Egg Laying in Winter

Early in the Fall the hens begin to molt. Like leaves falling, it’s not all at once, but little by little. Some start in August, some in October. The girls look scraggly. Then they grow in aptly-named “pin feathers” (which look like short porcupine quills). Finally, they fluff out, hopefully in time to have a nice feather coat for the winter cold. During the molt they stop laying; their energy goes into feather-making.

With winter, the daylight hours shorten and the temperatures drop. All of this triggers the “don’t lay!” button on the hens. Before there was heat and electricity, before there was cheap refrigerated transport to ship eggs, eggs were seasonal. I have brochures from the turn of the last century talking about how to make money on “winter eggs.”

Those of us with backyard hens, go from having an abundance of eggs to having a few precious ones a week. Sometime around December I buy a dozen eggs at the store. It feels wrong, but I do it.

This year, I’ve tried an experiment. I have a light on a timer in the big barn. Hens need 14 hours of light to lay. I’m giving them that with a 60 watt bulb. Instead of no eggs, I’m getting 1 or 2 a day from six hens. Better than none. The girls in the hencam barn, without the light, stopped laying entirely.

It looks like this outside:

snowy trees

but I know the tide has turned, because of this in the hencam barn today:

egg in nesting box

I think that it’s Lulu’s. But it might be from Marge.

I’m thankful, not only for the egg, but the optimism that this snowy, icy winter isn’t permanent.

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