Winter layers and Cold hardiness – NOT the same thing! December 28, 2012

One of the mistakes I initially made years ago when choosing my chicken breeds was that I didn’t understand that there was a difference between cold hardy breeds and winter layers. To me, a breed that was described as cold hardy was bound to be a winter layer, too. But that’s not true.

Chicken tracks in the snow

Just having hens with the wherewithal to tolerate the weather doesn’t mean you’ll get eggs!

It’s just not the case that cold hardiness equates to good winter laying. Chickens may be cold hardy—that is, they may bear the winter cold well—without being good winter layers. For instance, Ameraucanas are quite cold hardy. They are notoriously terrible winter layers, too. And Marans: they bear cold well, too, but I seldom see chocolate eggs from my Marans in the West Virginia winter. And Brahmas don’t give me eggs, either, even despite the recommendation of a good friend.

Cold hardiness does not equal winter laying

This Brahma doesn’t lay eggs in the winter, even though she manages the cold relatively easily

Unfortunately (in some ways, at least), Wheaten Ameraucanas and Cuckoo Marans comprised half of my first flock. Don’t get me wrong—they are great birds. Winter layers they are not. I also started with a Salmon Faverolles (great winter layer!) and a Golden Laced Wyandotte. The wyandotte would have helped my winter pantry… except that she turned out to be a he. That winter, our whole family was dependent on one hard working Faverolles hen.

Now, I know better, though. When I add to my flock, I know to choose not just cold hardy breeds, but also good winter layers. Other than the Faverolles, my favorites for winter laying are probably Speckled Sussex. Sussex are so pretty, so friendly and such good layers, year round.

Speckled sussex - great winter layers

Our Speckled Sussex Hildy tucks in among the flowers

I also love the Welsummer, although they don’t seem to lay as well in the winter as the Sussex–at least not around here. When they do lay, though, they lay fabulous, dark brown speckled eggs.

Winter layer - Welsummer hen

This Welsummer is a good winter layer

Certainly breeds that lay well in winter will vary on your latitude and climate. Which breeds are the best winter layers in your area?

48 Comments
Pam Ladds December 28th, 2012

I live right on the Canadian border in VT and our winters are pretty brutal. My 2 bantie cochins are pretty winter hardy but say I can forget about any eggs. The speckled sussex are doing really well. Eggs every day. They are winter hardy although they do complain about the snow.

curiositykt December 28th, 2012

Our Wynadottes are laying, our Easter Egger is molting. Silly Easter Egger.

Tierney Clark December 28th, 2012

I enjoyed the piece on winter layers. I’m very new at raising hens, about 2 years now, but I have 2 White Leghorns that have finally gotten old enough to lay- and it’s winter here in Florida (well sort of ). They have laid almost every day at least 2 a day are waiting for me, so I thought I’d pass it along.
My Barred Rock, on the other hand, who is of age too, hasn’t given me the first egg. I’ve even tried to catch her laying in the yard, but haven’t found a thing. I just assumed she wasn’t a winter layer. Even my Easter Egger gives me about 2 a week.
I enjoy my girls so much: it’s the most fun I’ve had in years. My Leghorn, Snowball, comes to the deck in the evenings, squats down and spreads her wings to signal me she wants to be picked up and carred to bed. She’s quite happy to be taken into the chicken house, which is a full sized 8×12 ft shed, and placed in her nest. Yes i admit my girls are pretty spoiled.

Jessica December 28th, 2012

My buff orpingtons and black star are the only ones still laying dependably, nearly every day. My barred Plymouth rock was laying, until I lost her to a hawk. My leghorn was laying until she went into a molt! Then nothing yet from my black copper maran or EE.

Tierney Clark December 28th, 2012

I just read the post ahead of mine, and it’s funny you mention your Easter Egger is just now molting. Mine did the same thing. She waited until the first almost freeze, then started loosing feathers like crazy. Bless her heart, she looked horrible. But she finally finished, and now she’s all fresh and beautiful again, and laying

Andrea December 28th, 2012

I have three barred rocks and I’m getting three eggs a day from them right now at a high elevation in PA. I also have three araucaunas, and I’m getting about five eggs per week from the three of them. I chose strictly based on cold hardiness because it stays below freezing here for long stretches of time. I’d like to try buff orpingtons next time I purchase, anyone have an idea if they are good winter layers?

