Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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Best winter egg-layers

Laying hensUnlike many homesteaders, I'm not willing to keep a heritage breed if it doesn't pull its weight on my farm, so when egg numbers dwindled this winter, I started pondering the idea of adding a few hybrids back into the flock.  I know from experience that Golden Comets keep plugging along all winter with barely lowered production, and I've read similar reports about other production strains like Red Sex-links and White Leghorns.

Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart sticks to heirlooms, but puts a snowflake beside species that are reported to lay well during cold weather.  Their winter egg-layers include Buckeye, Chantecler, Delaware, Dominique (aka Dominiker), Faverolle, Jersey Giant, New Hampshire (aka New Hampshire Red), Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Sussex, and Wyandotte.  However, if you pay attention to the number of eggs along Nest eggswith the winter-laying habit, you'll see that only Rhode Island Reds are prolific layers year-round as well as being good winter layers, followed up with Delaware, Faverolle, New Hampshire, and Sussex.

Another thing to consider if your egg production dwindles in cold weather is being more hard-nosed about age of your hens.  First-year pullets will usually lay through the winter without a problem, but after that, heirloom breeds especially are prone to take a long time off after molting.  So if you want to have winter eggs and you're adamant about sticking to heirloom breeds, your best option might be to raise new layers each spring early enough that they'll be in full lay by fall.

Egg layingTo get an idea for the difference between winter-laying ability of one year old and two year old hens, take a look at the chart to the left, showing our flock's average number of eggs per day last winter (blue) and this winter (purple).  Despite going into the 2011/2012 winter with only three Australorps who were old enough to really be laying well, plus three Marans who started a bit late and mostly stopped, we still had more eggs than this winter with our larger flock of three mature Australorps, two mature Cuckoo Marans, one Australorp pullet, and three Rhode Island Reds.  (As a side note, even though they were sold to us as first year pullets, after perusing their combs Thrifty Chicken Breedsand the way they mostly stopped laying for the winter, I'm pretty sure those Rhode Island Reds were actually going into their second year when we bought them.)  All this despite taking care to ensure our flock has everything they need to thrive over the winter.

In the end, I think I'm going to hedge my bets by adding a few hybrids to our flock, and also by keeping my layers for only one year rather than two.  While the shorter life span means we spend more feed getting new birds up and running each year, it probably evens out once you figure in all the old hens who take the winter off but keep eating.  Plus, we'll have more delicious stewing hens to eat, which is a very good thing.

A POOP-free chicken waterer keeps hens healthy, which means more eggs.

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Have you ever thought of adding laying ducks? The highest laying ducks can outlay the best chickens and truck right through the winter. With a couple of laying ducks, you would significantly boost winter eggs AND they lay well longer (to an older age; their productivity doesn't have as significant a drop after a year or 18 months) than chickens. They don't need nearly as much water as one might think, and do quite well in a very low rubber sheep foot bath. A laying trio (two hens and a drake) would add roughly two eggs a day with the right breeds, even through the winter. And you could hatch ducklings for a unique meat treat. http://holderreadfarm.com/selection_tips_page/selection_tips.htm

Comment by Charity early Wednesday morning, February 13th, 2013
Charity --- I've considered ducks --- and we may still go there --- but have been scared off by learning another species and by how hard I've heard they are to pluck. I'm sure we'll try them out one of these days, but the question is whether it'll be before or after all the other things I dream of (rabbits, pigeons, pigs, goats, etc.)
Comment by anna Friday afternoon, February 15th, 2013
I don't see much difference in Brown or white eggs but my wife prefers brown eggs. Which chickens lay brown eggs? And the best chicken to survive vermont winters? We plan on getting 4 - 6 chickens in the spring. We are both retired and don't travel much anymore this would give us a nice pass time throughout the year. THANK YOU.
Comment by Brad Reynolds at teatime on Monday, November 4th, 2013
Brad --- Good question! I thought others might enjoy seeing the answer, so I'm going to post it on our blog this coming Wednesday. Stay tuned!
Comment by anna at lunch time on Friday, November 15th, 2013
So long as you aren't looking for a significant meat bird [though really Rhodies are more midsized rather than undersized, we've just grown accustomed to giant chicken carcasses], the Rhode Island Red is probably an excellent choice for you.
Comment by Lukkas early Friday morning, October 30th, 2015

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