Backyard Flock Egg Production
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Article adapted from Keeping Garden Chickens in NC, a NC State Extension publication
So, you just got your own flock of chickens! Or maybe you’re just thinking about starting your own flock, but you need to know more about egg production and what they need from you, to be good laying hens. Here is some information on how to ensure you are giving your laying hens a good environment to do their job!
When should they start laying eggs and how can I keep them laying? If you got them as chicks, they should start laying around 16-24 weeks of age. This is also dependent upon environmental conditions and breed. Chickens need around 14-16 hours of light per day to produce eggs, which is an issue during the fall and winter months. You have the option to give your hens a break in those months, as laying will decrease or even cease, or you can supplement with a light source to ensure they continue to lay eggs. Also, when the days are getting shorter in the fall and early winter months, your chickens may start losing their feathers. This is called molting and it’s a naturally occurring process where they replace their feathers.
Where should they lay their eggs and what type of bedding do they need? You can provide your hen a comfortable place to lay by providing them nesting boxes. This is a small space that has soft bedding such as hay, straw, wood chips, or AstroTurf. This gives them an environment to lay their eggs in a safe place and also helps keep the eggs clean, as well as helps you find the eggs! Encourage your chickens not to roost in their laying boxes, by putting a roosting bar in their coop. This helps keep nesting boxes cleaner, meaning your eggs are cleaner.
What do I look for in a good laying hen? You want to look for soft, large, red wattles and combs, and bright eyes. Various breeds can have different colors of these features as well. As good layers mature, the yellow pigmentation of the ankles, beak, ear lobe, vent, and eye ring will fade to almost white. However, the yellow color can come back if the hen does not lay for a period of time.
How long will they lay eggs? Peak production of egg laying is around 32-34 weeks of age. For example: you should get around 9-10 eggs each day from 12 chickens for several months, then you hit peak production, then they may slow down to around six eggs each day, by a year after their laying begins. Typically, eggs are laid in the morning hours. Eggs should be collected as soon as possible after they are laid, as well as eggs should be collected twice per day if possible. They should also be refrigerated as soon as possible.
How do I clean my eggs? Try to keep your nesting boxes as clean as possible to reduce the time it takes you to clean your eggs. Also, if there is organic matter (feces) on the egg shell and it sits for a while, it may stain your eggs which is unappealing to customers. If your eggs are already fairly clean, they may only require a dry cloth to finish cleaning them. If your eggs are dirty, you may use a warm, damp cloth to clean them or wash them with warm water. Do not use soap. Allow your eggs to properly dry. You can lay them on your countertop on a clean, dry paper towel with a fan blowing over them to help them dry quickly, so you can get them into the refrigerator as soon as they are dry. It is also important to mention that it’s hard to sell eggs from your backyard flock and recoup the costs associated with raising your birds / make a profit. You will need to find a niche market and good customers.
There are lots of ways to ensure your hens are laying eggs in a safe, comfortable, and consistent manner. For more information on backyard flock egg production, please contact your local Cooperative Extension Office at 910-592-7161.