Diane Duarte December 28th, 2012

i have a flock of buff orphingtons, i am getting about 20 eggs a day from a flock of 24 they are great layers. i still have some mixed breed chickens in the flock which make up about 10 more chickens, and i get roughly 1 or 2 a day from them. the buff orphingtons are both cold hearty and great winter layers.

Jessica December 28th, 2012

There’s obviously something wrong with my Welsummer, if that’s the case. She’s almost nine months old and I haven’t seen a single egg from her.

Lissa December 28th, 2012

Jessica, it’s also possible she’s hiding her eggs somewhere. We have a section you can browse on why your chicken/s might not be laying on our website, if you’re worried.

Stephanie December 28th, 2012

My Buff Orpington girls who are 9 months old are fairly reliable (usually 2 out of 4 every day) , my bantam Cochin girls who are 7 months just started laying and they are pretty reliable so far and I just started getting Silkie eggs this week.

I have a looney 9 month old Polish girl who doesn’t even look like she is ever going to be ready (might be a good thing lol) and 2 7 month old Polish girls that are getting close. Out of the 7 hens I know are laying, I get an average of 4 eggs a day which is enough to keep me well supplied.

Lori December 28th, 2012

Love my Speckled Sussex! Perfect for central PA winters. Friendly and good layers all year round!

Geo December 28th, 2012

I have 3 different breeds in my flock. Golden Lakenvelders, Partridge Wyandottes and Black Copper Marans. I found the Lakies to be spotty in their laying all year round. The Wyandottes were great layers up until the temps dropped in the single digits and have been getting an egg or two every other day.

My BCMs have proven to be the most reliable layers I have during these cold Kansas temperatures. They began laying late fall and were sporadic. Now that they’ve reached young adulthood, I’ve been getting an about an egg a day from each of my four hens for the past couple of weeks. The last two days I’ve gotten 4 for 4. It sure is a thrill to see those rich chocolate eggs grace the nesting boxes.

Our temps have been in the single digits for the last two weeks and if I don’t collect their eggs 2- to 3-times a day, they would freeze. I’ve equipped heat lamps in the coop and they are mostly stay inside as their run is filled with snow drifts.

George Castonguay December 28th, 2012

I got my chicks in April so this is their first winter here in MA and the one EE stopped laying as soon as the weather turned cold–and then decided to shed all her tailfeathers! The rest of the crew are a mixed lot as well, three barred rocks, three columbian rock crosses, two buff brahmas and a lonely Australorp.

I can say for sure that everyone but maybe one of the buffs is still laying, not every day, but often enough that I’m getting 3 1/2 dozen eggs a week. Yesterday with our first bad snow they all freaked out and I got two eggs instead of the six or so I normally get.

Bruce December 28th, 2012

We live in Northeast Oklahoma…Our Buff Minorcas take the winter off, but our hard working Rhode Island Reds and Black Australorp never seem to even slow down. They do very well in the heat as well.

Dave Gibson December 28th, 2012

Wow, there’s a lot more to chickens than I thought. Being a city kid, I thought you just got a herd and that was it, they laid eggs. It’s a good thing my wife has small farm experience, otherwise we’d starve next year when we build our place.

Terri December 28th, 2012

I own Welsumers, cc Marans, Rocks, Barnvelders, Americaunas, Australorps and Polish our temperatures here have been in the low teens and negatives for over 2 wks. The only one that has backed off laying is the Americaunas. The rest lay very regularly. I have a 40 watt light in the coop and their beds are pine shavings there is straw on the floors and they seem to be content. They go outside and eat snow so I guess they don’t mind the cold too much this yr. 😉

Terri December 28th, 2012

Do u ever sell any chicks. I’ve been looking for some blk c. marans. Let me know this spring if your interested in shipping me some.

