5. I enjoyed the article. Once we started keeping our hens in the greenhouse during the winter, there was a noticeable increase in egg production. Not sure if it was because of the warmth or worms in the soil.

  6. We have tried something different this past year, and after 3 months, we’ve had no issues. We stored 4 dozen eggs in food grade buckets in December 2019, and I tried 2 just last week – no issues, just as fresh. Here’s what we did (Not mine, was led to it on Youtube – I think):

    Long term egg storage: 8-12 months
    hydrated lime – building supply section
    8 qt water
    1 oz, by weight, hydrated lime per quart of water
    add unwashed, clean eggs
    Keep lid on top – olive oil on top of water
    You don’t want water evaporation

    When ready to eat, remove, rinse, and use

    1. I just started a batch of ‘waterglass’ yesterday! Can’t wait to see the results! We eat a lot of eggs and eggs have been flying off the shelves in our area so I want to keep quite a supply on hand.

  7. We’ve increased egg laying in the winter dramatically by using solar driveway lights that can be put out in the morning and brought into the henhouse in the evening. Our coop is solidly built and lights do not shine thru, nor do the hunting critters have a way to get in. Over the past several years, I have tried various manufacturers for the lights, but found that those available from Hammacher Schlemmer are the best. Pricey, but very good. Lights last around 4-6 hours – more than enough to stretch the daylight for the hens. Durability is excellent. Easy to change batteries. Two in the 8x10x6′ house (big enough for about 40-50 birds) do the job. Have had some minor issues when we have overcast days, but the lights work fine when the sun comes back out. We’ve had nearly 3 weeks of overcast/rainy days so far in March and the lights worked every night regardless. Highly recommended, and no, no affiliation.

  8. Learn how to store excess summer production. There are several ways. I’m eating home grown eggs produced last summer that were not cleaned, and were stored in a cool place. They are approximately 6 months old. They can be put in jar and frozen as well, but I prefer to avoid dependence on freezers. Every perishable food item is canned, or preserved without refrigeration.

    BTW, Trump signed an executive order outlawing ‘hording’. This will probably be used against peppers in a number of ways. Have reserves of food hidden elsewhere for this, and other contingencies. Do not have all your eggs is the same basket. In desperate times, when we are still fat, and others are not, we might be labeled as ‘horders’, and we can be turned into authorities. Of course out here in the boonies, the ‘authorities’ will know better than to mess with the natives. In fact, the Sheriff already refuses to patrol this area. Some times it is good to have a bad reputation.

      1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsoULfAN7gQ

        Found first mention of it on Brietbart, and then Ice Age Farmer.

        A New York doctor has reported repeated the French experiment, and confirmed that the combination of Hydrxychoroquine, Azithromycin, and zinc is very effective against Covid-19. Azithromycin kills bacteria that contains Covid-19, and is reported helpful even when hydroxychloroquin is not used inconjuction. Zinc at three times the recommended dose, or about 30mg/d is good prevention. Higher dosages might used during the treat using Hydroxychloroquin, and Chloroquin that causes zinc to enter cells at a higher rate. Dosages used by the New York doctor were repeated during the Alex Jones show. If I have time after gardening, reloading, programming radios and other, I’ll hunt it down latter and post it. It was early in the show and during Dr. Steve Penznick segment (aka. Jack Ryan). At the very least, these medicines will do little harm to most persons. Get it while you can, if you can.

        Hydroxychloroquin
        https://www.drugs.com/hydroxychloroquine.html

    1. I dehydrated a couple dozen eggs into powdered eggs. Whipped them in the blender, put on the fruit roll up trays in the dehydrator, then whipped them again in the blender to make into powder. Just add some water and you can have scrambled, use for cooking.

  9. If you keep a large compost pile bugs and worms will survive the winter and the chickens will stir it up for you. Also a large pile of wood chips, mulch or leaves will do the same thing. My chickens have had access all winter to a banquet of fresh bugs, lately frogs and yes and even baby mice.
    One thing I’d like to mention regarding artificial light, The shortened days also trigger the chickens to molt. They lose all their old feathers and then grow new ones. This takes a tremendous amount of protein and that’s why they stop laying. Many modern breeds have been bred to totally burn out on high egg production, that’s why people have to replace them every two years or so. Buying new baby chicks is not sustainable and using an incubator works if you have power. I suggest foregoing all heavy layers and getting some dual purpose heritage breed hens that still have brooding characteristics. You might not have control over when they brood but they will supply you with new hens and a few roosters to eat as well. Also there are breeds of chickens that lay better in the winter verses the summer. If your flock is a mix of winter layers, summer layers, leghorns for high production and Cochins, Brahmas or other broody types you can be more sustainable. No they all won’t lay at the same time and you’ll have to feed them when they aren’t laying but over the year you can have a more even egg supply.
    Also I’d like to mention that ducks are better winter layers then most chicken breeds. They are very hardy and tasty too.
    I have a Brahma mix hen that was hatched on our farm, she is 6 yrs old and worth her weight in gold. She only lays a few eggs but she loves to hatch and raise baby chicks. I don’t have another to replace her but hopeful I can get more broodies soon.

