A.K.A. – Why Omni Egg Share takes a winter break.
Since starting up Omni Egg Share last spring, I have been asked SO MANY questions about chickens and eggs that for some reason I just thought everyone knew the answers to. One of the most popular questions right now is “Why do you not have eggs in the winter?”.
As eating a local, organic diet has become increasingly popular again, we are becoming more aware of the true seasonality of our fruits and vegetables. Most people have an understanding that our tomatoes arrive in summer, apples come in late summer or fall, and our citrus in Winter, etc. But have you ever thought about the seasonality of your eggs? There are a few things that determine the average laying rate of your hens during laying season – age, breed, overall health, diet, and light. It’s pretty clear why the age, breed, health , and diet of your flock could have an impact on your egg production, but that last one isn’t quite so apparently to most…
Molting Time – Obviously if you are buying standard grocery store eggs, you will be unfazed by the seasons. But as a small time egg farmer, and therefore chicken farmer, I have become very much aware of why chicken eggs are seasonal. During the warm seasons, laying hens are going full force, trying to get those eggs laid (and hopefully hatched out) while it’s still warm enough for the babies to thrive. They lay an egg every 24-36 hours. Thats 4-6 eggs a week. Once the days start getting shorter and the nights longer, the hens need to shed their light season feathers for a heavier winter layer. During this time (called a “molt”), their egg production drops dramatically. They sometimes will only lay once or twice a week, some seem to quit all together for awhile. After the hen has finished her molt (usually a couple to a few weeks), she will begin to gradually produce more and more eggs. Full production usually coincides with the return of longer days in late winter and early spring.
Forcing Molt and Light – Forced molting is a practice used by many egg farmers to circumvent the natural molting cycle. Some countries have halted the practice but not many, and not the US. The hens are starved of food, minerals, and light for anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks. Their body weight drops by a third and they lose their feathers. Some of them die from the practice. They are then given artificial light to simulate summer light hours, re-stimulating egg production without having had the two or three month break that their body naturally requires. The majority of egg farms in the US do this yearly. Many of the ones who don’t will instead slaughter the flock yearly when the season is over.
We make the choice to allow our hens their time off. We do it not only because of the cruelties involved with keeping up year-round high volume production, we do it because when we chose to start growing our own food we wanted to do it nature’s way (as much as possible). We wanted to do it with integrity and respect for the animals themselves. Does this make it MUCH more expensive to produce these gorgeous orbs of eggie goodness? Of course. But I guess we figure the expense should be shouldered by us, the ones reaping the benefit, instead of the welfare of the animal.