Lissa December 28th, 2012

Yes, we do sell Black Copper Marans chicks, Terri. You can find them on our website here.

LindaG December 28th, 2012

Thanks so much for a great post and all the informative replies, too!

Kimberly December 28th, 2012

I live in Wisconsin, and although Leghorns are not a recommended breed for winter hardiness, mine seem to do just fine. It’s a good thing, too, because they are my only chickens laying right now. I don’t even use supplemental light. An egg from all three just about every day. Love them even though they are a commercial breed. I have an Australorp, two Plymouth Rocks, and a Red Star all on laying strike.

Jessica December 28th, 2012

Thank you for sharing the link about egg laying. I’ve actually already read information on your site and many others. My Welsummer simply doesn’t lay. She’s a sweet girl, and we love her, so we’re happy to be patient. My EE’s started at just over five months (we hadn’t yet bought laying feed!) so I think the contrast in time makes it seem more agonizing to wait to see her speckled eggs!

Lynn December 29th, 2012

I have 6 Hybrid production red girls who give me 5-6 eggs every day and we live in New Brunswick, Canada 🙂 Pretty good considering they are 5 months old 🙂

Darcy December 29th, 2012

I have a flock of 10 hens: 3 RIRs, 1 Plymouth barred rock, 1 australorpe, 1 Araucauna, 2 black star, 1 delaware, and a local mixed breed. Probably because I live in SoCal, and probably because I augment their feed with rolled oats, flax seed and raw sunflower, I get 6-9 eggs every day. Everyone I know benefits 🙂

angela December 29th, 2012

As crazy as it is, my bantam frizzle cochin pullet just started laying! I wasn’t expecting any eggs until spring, but this little girl is already a good layer considering there’s 6 inches of snow on the ground and she’s consistently laying 4-5 light brown eggs a week. As for my winter hardy almost 8 month old Dorking hen, I have yet to see an egg! My golden seabright bantams are tiny and still fairly young so I’m not expecting them to lay for a bit, but they’re tolerating the cold very well because all my chickens cuddle together, stacked with the smallest on the bottom and the big dorking on top. It’s pretty cute:)

Wini December 29th, 2012

I have a 21/2 year old Australorp who started molting at the end of August and I haven’t seen an egg since! I live in the Washington DC area and wonder if it’s the
breed, the weather or maybe vitamin deficient. Any suggestions?

Lissa December 29th, 2012

As chickens get older, their laying can be more seasonal than it was when they were younger, so it is possible it’s just the season. Increasing protein intake at this time of year can help. You can also consider adding light to the coop. Read about it here on our website. That’s something I don’t like to do; I like my girls to have their natural break. But if you want to add light, read the information at the link above so you can do it safely.

As to what is causing your Australorp not to lay, it’s not possible for us to know for sure from here. If you think she is ill, be sure to get her to a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment options.

Cora December 29th, 2012

I’ve got a flock that includes Buff Brahma/Jersey Giant mixes, Buff Orpingtons, RI Reds and Barred Rocks that are laying okay – not sure who lays what, but I get about 2 doz eggs a day from 34 hens, and I’ve got one little leghorn that lays an enormous egg pretty much every day, and an Americauna seems to be laying pretty consistently as well. My silly Brahma rooster is molting though and he looks terrible!

P3farm January 1st, 2013

My hens just turned 6 months ago on Christmas and here in WI, the high today was 10 degrees and I still had 10 eggs from 14 hens. I have 3 Australorps, 3 Dominique’s, 2 white giants, 2 BLR Wyandottes, 2 GL Wyandottes, a leghorn and dark brahma. I am quite proud of them. They braved the cold today and scratched in the snow. Only issue is leghorn’s comb, it is BIG and cold. We put some vasoline on it.

terry and jeff January 2nd, 2013

I have Silver Laced Wyandottes and Dominiques. They are doing well and laying about an egg a day each. Very cold here in Wisconsin, 0 to 20 or so, so I do have a little heater for the coop and water as well as a small light. Love my girls <3

Shannon J January 2nd, 2013

When you say good winter layers, does that mean you still have to have them under lights?

