Welcome All! I'm a dreamer, I hope you are too! A Posse ad Esse, or From possibility to reality, is a general state of mind. I hope you'll share your possibilities with me as I will with you. Namaste~

December 2, 2008

EGGS - The Natural Way

A~ and I raise chickens in our backyard and, although we have had occasion to kill, process and consume a couple of our "extra" birds (Roosters that came for free with our mail order hens.), we don't raise them for that purpose. What we do raise them for, is eggs. So as we began to move into the colder winter months of the year, we had an issue confronting us and needed to make a decision. Natural or artificial?

What I'm talking about is whether or not we wanted to provide our birds with artificial light in order to ensure that they continue to pump out eggs like clock work similar to, yet on a smaller scale than, the way commercial producers do or whether we wanted to let them have a bit of an off season, time to re-coop. (Pun intended.) After we talked about it and gave it some thought, we both agreed to a sort of trial period. What we're doing is not providing any artificial light, for the time being, but we may yet do it before the end of the winter. We're not trying to just be indecisive. What we are doing, is following much the same philosophy that we do with most everything that we do around here. Take it step by step, see what happens and adjust as necessary to keep the birds healthy, and maintain our egg supply.

Here's our thought process. First off, we don't raise the chickens for pets. Yes we love them and they're fun to watch and all, but primarily they are for food production, green waste disposal and manure generation; food doesn't get purchased for them for no return after all. That said, we also try to maintain a fairly natural order of things around here; organic veggies, compost, and natural pest control for instance. Because of that we thought we owed it to them to at least give them the opportunity to "slow down" for a season, while still maintaining a minimum number of egg production. I believe that there is a reason that the birds will naturally slow down with their egg production in the winter time. It is a part of their physiology, and pushing them beyond that is likely to reduce not only their lifespans but I believe their long term productivity as well.

So far, I have to say, so good. We have 9 chickens total, and although we are no where near their regular 7 or 8 eggs a day that we got during the summer months, we are still averaging about 4 a day. Our drop dead number was exactly that, 4. What I mean is, when we decided to let them have their "down time" we set 4 as our minimum daily number of eggs that we were willing to accept before introducing artificial lighting. We've had a couple of 3 a days, but not enough to worry about in my opinion, so for now, their still on staycation.

One of the things that instigated me to make this post was a post on another blog, one of my favorites, the Tiny Farm Blog. There, the Tiny Farm Blogger, posted that he wondered what would happen with his birds if the day light hours dropped below the recommended 14 hours for even a single day? So I looked into it, just how long are our day currently? Turns out, quite a bit less that that. Today for instance was set to only be a 9h-26m-21s day. That 5 hours less! Even better news was that the shortest day of the year for us is set to hit in just 18 days, Dec 21st. So we're nearly half way through the short daylight part of the season!! We may just make it.

What do you do with your chooks if you raise them? The natural way, or artificial? Ever tried it without light? Let me know, I'm curious. I'll keep you posted on my experiment as well. Oh yeah, and in case your in UT and want to see the daylight hours and such, check here. Not to ignore my non-Utahan readers, you can find your city by searching here.
Till next time.


ruralaspirations said...

Interesting topic. ITA with your line of thinking that the birds should be allowed to follow their natural rhythm as proscribed by their physiology, for better health and thus healthier eggs. My question, however, is whether chickens are designed to live in regions with short days as we get in the northern hemisphere. That might argue in favour of some lighting, yes? As one who longs to have chickens some day I will follow with interest...

Phelan said...

I use heat lamps. It isn't cold enough to turn them on, well until this morning it wasn't. I get zero eggs between the time of less daylight and freezing temps. They have gone through their molting period, now that the temp has dropped, they get their extra daylight hours in the morning, via heat lamp. I have had birds freeze even with a lamp. Someone always thinks they're too good for the lamp. I feed them a warm mash in the evening, and set the lamp on a timer to wake them up, and rewarm them. SO yes, I do both. And will admit, I don't like going without eggs.

Anonymous said...

Natural, but not against a little noninvasive help. I am glad you had good times with *family* :-)! Life is good, hard, but good!tp

Susy said...

I think natural is best, especially since you're trying to do it the natural way everywhere else.

However I know how the chickens feel. I also feel less-productive when the daylight hours wane in the winter. I use a full-spectrum light in my office to keep me going (and I often enjoy some time sitting in the afternoon sun when in streams in the living room window).

farm mom said...

I go natural as well. Although, because we have below zero temps around here and we usually see -30degree with the windchill at least a few times a year, we do use the heat lamps on the coldest of nights. But our goal is not to increase the eggs, just keep the birds comfy. If it's been a particularly long cold snap, I've noticed that an unseasonal molt will sometimes occur. (So, even if you get eggs through the winter, you might not later.)

Your hens are young enough and should lay through the winter, even if all you get is 1 a day for a few of the darkest, coldest days of the year.

On a side, I also freeze eggs in the height of summer, that way we'll be sure to have some handy for the winter.

ilex said...

