The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Chickens stop laying when stressed

Chickens in the woodsI hate to say this, but I miss our modern hybrid chickens.  When we went to Ohio a few weeks ago, I did what I used to do with our Golden Comets --- make sure they have an automatic chicken waterer and then toss down enough feed on the ground to last them several days.  Sure, I knew the chickens would gorge during days one and two and then fast a bit, but we'd never had a problem using this method with our Golden Comets in tractors, and our current flock has over two acres of woods to scratch for worms in.

When we came home, the flock looked happy and healthy...but they'd stopped laying.  In fact, even before we left, our six near-adult hens were only averaging about 3.25 eggs per day, or an egg 54% of the time.  Meanwhile, the eggs they did lay were so much smaller than our Golden Comet eggs that I often doubled the eggs in a recipe.

I've heard Mark mutter "freeloaders" under his breath a time or two already --- lack of real eggs will make a man cranky.  On the other hand, I did get the chicks off to a late start last spring, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.  We'll see how well our Black Australorps and Cuckoo Marans lay come spring and put on our thinking caps if they're still not worth their salt.  I really want to keep a chicken that we can reproduce on the farm, but I also want lots of eggs without having to pay for too much feed.  If I have to keep hunting until I find a better breed, I will.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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When I used to raise rabbits, I had to substitute electric light during the winter months or else their reproduction would drop as the light cycle each day got shorter. I don't know much about chickens, other than they taste good and so do their eggs. Have you done any research into their behaviour in winter months?
Comment by Danny Thu Dec 29 10:07:54 2011
We never had to use lights on our Golden Comets, but this winter we have been extending the day length, mostly because I knew that if I didn't get them to start laying quickly, we wouldn't see eggs until spring. The lights did get them laying within a week or two, but didn't seem to be enough to keep them laying.
Comment by anna Thu Dec 29 10:35:26 2011

We have 3 chickens, an Astralorpe, a Barred Rock, and a Red Star. Our Red Star is considered a "hybrid" which I think I've read is a cross between Rhode Island Red (male) and Delaware (female.) Our Red Star is laying one a day and I don't recall her stopping laying for almost a year now. Her eggs are the biggest too (comparable to a supermarket "jumbo".) The others have stopped laying when it got a bit colder, and now the Astralorpe has started laying one every other day.

I'd highly recommend a Red Star if you can find a way to make it a sustainable solution for your homestead.

Comment by Brian Thu Dec 29 12:36:11 2011
Yep, those modern hybrids are awesome. But you really can't reproduce them on the homestead --- what makes them so productive is the combination of two very distinct parent strains. I might try my hand at hybridizing hybrids if the heirlooms don't come up to snuff, but I know I won't be able to expect the same productivity from their offspring as from the storebought strain.
Comment by anna Thu Dec 29 13:02:20 2011

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