Slowin’ Down

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Three of our hens: Marilla (Barred Plymouth Rock), Hilda (Buff Orpington) and Jolene (Rhode Island Red) searching for treats among the garden beds.

As much as we love reaching into the nest boxes mid-Summer and finding them full of eggs, we also accept this not the reality of year-round chicken keeping.  The girls slow down when the days get shorter and we’ve chosen to not use any supplemental light in the hen house. Fall and Winter are generally the times that hens will moult, but we haven’t seen any sign of moulting yet from our older hens.  We are crossing our fingers that the younger layers will NOT moult this Fall, since they are only 8 months old.  Two of last year’s hens DID moult in their first year and we were told by seasoned chicken folk that this is not common so, we’re watching to see what happens. Moulting is when the hens “shed” out their old feathers and get new ones.  The best laying hens moult fast and get back to the laying business quickly (hens don’t lay while they are moulting–or most don’t–since all their energy and efforts are going to re-growing those feathers.)

We have been getting, on average, 2 eggs a day from four laying hens for the past week or so.  This is a bit of a drop from 3-4 eggs a day. We are down to just under 13 hours of daylight where we live and for the past week, those days have been dark, cloudy and rainy.  I’m pretty sure the hens have figured out that the long, sunny, warm days of Summer are gone and there is no need to be laying clutches and clutches of eggs. Chickens lay eggs when their instincts tell them those “babies” can survive.

Since we’ve chosen not to light the hen house to make the chickens think the days are longer and we think they deserve a bit of a rest, we’re attempting to keep our egg production “enough” for our household by managing the ages and size of our flock.  When we started keeping chickens, we quickly realized that the recommended three hens for our two adults was not going to cut it.  The second year we got three more.  When one of those turned out to be a rooster and one of our older hens went broody, we entertained the thought of adding a few more.  There are definitely pros and cons to having a mixed age, mixed breed flock. It takes time and effort to integrate the youngest ones into the flock.  We’ve noticed that things don’t really settle down until the youngest pullets are full size and starting to lay.  If we had a big enough plot of land, we would likely raise larger flocks of different ages separately but, living in an urban area, that’s just not our scene!

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Dottie, a Silver-Laced Wyandotte, at 17 weeks old. We’re hoping she’ll start laying later this Fall.

So, as we go into the “lean” months and the older hens ease up, we are hoping that our three young 17-week old pullets will start laying later this Autumn.  We’re not sure if they will, or if they’ll wait until Spring, but we’re giving it a try.  Like many folks who start keeping chickens and taste their own free-range eggs, we are not keen on having to buy eggs at the store!  Meanwhile, we understand the cycles of the hens and appreciate their need to keep warm, moult and take an egg-laying break, and it only lasts a couple months.  Last year, with only two laying hens (two of three), we had our last egg on Christmas Eve and they were easing back into production by the end of January.  Stay tuned for how things go this Fall and Winter!

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