Winter is a difficult time for all the residents on the homestead, especially the animals. No one in their right mind would argue that fact. I've never been accused of having my right mind, but even this lefty knows that winter--with its frigid winds, cold dry air, and occasional blanket of snow--doesn't offer the most comfortable weather. Especially if you live outside.
If you're a farm animal (which I'm not, just so you know) this time of year is basically a test of endurance. Production of any variety all but ceases when survival mode kicks in, and I don't mind at all. Except when we're talking about egg production. I do like my fresh eggs.
When a female chicken reaches adulthood, around 5 months old, she'll begin laying an egg every 26 hours or so. This means that one hen = 6 eggs a week, with some variation based on breeds and age. The hens rely heavily on daylight to maintain this production level, so when the daylight hours get shorter, production wanes. There's usually a point when no eggs are layed, and this break can last for several weeks. I spend those several weeks eating store-bought eggs. But then the winter solstice comes along, the length of daylight gradually increases, and eggs slowly start appearing in the nestboxes.
Hallelujah! Christmas came early! Don't worry, I do know that the real meaning of Christmas doesn't involve eggs. But there may have been chickens involved that night--Jesus was born in a manger, right? Well, anyway, at this very moment during the height of Christmas season, I knew that another season was upon us--Winter Egg Season.
I'm fairly sure that "winter eggs" is a self-explanatory term, but if you haven't had your coffee yet, here's the definition--they're eggs layed during the winter months. These eggs, although much appreciated, are not quite the same as eggs gathered during the rest of the year. Mainly because the hens diet during the warm months is based heavily on what they forage: bugs, worms, weeds, etc.; and that makes their yolks practically glow bright orange. In the winter, their foraging options are limited, and they depend primarily on the rations I feed them. The eggs produced during these cold months differ in that the yolks are still orange, but just a bit paler than the rest of the year. Oh well.
We don't mind at all. It's just so nice to have fresh eggs.
Having said all this, there is a way to manipulate the egg-laying cycle. I could heat the coop and keep a light on continuously, and this would trick the hens into laying eggs year round. But I don't want to trick my hens. (My accidentally leaving the chicken shed light on after feeding my birds doesn't count here, even though it happens occasionally. I'm human, and forgetful. And usually very cold.)
I like that my chickens pass through normal phases depending on the seasons, and I believe allowing them to do this produces a healthy, well-adjusted bird. Some even say it can extend their life span, and I think it can definitely extend their laying years. I have several older hens who still produce eggs regularly, despite having past an age when laying should've, according to research, already ceased.
So, even though my decision to raise my chickens naturally means that I buy store-bought eggs for a few weeks each winter, I'll live. And so will my chickens. In fact, as I said before, they may even live longer because of it. Happy, healthy chickens is my goal...and to me, winter eggs are just a bonus!
Now if I could only keep them from freezing solid!