I've never raised chickens (how I pine for the day), but I've taken care of others' urban chickens and I've read quite a bit on the subject. I vote for natural rhythms, though a heat source in cold months seems to be much appreciated by the birds.

And come spring, when you have eggs coming out of your ears, home-pickled eggs are divine.

Jason & Jackie said...

I read on the web site back yard chickens if you give them warm water in the morning you'll get more eggs? water is natural right!? I'll have to try it Back yard chickens is a great site with more info than anyone could ever get through the forums are fun too

molly said...

Our chooks do it naturally. We live where temps never get below -8C so no need for lights etc.

When they go off the lay for a while we still have somewhere for the kitchen scraps to go, somewhere to obtain manure and some great little pest eaters.

Mike (tfb) said...

This is my first foray into really small-scale egg production, so I'm kinda feeling things out as I go with at first 25 layers.

Following the natural chicken cycle is clearly the way to go for home production, where you can adjust to seasonal eating, if you're planning to keep your girls for a while. It's a little different for small farming, though, if you want a steady supply.

I'm trying lights for a while, but I'll probably let them molt soon and see what happens then. The idea behind lighting isn't exactly a pretty one: you're tricking/forcing the girls out of their normal reproductive cycle so they keep laying. BUT, they can't keep it up forever. Eventually, after a few months to a year, egg quality and quantity will go down, and to keep up production, it's time for more birds (or maybe forced molting, which sounds kinda brutal).

When the farm I'm on was a traditional big working family dairy farm three decades ago, this was a place where people would pull up to the barn right through the year, help themselves to a dozen or two farm-fresh eggs from the fridge, and leave money in a jar on the honor system. A pleasant image, especially as this happened to be a generally no-chemicals farm.

The other side, though, was that the 300 layers were kept producing with light through the winter, and rotated out after a year. A guy would pick 'em up and sell them to the Campbell's Soup company, and new, 15-week-old ready-to-lay birds would take over. This was the only way to maintain the egg clientele by offering a steady year-round supply.

This wasn't any sort of factory farming, just normal practice on an independent working farm...

So that was for 20-25 dozen eggs a day, a relatively small chunk of revenue that contributed to keeping the farm going. (BTW, today, with way more chicken regulation in Ontario, and Campbell's gone vertical and raising their own chickens, this whole scenario is barely possible...)

The problem with small-scale commercial production is, of course, cost and return. Feed gets expensive, and feeding even 50 or 100 birds for several weeks without a return probably takes you below breakeven. With home production, you essentially pay the real value of the eggs, but you couldn't easily get price from buyers.

It's yet another tiny farming puzzle I'm working through. Of course, there are many small-scale, organic egg producers, and I'm not yet sure how they each handle this. It's just where I'm at so far! Hope it helps the discussion! ;)

Rhonda Jean said...

Hi P. As you know I have chickens but the conditions here are probably the opposite to what you have there. Nevertheless, chickens are the same no matter where they are and they need to have a period sometime during the year when they stop laying and replenish their calcium levels.

Where you are, that natural off period is winter, here it is summer. Our hens stop laying when it's too hot and they conserve their strength for staying cool, moulting and renewing feathers. They also build up their calcium for another year of egg laying.

Like you, we have our chickens for the eggs they produce as well as to help in the garden. We allow them to have a couple of weeks off and then start feeding a high protein mash that triggers laying again. You might like to try it. The mash is old bread or rolled oats, or a combo of both, mixed with milk powder and warm water. Add to this some egg shells that have been dried in the oven and pulverised in a blender. What you have then is a high protein, high calcium and mineral supplement that the chickens will adore. They WILL rip you hand off to get at it so put the bowl down quickly and step away carefully. ;- ) Good luck, love. This was another interesting post. Thanks.

Sadge said...

We let our chickens follow their natural rhythms. We're getting between 4 and zero eggs a day - all now from the RI Reds bought as day-old chicks last spring. The Amerucana crosses are finished with their molt, and starting to look a bit less scruffy. They should start laying again soon after the solstice. No electric to our coop at all, so no lights or heat. There is a non-opening window on the south side of the coop, so they do get a bit of light inside.

P~ said...

Thanks all for your input. I do have to make a concession/amendment to my post. I probably will end up using some kind of lights. After thinking about if further, and reading your comments I realized that although I don't want to use the lights to force the girls to lay, I may use it before sunset to warm up the roost for the night and then in the morning to warm it up. This winter has been unusually warm so far, but that's bound to change.

Mike, glad to have you wander over and weigh in. I totally get what you're doing and hope you didn't take it as a criticism of that. I am solely coming from a position of the home, for-food, perspective.

thanks to all of you.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I are in NC and we have not used any lights on the 8 RIR and 6 BR pullets. I hate to say this and jinx the amount of eggs we have been getting but today it was 14. Least amount this week was 9 a couple of days. I an hoarding eggs in case they slow down.