Arctic Egg Farming

RMF Frozen Egg

Eggs need to be collected every 30-45 minutes so they don’t freeze and crack

Many years ago I had the great fortune of serving an agriculture apprenticeship with family friend Elliot Coleman. Elliot purchased his farm from Scott and Helen Nearing, authors of the homesteading classic Living The Good Life. When I arrived in Haborside, Maine, Scott Nearing was long gone but Helen was my neighbor for those eight months. On the weekends, I would stack wood for her and she would pay me in books. Scott often talked and wrote about the school of hard knocks, where he claimed to have received his PhD.

We went to that same school this winter, where we majored in sub zero egg farming with a minor in humility. Chickens as it turns out are deceptively simple, 90% of what you need to know for good egg production can be whittled down to four subjects; light, ventilation, water and feed.  As we learned this winter despite this simple equation, a lot can go wrong.

– Lighting- for good egg production chickens need a minimum of fifteen hours per day of light. Last fall we were busy with a large squash harvest, while we simultaneously tried to build a permanent winter facility for the chickens. Like most projects, this was over budget and took much longer than anticipated. To maintain good egg production, you should introduce artificial lighting sometime around September 1st. Our birds never got additional lighting until mid-November.

– Water- one of the hard lessons we learned is that chickens need lots and lots of  water for good egg production, much more than we realized. Funny thing about water, it freezes. Keeping 2500 chickens well watered when the temperature is negative fifteen, proved to be a bigger challenge than we expected.

– Feed- we try to keep a constant supply of feed for the chickens. Some time in mid-December as we were hitting our stride with winter egg production, we received a bad batch of grain. This really messed things up. Our grain company was very responsive, and quickly replaced the bad batch, but production went to almost zero. It’s really hard to get chickens to start laying eggs again, and nearly impossible during the dark days of winter.

– Ventilation- The new greenhouses we built for the chickens are long and narrow. When the sides are rolled up, they are great because ventilation is excellent. However when it’s sub zero, the sides need to be down, and we quickly learned that condensation was going to be a problem. Cold and damp is a bad environment for the birds. We switched from dry shavings to hay and have been much more diligent when it comes to bedding down the houses. Not only is this a cleaner environment but it also cuts down on ammonia orders.

When things are going well optimal production is around 100 dozen eggs per day. During the low points of this winter, egg production dipped to 10 dozen eggs per day. So yeah we got our butts kicked. But we learned a whole lot, and we’re confident next winter will go much more smoothly.


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