EGG-UCATION

With the front porch farm stand’s customers numbers growing on a daily basis, one thing I’ve learned that there’s still much to be done in educating the public about seasonal produce and eggs. Our modern, convenient eating habits are no longer defined by season and place.    Food routes and patterns are forgotten, thanks to the advent of supermarkets.

Local eggs are in such high demand these days thanks to the recent salmonella scare but raising such a small flock here in the city one, unfortunately,  can’t supply the demand.    And it’s dealing with the demand that really tests your commitment to stewardship and sustainability.    It’s so easy to slip into “if only we had more land/acreage – more animals.”   True, that would help the situation to have a bigger farm; however,  “how big” is too big is the question – one that leads to very lively (sometimes heated) discussions around the dinner table.

Egg production slows down in fall-winter due to molting and less day light hours.   We believe in the humane raising of animals.  Therefore, to supply the demand, would we install “lights” in the coop to “force” our girls to lay in winter?   Or just, like sis (head writer over at Barnyards and Backyards ) says, “Let nature be.”  With our 24-7 food culture, there’s a point when some things just aren’t available and it’s pointless to “force” even if the method is “harmless.”   Our chickens and ducks are happy and our customers should appreciate that fact.

This month I’ve had to tell customers, “Sorry, no eggs, the chickens are moulting.”    With a quizzical look they ask, “Moulting?”  “Yeah, that’s right” I answer back “”They are shedding their feathers which stresses them out and so no eggs.”    I try to make them feel better and say that we are desperate for fresh eggs too!  The other day Jordanne wanted to bake something only to go to the poultry house and come back with one egg when she needed three.  So guess what?  She had to find another dessert recipe.

Food sustainability is, by far, a great and complicated balancing act and sometimes you just have to let our modern concept of food go.  By raising and growing your own food, you connect with season and place.   Nature is the best teacher, and you learn that you can’t have all food all the time.

:: Resources ::

During autumn, many household poultry keepers, particularly people keeping poultry for the first time, are puzzled because egg production markedly declines or ceases despite their laying birds appearing healthy. This seasonal decline in egg production occurs when birds go into a condition known as the ‘moult’.

Moulting is the process of shedding and renewing feathers. During the moult, the reproductive physiology of the bird has a complete rest from laying and the bird builds up its body reserves of nutrients.

The provision of new feathers or a coat (a feature inherent in most animals) is a natural process, designed by nature to maintain a bird’s ability to escape enemies by flight and better protect against cold winter conditions.  — Moulting – how, when and why chickens moult

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Comments(16)

  1. Anita says:

    People don’t even know what ” eating seasonally ” means. If you ask most people what is in season to eat right now, they have no idea. How sad.

  2. Crystal says:

    I’m new to the chicken-raising and have noticed a sharp decline in our eggs as well over the last week or two. When do they begin producing more again? Do they lay during winter after the molting? Or are the days too short for winter eggs? We have 11 hens and had been getting around 8 eggs/day (some days we’d find a hidden nest of a dozen or more eggs! 🙂 So, my questions are: how long does molting last? When does former production return? How is the best way to preserve eggs for the “short” season? Or do you just not use eggs during the time they aren’t laying? We preserve our other home-grown goodies, so I just wonder the best way to do that with our eggs is… ? :O) Thanks for your incredible site!

    • Roberta says:

      Two of our four hens started laying last week. I can hardly keep myself from giving them away and sharing the “wealth”. My husband is trying to collect enough for Sunday breakfast. I know their egg production will slow down in the winter but am hoping with our mild and short TX winter that it won’t be for long.

    • Alice says:

      I live in NW Montana so it gets cold here. I give my girls warm water though out the day and take them warm feed too. I give them Chicken oat meal I get rolled oats and mix in hot water adding any table scraps I have. This helps the girls stay warm and helps with the egg supply. You still will not get as many as though the summer.