  10. Just a little tip for those that wish to entice there hens back into the hen house for the evening. Anybody that has had chickens for any period of time knows they will eat anything. Most free range birds really enjoy the variety that they receive from table scraps and kitchen trimmings. Start a habit of given those scraps out in the late afternoon/early evening, dump them right into the hen house. Soon you will find that your chicks are, inside, waiting for their treats!

    1. Using a whistle to call them in at any time during the day. Use it when feeding works good to train them. Even half wild bantie chickens, quail, or turkey respond. Grow your own wild flock of turkeys, or even peacocks that are tough as nails. And rabbits too.

      1. Eggs do not can up good, but it will preserve the nutrition. Also save your egg cartons. Yesterday I traded egg cartons for eggs. They have a business. Pickling is the way to go for nice looking preserved eggs. If using a pressure canner, run it for 45 min to 1 hour 30 minutes at 12 to 15 psi to can veggies to meat, and the jars will be sterilized when the food is sterilized. I would treat any food with eggs in it as meat. I have meats that have been preserved for many years using this method. I use extra salt in the jar, and run the canner for 2 hours when canning meat. It is precious protein, and I want to make extra sure. If living totally from your own food production, 450 quart jars, or equivalent pints, will be needed for each person. Water bath method is not as a effective and food will not last as long. Water bath can as a last resort and then only acidic foods and no meats, or foods that will be consumed within a few months. If there is no refrigeration at the time of use, use pints, or extra salt in quart jars so that once opened, the extra meat is preserved in a salt brine. The extra salt can be rinsed away or is diluted in when used in a stew. Just pour off the brine. Controlling portions is very important. Extra meat saved for the next meal can also be preserved in a pressure cooker if brought to a boil once a day, and stored in the pressure cooker. Pressure cookers are a valuable tool. Pint jars can be used in standard sized pressure cookers to can all kinds of veggies. Make sure the wobbler on top is moving vigorously during the cook time desired to assure the highest pressure and thoroughly preserved veggies . Cook for at least 30 minutes. This is better than the water bath method and is good for veggies that are not acidic. Longer cook times are better. Mayonnaise quart jars can be use with standard lids btw.

        I’ve been living off grid for many years without refrigeration, and in rough conditions. I’ve canned just about everything including bear, elk , deer, trout, beef….fats , veggies… A pressure canner with replacement seals and gaskets, and a large store of jars and reusable lids are among my most prized possessions. They are also fantastic barter items. If I need extra ammo, I know some one with a pile who would trade for canning supplies as they are badly short. Proper prepping is a balancing act. I suspect the standard metal lids will preserve food longer than the plastic reusable lids, but the reusable lids are reusable and probably available. If using reusable lids, eat it sooner rather than latter. And get more canning supplies while you still can.

        Also, if hunting in unseasonably warm weather, quickly chunk up the kill fast and easy so it fits in the container with a D saw with a type 51 blade ,or other fine tooth carpenter’s saw. A miter saw is good. Chain saws are messy. Store it in a heavy salt brine while you can it up, smoke, or dry the rest of it.

        1. T.R. Interesting – trading egg cartons for eggs! We saved egg cartons for many, many years in anticipation of raising chickens, before getting our homestead, so we have a huge supply. I’m just curious how many cartons you bartered, and for how many eggs. We still have a lot of cartons, (probably too many) and it might be useful knowledge for future reference.

          1. Bartering is an art, so there is no established metric. If their need is high, then that which is offered has more value. In this case they have a business of selling eggs and are low on cash. When possible, allow them to make the fist offer, and have a set value to your in mind and hold the price there. If you must open with an offer, start with a low, yet not insulting offer. Conversely, if you are selling. Establishing regular bartering partners lubricates the process with trust. I might be buying eggs today, but will be selling them ammunition latter, but not for eggs unless very hungry. If I were to sell them ammo for eggs, I might place a high value on the ammo, but if he is a friend and regular trading partner, I would give him a ‘good guy’ price. In today’s environment, and the fact that he is a friend, or asset, I might go for a bullet per dozen. Less if it is loose hand loaded ammo and I was fresh out of eggs and had no other source of muscle building protein. I’d rather trade canned bear for eggs. I got a lot of bear, and people like meat, but figure in the value of that pint jar, it is now gone waaay up in value. It is better to offer fresh veggies, or other perishable.
            Sometimes you’ll win, and some times you might come out a bit short. It takes practice to see what works for you. It is best to trade like items for other items that are similar. I recently made a deal with a good guy who desperately needed handloading bullets for his odd caliber 6.5 rifle. In exchange I got good quality reloadable brass cased 5.56 for each 6.5 bullet. We are both very happy.

