All the Helpful Information about Laying Hens
The reason most of us have chickens: eggs. And those lovely colored eggs come from those lovely hens cackling in the coop.
And although chickens are fairly easy to care for, there’s a bit of important information to keep in mind to keep those hens healthy and producing eggs, and it’s not enough to just have eggs, it’s best to have the best tasting, healthiest eggs!
There are several ways to get those hens to egg-laying capacity.
A wonderful and exciting way to raise chickens is to hatch them. Oh! What a fun hands-on experience! But there is a 50% chance of hatching roosters in this situation and that does complicate raising chickens.
Another option is to buy chicks from a hatchery. Amazingly they ship quickly and very well and you can have chicks arrive at the post office to raise from fluff through the gangly, awkward teenage stage to the pullet stage where they begin to lay eggs.
Pullets between the ages of 15-22 weeks can also be purchased through a hatchery. They will begin laying eggs shortly after arrival, once they have settled into their new home. Hens begin laying, depending on their breed, between their 15th and 24th week of life.
And there just may be an opportunity in your area to raise chicks, either by hatching them yourself or buying chicks from a hatchery, to the pullet stage and sell them as “ready to lay” hens. It takes a lot of care, attention, and feed to get chicks to the egg-laying stage and there are people who just don’t want to mess with that.
You can find a lot of articles here on A Life of Heritage that will teach you a lot about poultry and be sure to check out Chicken Rich: Profitable Poultry Bundle–It’s FULL of to-do lists, checklists, record keeping sheets, and resource pages that will keep your flock healthy and YOU organized!
Egg Laying Chicken Breeds
Because egg-laying is the focus for so many who own chickens, what are the best breeds to choose from that lay the most eggs?
White Leghorns: These hens start laying around 16-17 weeks and lay 280 eggs annually. They are a nervous and flighty breed but they are a hardy breed.
Rhode Island Red: These chickens have a hardy temperament and lay around 260 eggs a year. They begin laying around 18-24 weeks.
Barred Plymouth Rock is a calm breed that lay 260 eggs a year and starts laying around 18-22 weeks.
Golden Laced Wyandottes: These hens are a very docile bird and lay around 200 eggs a year starting around 18-20 weeks
New Hampshire Red: They are more competitive and aggressive and when they begin laying around 18-21 weeks they will lay around 200 eggs a year.
Buff Orpingtons are very easy to handle and are very friendly. They begin laying eggs around 19-24 weeks and will lay between 150-200 eggs a year.
Australorp: These birds are a very hardy breed. They begin laying around 22-24 weeks and will lay around 250 eggs a year.
Speckled Sussex is a very docile and curious breed that will lay between 250-300 eggs a year starting around 16-20 weeks.
Best Laying Hens for Beginners
If you are a beginner to raising chickens, it is always more fun to have a flock that is social and won’t run away when you approach. It’s fun to be feeding and to look down and see a hen looking up at you waiting to be picked up.
So, when choosing a breed or a mix of breeds, begin with ones that are known to be of good temperament. The Golden Comet not only lays a lot of eggs and starts laying earlier than most breeds, she is also a hardy, happy hen. This combination of attributes would put her at the top of any list!
The Golden Laced Wyandotte don’t lay as many eggs but their happy, friendly temperament makes up for fewer eggs.
And adding a splash of color makes collecting eggs fun, Amerauracana’s are a great choice but do tend to go broody.
Everyone wants a good experience when first starting out with chickens and these breeds will give just that.
Which is the Best Chicken for Laying Eggs?
If laying eggs is the sole and only purpose for a chicken, and temperament and social aspects are of secondary importance, then the White Leghorn and Rhode Island Red breeds would be ones to consider. They lay a good amount of eggs a year but are more flighty and tend to be less friendly.
The Barred Plymouth Rock and Speckled Sussex also lay quite a few eggs and they have calm and mild temperaments. A new chicken owner has the great option of having a mixed flock. This will provide a great perspective and hands-on experience for which breed is most desired because of friendliness and how many eggs they will lay a year.
What Kind of Chickens Lay Colored Eggs?
Araucanas are different from Ameraucanas in that they are rumpless and without a tail head. They have tufts of feathers that hang on each side of their head as well. And they lay blue eggs. They originated in Chile and have a mild temperament.
An Ameraucana will lay a blue egg as well but will have a tail. They are a broody bird with a mild temperament.