Lissa January 3rd, 2013

Whether a breed can be a good winter layer or not is independent of lights. Lights can increase winter production (for all breeds)… but there are also some drawbacks. Check out tomorrow’s blog post for details!

Terri January 4th, 2013

Lissa, ty I will contact u this spring when it’s not -24 lol…I would like to get some B.C. marans and a few other breeds to add to my collection.

Terri January 4th, 2013

I think that most new chicken people and those who have had them forever should always keep learning about chickens and what is good or not good for them. All areas in the U.S. is different and everyone needs to keep an eye on their flocks to see if they are stressing or content especially In the winter. I am very concerned about my chickens health and well being. I never put a light into their home until all have done their fall moult. Then when the days get short I put my light on a timer that comes on 3 hrs before sunup in our area so they are getting their full 14 hours of daylight during winter. I also keep an infrared light in the coop for our sub zero temps at night as well as during the days. Yesterday we were at -24 we get into some really good deep freezes here. I feel it helps them out a little in the energy part of staying warm and they don’t stress out so much trying to keep somewhat warm. I also have heated troughs so that they have water at all times even though they go out and eat the snow. They have access to full sun when it is out as well. I hope everyone trys to make their babies as comfortable as possible.

Tracy January 25th, 2013

I have 32 hens and 3 roosters. My hens are a mix of red stars, black stars, a blue laced red wyandotte and a white hen that we rescued. The black stars were rescues also and some have just started laying. I think it took them longer to lay since they were starved and dehyrdrated when we got them. 🙁 It has been cold this week in West Virginia and I was surprised that when I counted my eggs for the day that I had 30 eggs! We typically get around 2 dozen a day. It was the coldest day hovering around zero with the wind chill pushing the temp into the negatives. We put no extra lighting in our coop and our girls have continued to lay no matter what and only 3 have molted so far this winter. They are all still young (they will all turn 1 in February). I thought for sure they would cut off my supply this week with it being so cold but they apparently don’t care what the weather is. 🙂 We hung up a heat lamp over their waterer so it wouldn’t freeze up while we are working. They all seem to love the snow too. Of course, being their mama, I give them some extra treats to make the snow and cold a bit more tolerable for them.

Lissa January 26th, 2013

How lucky your hens are to have been rescued! Thanks for giving them a chance to have a good life. I’m in West Virginia, too, and it has been VERY cold this week. For our hens, historically late January/early February is when laying increases a little. Of course, ours are much older (some are eight!), but they still lay well, even if they don’t lay quite as well in the winter any more.

Terri January 31st, 2013

Isn’t there anyone out there that will sell Blk Copper Marans 2 or 3 at a time. Some people like me who are on SS and just like to raise different breeds can’t buy $50 + dollars at a time. I only wanted two BCM’s. TY

Julia December 25th, 2013

I have three older hens, (one black star, and two RIRs), and 11 young hens who are laying just since Oct 2013. The young hens are 2 Ameraucanas, and 9 Barred Rocks. The Barred Rocks are giving me 6-8 eggs a day, and the Ameraucanas are giving me about 8-9 eggs per WEEK. The older hens are just coming off hiatus for molting, and actually, the Black Star is giving me about 2-3 eggs a week, and as for the RIRs, One of them is giving me about an egg a week. I’ve heard RIRs are great layers, but that is not my experience. I am pleased with the Barred Rocks, and I am happy to hear how well the Buff Orpington and Speckled Sussex have performed, as I plan to get some of them this Spring. Hearing how “well” the Welsummers do interests me in getting a few of them mixed in, for they are a BEAUTIFUL bird, and I would LOVE to see their speckled eggs in my cache of colors, (the Ameraucanas lay aqua colored eggs). Do they have a nice, calm temperament, because that is important to me as my grandchildren collect the eggs?

Lissa December 26th, 2013

Yes, the welsummers are docile, with a temperament similar to your barred rocks. They’re a great all-around bird for small pet flocks!

