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How To: Manage Your Flock to Avoid Egg Shortages

How To: Manage Your Flock to Avoid Egg Shortages

How to avoid egg shortages with backyard chickens 

If you have chickens, you have food. But backyard chickens do not always lay year round. So how can you manage your flock to prevent egg shortages?

Do backyard chickens produce eggs year-round?

Chickens produce more eggs at certain times of the year, and sometimes stop laying altogether.

Backyard chickens are usually most productive in spring, although broody hens will stop laying. Chickens will also lay reliably through summer, unless the weather becomes extremely hot. In autumn, chickens may moult and stop laying. 

However, in areas with short winter days and cold climates, chickens may stop laying in winter. Some breeds are more likely to lay through winter than others, and there are ways to increase winter egg production.

Where we live, despite hot summers, broody hens and moults, we get at least 3 eggs daily from our flock of 6 hens. We live in a mild climate, so our hens also lay through winter, though less reliably.

Why do chickens stop laying eggs?

There are many reasons why a chicken might stop laying eggs:

  • Moulting
  • Broodiness
  • Seasonal changes
  • Age
  • Poor diet
  • Deficiencies
  • Parasites
  • Disease
  • Reproductive problems
  • Stress

The most common reason chickens stop laying is moulting. This is a natural process that is important for chicken health, as it provides a chance to recover from the stress egg laying places on the body.

Why do chickens lay fewer eggs in winter?

Egg production is influenced by day-length. In winter, chickens don’t always get enough hours of daylight to produce eggs. This is particularly true in places where winter days are very short. It is possible to stimulate winter laying in many chicken breeds by using artificial lighting in the chicken coop.

In milder climates, chickens produce fewer eggs in winter, but they are unlikely to stop laying altogether like they would in a colder climate.

Avoiding egg shortages with a backyard flock

Fortunately, there are ways to manage your backyard chickens to ensure that you don’t have to buy eggs.

We manage our flock for year-round productivity and even in winter we get at least an egg a day, though we are lucky enough to live in. mild climate. We don’t have a huge flock – 6 hens at the moment – and eggs are plentiful enough to be a staple in our house for most of the year. No egg shortages here!

Eat seasonally

Eating seasonally is a much more sustainable choice and it doesn’t just apply to fruits and vegetables. Just like produce, eggs have seasons too. While eggs are available year-round in many climates, they are more abundant in spring and early summer.

Eating seasonally means using abundance when it is available, and eating fewer eggs when they are scarce. This is a normal way of eating and something humans have been doing for thousands of years.

As a chicken keeper, you quickly learn to eat seasonally. In our house, that means lots of frittata and quiche when eggs are plentiful. But if we’re only getting an egg a day, we know to save them up if we want to make something special like a cake.

Eating seasonally isn’t as convenient, perhaps, as just buying eggs when we want them. But it is much cheaper and better for the budget. It is also better for the environment.

How to manage your chickens for year-round egg production

Here are some tips to keep your flock producing eggs year-round.

Research breeds before you buy

Different chicken breeds have different egg laying characteristics. In addition to laying more or fewer eggs, some breeds are more likely to stop laying over winter.

If winter laying is important to you, or you live in an area with short winter days, choose a breed that is cold-hardy and known to lay over winter. It is best to talk to other local chicken keepers to find a breed that will lay through winter in your climate ,but Chanteclers and Wyandottes are known for winter egg production. Leghorns, Australorps and Rhode Island Reds also lay relatively reliably year-round.

Some chicken breeds are also less likely to become broody. Broody chickens stop laying, so if you don't want chicks but do want good egg production, this is something else to consider. ISA Browns are an example of a reliable year-round layer that rarely becomes broody, but these hens may not be the best choice in harsh climates.

Keep a multi-age flock

If your chickens are all of the same age and breed, you are much more likely to end up eggless.

Chickens born at the same time tend to come into lay at the same time. This means they will also be likely to moult, go broody and be affected by old age at a similar time.

Keeping a mixed-age flock, with chickens that started laying at different times of year and in different years, will help even out fluctuations in egg production across your flock across the year, so that you are less likely to run out of eggs.

Replenish your flock regularly

Chickens are most productive in the first 1-2 years of laying. Older chickens lay fewer eggs, and often have longer breaks between periods of laying.

You can ensure good production by replenishing your flock regularly. Adding at least 2-3 new chickens every year or so means that you will always have some young, highly-productive birds to keep you in eggs.

Deal with broody hens

A broody hen does not produce eggs. And broodiness seems to spread, causing decreased egg production across the flock.

If dealt with promptly, most broody hens can be encouraged to give up brooding and go back to egg laying relatively quickly. If you just let your broody hens sit, they can be there for months and will not produce eggs during this time.

Keep your chickens healthy

Poor diet is one of the most common causes of low egg production in chickens. Keep your chickens healthy with a good diet, high in protein and essential nutrients, to avoid egg shortages.

Monitoring for disease, worming your chickens regularly and dealing with parasites and other problems is also important.

Control the environment

Day-length affects egg production. Although chickens typically need about 13-14 hours of daylight to stimulate egg production, many breeds will lay, albeit less reliably, with fewer hours of daylight, perhaps as as few as 8. Industrial chicken farms often provide extra hours of artificial light in winter to stimulate egg production. 

If you have short days, you can add a light to your chicken house and turn it on for a few extra hours a day. You should use a normal lightbulb, not a heat lamp or florescent bulb, and extra light should be provided in the morning, before sunrise, not in the evening.

In addition to day-light hours, temperature also affects egg production. Both cold and hot temperatures can diminish production, so choosing a breed suited to producing in your climate is important. Providing a cosy coop in cold climates, and plenty of cool shady areas for hot summers, is key.

Manage stress

Any sort of stress can stop your chickens from laying. Chickens often stop laying after a visit from a fox or other predator. Bullying is another common cause of poor egg production in lower-ranking chickens. Keeping your flock happy and preventing stress can help avoid gaps in egg production.

Happy chicken keeping!

Rachael at Dine a Chook