3. Easter Eggers
An Easter Egger is a mutt of the chicken world, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fabulous. If you see a chicken being sold under the name: Araucana or Americana, then they really are an Easter Egger. They will have egg colors that range from blue, green, rose, brown, sage, and olive or cream. They are cold and heat hardy, friendly, smart, and lay well in the winter months. They descend from a blue laying hen and are crossed with any other breed to make these beautiful colored eggs.
4. Olive Eggers
These chickens lay a beautiful colored olive egg. They are created by crossing a bird that produces a dark brown egg like Marans, Barnevelder, Welsummers, Empordanesa, and Penedesenca with a bird that lays a blue egg like the Araucana, Ameraucanas, and Easter Eggers. Very dark olive-colored eggs will come from a parent that lays the darkest of brown, like the Marans. But the lighter brown egg crossed with the blue egg producer will still produce a beautiful light olive shade, many times with freckles. With the cross, eggs can be blue/green, minty green, or light teal green.
5. Cream Legbar
The Cream Legbar will lay a blue egg. They are active birds which makes them fabulous foragers. They are a cross between Barred Plymouth Rocks, Golden Leghorns, and Araucanas and were developed in Great Britain.
Marans lay a deep-brown colored egg. Eggs are graded on a scale of 0-9. 0 Represents white and 9 is a deep dark brown. Marans will lay eggs from 5-9 on the color chart. They are an easygoing, calm bird.
Welsummer hens lay a large chocolate-brown egg with darker speckles. They do well in both heat and cold, are great foragers, and are friendly, sweet-tempered birds.
Penedesenca hens lay a very dark, reddish-brown egg. They are alert but wary and may not be the first to approach in the pen but can become more docile with slow movement, treats, and time spent with them.
How to Take Care of Laying Hens
With a rhythm of care, chickens are rather easy to care for but all of their needs will be met by their owner, you. There are a few things that are very important that they receive daily. This will affect their health and egg production.
Chicken Coop Housing
This is a fundamental, necessary element of raising chickens. A chicken coop will protect chickens from the elements, keep them safe from predators, and aid in keeping them free from sickness. A wet, cold, and sick chicken will spend all its energy trying to stay warm and on returning its body to health and in the process will lay fewer eggs or stop laying eggs altogether. And a hunted and eaten chicken…well, its egg production has come to an absolute halt. Housing should be built to accommodate both the summer and winter months. Chickens need adequate ventilation and airflow to keep their house from becoming stale and trapped humidity in really cold temperatures will lead to a higher likelihood of frostbite.
Water is very important for laying hens. It takes a lot of water for a hen to create her egg. Water makes up more than half of an egg’s volume. Chickens prefer fresh, clean water. If they are housed with ducks, the water will need to be changed frequently. And if shavings, poop, or any debris get in the water, it’s best to change it out and give them fresh water.
Water becomes more difficult in the winter months where temperatures are cold but this can be remedied with heated waterers. In Montana, where stock tanks can freeze even with tank heaters, I’ve found this one to work the best for us. The water sits on a heated base. It has lasted through several winters so far.
Feed for Chickens
Of course, the feed will be a hugely necessary part of your daily routine. And in large part, how you feed them will be entirely up to you. They can be fed with hanging feeders, a tub of feed, and even a large tote or garbage can with holes in the side works for many people. Note that feed can be wasted if chickens are allowed to scratch. If it’s scattered and soiled, they may not eat it.
Provide a Nest Box and Collect Eggs
Ideally, a nest box should be about 2 feet off the ground with roosts placed above the boxes. This will discourage hens from sleeping in the nest boxes and making a mess in them. Placing a cloth over the door of the nest box will give the hens a dark and secluded place to lay an egg. There should be one nest box for every four hens.
Eggs should be collected daily, if not several times a day. Not only will this keep eggs from being soiled, but they will also be broken less often, which will keep the hens from eating them. That is a bad habit to start and one hard to break! Collecting them daily will also maximize their freshness.
Chickens can be locked inside their chicken coop until after 10 am to ensure that eggs are laid in the nest boxes. Usually, most chickens are done laying by mid-morning. This will keep you from hunting eggs all over your property!
Be sure to check out Chicken Rich: Profitable Poultry Bundle–It’s FULL of to-do lists, checklists, record keeping sheets, and resource pages that will keep your flock healthy and YOU organized!