    • Jeanmarie says:

      @Crystal,
      The length of moult depends on various factors, including breed, climate, diet, age. Our Ameraucanas stopped laying in August and didn’t start again until late December or early January, I forget exactly. It can help to feed them extra protein during moulting as they are producing new feathers and need it. We have added other breeds that lay through the winter. Also, first-year pullets shouldn’t go through a moult at all, until the second year.
      Alice, I read recently that oats are supposed to be “cooling” for chickens and are good to feed them in summer. Sounds like your experience says otherwise!

  3. Helen says:

    For future reference, eggs in baking can often be replaced by a heaped tablespoon of soy flour plus a tablespoon of water. The quality of the baked goods isn’t quite as good, and the flavor is slightly affected, but it does mean you can still bake the recipe if you’re out of eggs. Oh, and it doesn’t work if there’s no other fat/oil in the recipe (if I’m trying to make pancakes without eggs I add a bit of cooking oil to the mix).

  4. Radhika says:

    It must take a lot of energy to produce eggs, and I think the girls (hens) deserve a hard-earned break! 🙂 Perhaps the time spent without eggs is a great opportunity for folk to appreciate and be grateful for what gifts they are. Thank you hens.

  5. GIVEAWAY – Manna Pro Poultry Conditioner | Barnyards and Backyards says:

    […] the Urban Homestead's animal pen, copious amounts of  feathers are blowing about and making the entire….   Some of the moulting hens seem quite embarrassed about the whole situation.  Sairey, our […]

  6. Jennifer says:

    I have six chickens, with one in heavy molt and running about quite naked. I can’t help but giggle at her. I still get one to two eggs a day and am thankful for what we recieve. I think in our hurry up world we have forgotten to just be thankful for the smallest of gifts. Time to go see all the baby brassicas coming up in the garden. Keep smiling!!!

  7. CE says:

    I live in Washington state so our days get shorter and do not meet the daylength needed for egg production. I have used lights on timers for a couple hours in the am and pm. The chickens still moult and the production will decline or stop depending on if they all moult togeather or one at a time. But by allowing 15 hours of light daily they do still produce but at a slower rate than in the spring or summer. I could boost the production with higher protein feed but I figure it is healthier for them to have a slow time. When they are moulting I remove all protein from their feed for a couple weeks which also switches off the production and gives them a brief rest. It’s kind of their vegan spa time and we do it each spring and fall.

    • Jeanmarie says:

      @CE,
      This sounds stressful to the chickens to me. They need more protein when making new feathers, not less. Our Ameraucanas didn’t come out of moult any faster with more protein, but they look better than ever, their feathers are in great shape and they’ve rebuilt their reserves for the next season of egg-laying. Also, the eggs are bigger this year; I guess they get a little bitter as hens age, though the number of eggs decline, it’s the same amount of egg, or so I read.

  8. Mindy says:

    As I have no place to raise my own chickens, and no access to eggs from “humanely raised” chickens, I don’t eat eggs. I’ve tried a number of “egg substitutes” in baking, and I’ve had good success using ground flax seeds mixed with water. I forget the ratios right now, but easily available online. (Of course, I also have celiac disease, so no wheat either, which makes baking quite complex till you learn the ropes.)

    Yes, folks have very little concept of when produce is in season. Just today, a friend on Facebook was complaining about a watermelon she bought that turned out to be rotten. I pointed out that watermelon is a summer crop, so her watermelon was imported, and advised her to look for yummy pears and apples which ARE in season and readily available (that photo of pears is gorgeous, btw). Hopefully we can all continue to share and help more folks get clued in.

  9. Angelina says:

    I wish I can share this article on facebook . A widget button will be a great ideal to spread the word about this issue.

    • Angelina says:

      @Angelina,

      ooops sorry you do have it. YES !

  10. Karen Joyce says:

    I have noticed that my girls give way more eggs if I give them plenty of leftovers! Over the weekend my son and I went out of town. Before we left, we piled several ‘old’ melons, celery bunches, mushrooms, squashes and yogurt in the coop. I left their door to the run open as the weather was accommodating. When we returned, I found my 6 chickens had laid 10 eggs! A few days ago I was lucky to get 3-4 eggs/ day~ probably molting.

  11. mahala says:

    Have you considered freezing some surplus eggs to get through the winter? They’re good for baking and omlets.

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