Chickens on Strike!
This week our chickens stopped laying!
At first we thought maybe they were protesting their working conditions, vis a vis colder nighttime temperatures, or perhaps were angry about the afternoon their water ran dry.
To make it up to them, management has offered watermelon and cucumber halves as sweet treats. (These were harvested in summer and are well past their prime for human consumption, but were scarfed down no problem by the chickens.)
Still, it's been almost a week, and this is what we've got left:
Now, I had to use three eggs for the pumpkin pie and pumpkin seeds, and Kirk bartered a dozen last week for some venison steaks (which is a really good trade). We also gave a away a half dozen to a friend. Funny how just two weeks ago we thought we had more than we could ever use!
It has helped that we've heard from several chicken-keepers that their chickens also stopped laying this month – at least we can be pretty sure there's nothing wrong with them. Still, that's not all that comforting when you're down to your last three eggs.
Since negotiations are getting us nowhere, we're going to have to resort to some shiftier management tactics. Namely, we're going to play with their lighting to trick them into thinking spring is much closer than it actually is.
Chickens' natural laying cycle is closely related to the amount of available daylight, and as winter sets in, egg production slows way down. We knew all that, but were still shocked at how it was like flipping a switch: last Saturday, 4 eggs; last Sunday, 3; Monday onward, 0. We thought they would kind of taper off at least.
Anyway, we have a light in the henhouse on a timer set to give them 14 hours of daylight, but we read that we might be able to bring them back into production if we up the lighting to 17 hours per day. We have it set right now to come on at 2:30 a.m., and shut off at 7:00 a.m. Then the chickens go through a day with natural daylight and dusk (4 p.m. here this time of year!). Since the sun doesn't come up until close to 7 a.m., we'll extend the light to 7:30 to be sure. Each day we'll back up the timer to give the chickens an extra 30 minutes of light per day, until they are up to the suggested 17 hours (which means dawn for the chickens will come at 11 p.m.!). If it works and they start laying again, we can give them a couple weeks to settle in, then slowly scale back the light to a more spring-like 14 hours per day.
If we're lucky, we should have at least some eggs to get us through winter. If not, I guess we'll have to hit the farm store until spring. Next year we'll know better that we should be freezing eggs for baking and scrambling and other recipes, so that we have some put up for winter.