Set Up Lights
Chickens require 14 hours of light to stay in egg production. With less light, they will stop laying like they do when they are molting. Up north, it is necessary to provide light during the winter month. During the peak days of winter, there is sometimes half the number of daylight hours needed. Timers can be used to turn on lights before sunrise and to stay on a bit after sunset (so the hens are sure to have made it back to their roosts.) This artificial light will help keep the hens producing eggs. Just remember to be polite and have the lights turned off at night, so they can sleep in darkness.
Watch and Observe
Daily observing and spending time with your chickens will give you great pleasure in not only befriending them but also in becoming aware of their character and disposition, which will aid you in knowing when one is sick. Be aware of their normal antics, alertness, activities, and also their feather health, and alertness of eyes.
Clean and Refresh Nest Boxes
The nest boxes should be refreshed or changed once a month. This will ensure that eggs are as clean as possible by removing any dirt, poop, and broken eggs.
Clean the Chicken Coop and Refresh the Bedding
Depending on where you live, the chicken coop will need to be changed at least once a month in urban or city locations. If the deep litter method is being used, bedding is added monthly and the coop is cleaned twice a year. Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen and after composting can be a great asset to a garden. When the chicken coop is cleaned, it is a good practice to clean it out entirely and clean and sanitize the walls. Diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled throughout the coop; this will help keep hens healthy and the mites at bay.
What is the Best Feed for Chickens to Lay Eggs?
As with any animal, food intake will directly affect the health of a chicken and the quality of the eggs they lay, and sometimes it will affect if they lay eggs at all.
Chickens of laying age need 16-18% protein and 3 1/2% calcium to promote strong eggshells. It’s essential for a laying hen to receive a balanced diet with adequate levels of protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals. And layer pellets are correctly formulated to give a hen just that.
Interestingly and possibly not well known, adding in scratch and scraps is like giving chickens chips before a full course meal. They will fill up on “snacks” and not eat a well-balanced meal. Instead of saving money, feeding a lot of “extras” throws off the balance of a chicken’s diet and will affect the quality of their health and egg production.
That’s not to say that scratch can’t be used like that: scratch. Chickens love to scratch for their food and it can be thrown out for them to scratch around and peck at. In fact, Lesa, at Better Hens and Gardens, throws out scratch to her chickens in the field and then collects the eggs. It gets the hens out of the house and allows her to collect eggs easier without those few pecking hens that would rather she leave the eggs alone.
In many situations, it is necessary to supplement with free choice oyster shells. This added calcium will ensure that eggshells are not thin and weak. A higher protein feed also may be needed during peak egg production and during the hot summer months when chickens tend to eat less.
In confinement and during winter months when everything tends to be iced over, it is also important to provide grit for chickens. This grit helps to grind the grain in their gizzards. Chickens allowed to free-range will also get a wonderful diverse diet of berries, bugs, grains, and grasses in addition to their formulated feed.
How Much Do You Feed Laying Hens?
Ten laying hens, 20 weeks and older, will be fed between 18-24 pounds of layer pellets per week. It is important when feeding chickens to have enough feed space set up so that all of the chickens can eat at one time. And to reduce waste and spillage, set the feeders to the height of the chickens’ backs.
The feed should not be stored for more than two months, not only is it susceptible to mold but it will also begin to lose its nutritional value.
If you are currently or plan to raise pullets in the future for your own use or to sell, it is so important to note that how a chick is raised to sexual maturity will vastly affect how the hen produces the remaining years of her life. And if you are trying to gain a name of recognition in the poultry world for healthy, productive hens, then this is a very important point.
“Pullets are grown to reach a certain body weight at a specific age. Many of the problems that occur in a laying flock can be traced back to insufficient body weight during the growing period.
Commercially raised pullets receive three diets during the growing phase: starter, grower, and developer. Most feed stores sell only one or two types of feeds for raising replacement pullets.” ~Source
How Much Money Can An Egg-Laying Chicken Be Sold For?
A chick that has been raised to the pullet stage and is ready to start laying eggs can be sold for $15 or more depending on the area and breed. Those who raise chicks for this purpose, feel that $15 a hen is more than fair for the time, money, and care it takes to raise chickens to this age. But specialty breeds and chickens that conform highly to their breed’s traits can be sold for much more.
If your chickens gain a reputation for a high standard of breed traits, health, and quality, many people will travel hours to buy your birds. And starting with a solid foundation of quality stock, to begin with, will determine the quality of birds eventually produced to sell.