DeAnn Scabilloni December 26th, 2013

2 white leghorns are laying just about everyday

Jane Mason December 31st, 2013

my red sex link took a few weeks off to molt before she once again started laying, sometimes two a day. She is the most prolific layer I have had in the seven years I’ve kept a backyard flock. We live in western Illinois, with deep cold winters. Barred Rocks, leghorns and the sex link are decent winter layers. I do add two lamps: one red heat lamp (we go subzero many times in the winter, plus it doesn’t affect them at night) and a full spectrum day light. it’s set on a timer so I have to adjust it weekly, as it runs with the normal day cycle. Most of our winter days are just dull and dark, so for their comfort I include the full spectrum lights. They seem to like it just fine! It hasn’t affected egg production that I can tell, as my girls laid this way before I included extra light…

amethan October 21st, 2014

My hens will be 5 months old at the end of October. I have 2 RIR, one each White Plymouth Rock, Partridgr PR, Barred PR, Buff O, Ancona. All are molting.
Will they lay eggs in the winter?

Also no one likes to be picked up, but they meet me when i go inside the pen with cracked corn and veggie scraps. We are in southeast michigan, 1 hr north of Detroit.

Lissa October 21st, 2014

It’s a guessing game, and depends not only on breed and location, but also on what kind of food they have, how much light their coop and run has, and even on the weather this winter. That said, all the breeds you’ve listed (save the Ancona) typically lay during the winter. often, however, young pullets that come into maturity during the fall and winter lay only sporadically until spring. But this is often a good thing in the long run. Coming into maturity early can mean the eggs will be smaller throughout the hen’s life. You can read more in my blog post about the best reason to raise chicks in the fall. I also created an awesome chart showing which breeds are winter hardy AND which lay well in winter (among other things like foraging capability, heat hardiness and more) in my book, the My Pet Chicken Handbook.

Kristen E. Martin December 31st, 2014

My welsummer hen shut down production waaaaaay back in the summer, and she hasn’t started laying yet.

Joanie February 10th, 2016

Hello Lissa, how nice to find this website. I have a hen that will be 3yrs old in May, She is now molting so many feathers everywhere. I have been giving her laying feed since she has been 8 months old, but now I have decided to give her regular feed since she is molting and we do not get eggs now. can I start to give her laying feed after she stops molting or wait till Spring since it is January now or will that not be a good idea since she has not produced an egg for 3 weeks. She is a sweet little girl and love to sit on my lap and cozy down, stretch her neck up and close her eyes. Thank you

Lissa February 10th, 2016

HI, Joanie! You might check the labels of both feeds. With some brands, “regular” feed doesn’t have any more protein or fat than layer feed, so changing to regular through molting may not help, especially. Rather than switching off layer, you might consider supplementing with high-protein (for feather growth), high-fat (for cold winter) treats. Or you can mix in some game bird feed during molting–or scatter it like scratch–as a supplement, too. Game bird feed is often quite high in protein compared to chicken feed. Personally, I wouldn’t worry about offering layer feed to a hen who has taken a short break in laying during the cold dark months, though. I wouldn’t wait until she starts laying again to switch back… but again, this is sort of a personal call–there’s no hard and fast rule. A hen consuming layer feed during a break in laying is getting extra calcium, for sure, but it’s short term and can help her “recharge” what she may have used up during laying season.

Kimberly January 2nd, 2017

My Easter Egger and Polish have gone on winter break. My silkies, Cochin, buff orphington and red star are still laying regularly (maybe a little less but not much) through the short days. Now that the days are getting longer, I’m hoping to get some of my prized green eggs from my EE girl, Luna!

Landon October 25th, 2017

Myself is ugly 93 and my chickens are sweet

Larry Blair January 15th, 2018

I have 3 black sex links and 3 red sex links that are laying like crazy. I have no lights and no heaters either. I feed a good laying pellet plus they get hot oatmeal everyday when its super cold. I also feed alittle kernel corn for fat content as well as black sunflower seeds. I live in upstate NY and its been real cold so far this winter.

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