            Hold your cards close to the chest. If the price hurts, it is no good. Be prepared to walk away. If both sides believe they are ahead with their part of the trade, then that trade will be conducive to future business. One day you might need something real bad, and trust will help the process immensely after bad times make people desperate and dishonest. If you do not know that person real well, then assume that they are will be dishonest in some way, if there is any opportunity for them to cheat you. Always verify the quality and function of the item. Operate on the principle that ‘no one sells a good horse’. Check the teeth if it isn’t a gift horse. I’ve had to repair many semi auto and bolt rifles, and cars cause the seller wanted to get rid of it. That is how I became a kitchen table gunsmith.

            (If you’ve got lots of cartons, you might get yourself into the egg making business. Once folks get tired of eating what they are eating, and may suffer from malnutrition, fresh eggs are golden.)

  11. Eggs are a bonafide superfood! I have found there is a stark difference between farm-raised (organic or not) and factory-farm ones – the more orange the yolk the better. The cholesterol worry is a nutritional misunderstanding and IMO an outright deceptive lie. Refined sugar, refined stuff in boxes and so forth are much more to worry about.

    When Vital Farms was first starting out, their eggs tasted like butter and you could taste what the free range chickens were eating that season.

    Maybe someday I can catch up with the rest of yall and have my own chicken coop. Note: some towns and cities allow urban coops, with caveats, FYI.

    1. Uhh, my tiny town frowns on having chickens. I think I might call the village & see if they are going to change their mind.

      So goofy, you can have chickens in Skokie & other suburban cities but out here in the boondocks NO!

      However you CAN race your car without an exhaust system full throttle. Maddening!!

      So far, ever county surrounding mine has cases of the Wuhan death, matter of time before it creeps in here

      Welcome to Illinois!!
      Have a Rockin great evening

      1. Well, they can frown all they want but if it’s your property you should be able to, depending on acreage, city/county ordinance and so forth. Main things are roosters and distance from coop to neighbor properties; mostly a sanitation and noise thing.

        If there’s a rule forbidding it, many folks don’t bother getting involved in local politics and are instead hypnotized by federal politics where ironically they have little to no power. Local/municipal/county’s where it’s at. Check it out, you might be surprised what you can get done, especially now when everyone’s all scurred of the operation mockingbird covid-19 boogieman.

        I found this while refreshing my memory:

        https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/categories/chicken-laws.13/

        1. S H
          Yup, I figure if people in my town can pile up crap all around their houses so they look like an unorganized junk yards then I can have a couple of chickens in my yard.

          Thank you for the link.
          While on lockdown I am studying how I can make this work. I have EVERYTHING to learn but I’m gonna put my all into it. You never know until you try.

          Have a Rockin great day.

  12. We have 3 Buckeye Red chickens and they laid 1-2 eggs a day all winter. Now that it’s warmer 2-3 a day. In the winter we gave them scrambled eggs once a week with the ground-up shells plus fresh fruit and veggies. High protein feed and oyster shells and grit daily and lots of fresh water. They really drink a lot. We let them free range a few hours a day when we are home and they have become pets, coming when we call them.

  13. Thank you for the good suggestions in this article. We never thought of giving the hens the voles (meadow mice) we catch in traps throughout the winter. Will start TOMORROW! The little carnivores love it when I give them ribs and chicken and rabbit bones (after I have made broth). Later, I gather the bones and burn them in our wood fired hot tub. The ashes, now with bone, return to the chickens for winter dust baths. We will also try your idea of solar lamps. I wonder how many hours we would get at our cold winter temperatures. Will find out!

  14. I’m curious how you are cooking your two year old birds. We had some older birds that we butchered and they were the proverbial “Tough old birds” we ended up grinding them up with some rice and corn to make dog food.

    1. I simmer them all day over a med.-low temperature. Normally a good 12 hours.

      If you cook them too fast they will be tough. And if you cook them for too short a time they will be tough. Cooking long and slow, and not too hot is the key.

      If I have a really old bird that just isn’t quite tender enough after all that, I chop/dice the cooked meat against the “grain” (the way the muscle fibers run). That “cross-grain” chopped meat makes it much easier to chew, and it is a great ingredient in Mexican casseroles. In those casseroles the folks at my table don’t even realize it’s old hens, and not young fryers. It’s also great for mixing with mayonnaise as a chicken-salad sandwich filling.

      But it can make great dog food too! And you will be left with nutritious broth for your own soups.

  15. Just one more comment about training your chickens to come in the the hen house in the evening by using your food scraps. I agree with ‘tunnel rabbit’ that a whistle works well but in a situation where you may want to use a little more ‘stealth’ the scrap idea works best, but then again, chickens are just plain noisy, maybe it won’t make much difference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.