Maintaining egg production during autumn and winter

I love to eat fresh organic eggs, but even the best quality commercial product cannot compare to home produced eggs.
I have been very disappointed over the years when my flock has gone into moult and I have had no eggs and had to buy them. As a consequence I have come up with a few strategies to help maintain my egg production over the autumn and early winter period.

Mature chickens (over 18months old) will moult annually. This is where they lose their feathers and grow new ones. It is a natural process that also gives the chicken a chance to have a well-earned break from continual egg production; it is a process that is important for the long term health of your chickens.
Feathers are very high in protein, so when a chicken is replacing its feathers it will generally stop or decrease the number of eggs it produces and convert nutrients and energy in feather production instead of eggs.

Moulting occurs naturally as a response to the decrease in daylight hours that occurs leading up to the shortest day (winter solstice). This may vary slightly in urban situations due to exposure street or other lighting, but generally you will find your flock “going off the lay” late autumn and early winter.
Moulting can take up to 6-8 weeks to complete, which is a long time to be without fresh eggs.
Commercially, and in some small scale operations, supplementary lighting can stop the flock moulting but I have never bothered going to these lengths.
Maintaining egg production during autumn and winter

How I ensure that I will continue to have eggs during the annual moult season is by replacing 1/3 of my flock during mid to late summer with “point of lay” pullets. These will not moult until they are about 18 months old.
So a chicken that is around the 20 to 25 weeks of age when the days are becoming shorter, will be coming into full laying production rather than moulting as the rest of the flock will be doing.
It is not too late is purchase some “point of lay” pullets now to ensure you have some production through late autumn and winter.


What to do to minimise the length of the moult and to get your chickens laying again as quickly as possible after they moult
A healthy, well maintained and content flock will tend to moult late in autumn and return to the lay quickly as soon as the shortest day has passed. Check out my Poultry management manual on ways to achieve this.
Other things to do are:
 Leading up to late autumn reduce any stress- no handling, no moving the flock or cleaning of coop.
 Try and keep the flock warm in cold weather.
 Reduce scatchmix if you give this to your flock as it will dilute the overall protein level of your chicken’s food intake.
 Supplement their diet with some or all of the following:
• Specialist high protein feeds
• Extra legumes ( pea beans lentil etc.)
• Sunflower seeds
• Fish oil or cod liver oil
• Daily feed of high nutritional greens such as spinach, silver beet, kale, cabbage etc
You can also feed them warm mash (high protein gains soaked overnight in water or milk, and warmed up before giving to your chickens) each morning and night and include a couple of cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of turmeric in the mix to maintain health.
Afternoon feeds are practically important to maintain calorie intake to ensure they maintain their body heat during the night.
There are a lot of references to feeding your flock dried cat food (usually has a protein content of around 30%0) a few times a week to maintain protein levels but I have never tied this.

So if you are determined to maintain egg production during the natural moulting season, firstly go out and purchase some “point of lay” pullets and then follow some good diet supplementation to maintain a good healthy flock.

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