Chickens are featured in our beginner-friendly animals list because they are one of the easiest animals to set up in your farm. Building the right coops and getting them enough food doesn’t need a lot of space. If you get the basics right, you will be enjoying their manure, eggs, and meat within no time.
Eggs are a great source of proteins and fat making them a good addition to your diet especially if you are working towards self-sufficiency. You can also make an income by selling surplus eggs and using the money to keep your off the grid farm going.
How Many Eggs Will One Chicken Produce?
Healthy backyard or free-range chicken will produce up to 250 eggs per year. Even though the best breeds can lay an egg per day, they still take molting breaks in a year or after they get broody.
However, when the conditions are right and you are keeping breeds that lay a lot, you should expect an egg per day for at least 20 consecutive days before the chicken go broody.
Some of the best chickens for egg production include:
- Rhode Island Reds
- Plymouth Rocks
Other chickens like Japanese Bantam and Silkies will lay fewer eggs but they are more nutritious and have a richer taste.
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When Do Chickens Start Laying Eggs?
In most cases, chickens will start laying eggs once they are around 18 weeks old. The beginning age varies depending on the breed, how well you feed the chicken and if they are comfortable and happy. The first few eggs might be small and erratic but things will pick up soon as long as you keep conditions favorable.
The hen will peak production within its first year (at around 30 weeks old) and start producing less in subsequent years before stopping completely once they hit six or seven years of age.
Why are My Chickens Not Laying Eggs Yet?
You should only get worried if your hens are already over 24 weeks old and they are not laying eggs yet.
Before you start checking in on the hen, first survey the coop and its surrounding areas to ensure that your chicken is not hiding its eggs or another animal is not stealing the eggs before you gather them
Monitor the coop and the chicken closely for around 4 days to ensure that it actually isn’t laying eggs. If you don’t find an egg thief and your hen isn’t hiding, the following factors could be preventing your chicken from laying eggs.
The wrong nutritional balance will throw off your chicken’s productivity and growth. This could either be by failing to give them a balanced diet or by overusing supplements and treatment products. In most cases, free range chicken will forage a huge percentage of the nutrients they need in nature if you have a large plot of land.
The safest bid is by using high-quality layers feed. It has a perfect balance of the almost 40 nutrients hens need to hit a peak in egg production.
Chicken use calcium to form the hard shell on their eggs. On average, one egg will have around 2 grams of calcium. Your chicken will need lots of calcium to keep laying eggs. Some vitamin D3 will help as it makes it easier for them to absorb and use calcium.
Sometimes, chicken might start eating their own eggs to harvest and restore the calcium they just lost. This is a tell-tale sign that your chicken have a nutrition deficiency
Stressed Unhappy Birds
Stressed and unhappy birds won’t start laying eggs soon enough. If they do, the production will be erratic and nowhere near where that chicken breed would hit in optimum conditions. Common things that stress poultry include:
- Overcrowded coops
- Too much heat or too much cold
- The wrong nutrition
- Aggressive chicken that harass young hens
- Illnesses and pests
Here are some invaluable tips to help you combat the above problems and increase happiness levels in your birds:
- Provide sufficient nesting boxes. One box per hen will be ideal just in case more hens want to use it at a go but a box per four hens should suffice. Ensure that it is clean, dry and comfortable
- Each chicken needs around 4 square space of indoor space and 5 to 10 square feet of outdoor space. The more the space you get them the better
- Ensure that your coop is predator proofed. Use galvanized wire and meta screens to keep animals away
- Chicken like establishing a pecking order. If one wants to disrupt this and causes constant fights, separate it from the rest to avoid disruptions
- Keep temperatures as stable as possible. Mature chicken can cope with low temperatures and your goal should be keeping the coop temperature as close to the outdoors or chicken run as possible. Don’t heat the coop to 50 degrees and leave the run at Zero unless you don’t plan to let the chicken run about in the coop
Chicken egg production works on a hormonal timer tied to the number of daylight hours they get. Most need around 12 to 16 hours of daylight to keep producing. Shorter days in winter will interfere with this. Keeping them in dark coops could also affect their rhythm.
Luckily, the hens will get the triggers they need if you supplement natural light with an artificial light source. If you are off the grid and you don’t want to strain your power supply, consider 3-9 watt bulbs per 100 sq.ft. of coop space.
You will still need to simulate a normal day-night cycle by ensuring that you don’t switch on the lights too early or leave them on throughout the night. A couple of switches on a timer should be enough to automate the entire process.
What to Feed Chickens to Make them Lay Eggs
While it is hard to make a chicken lay more eggs per day, you can still ensure that you get an egg per day by giving them the right nutrition. A boost in calcium and protein is a good way to boost performance.
Use Layer’s Mash or Pellets
Layers mash and pellets are the fastest and easiest way to give your chicken all the nutrients they need to produce more eggs. High-quality feed has all the protein, calcium and starch the bird needs to survive. However, you must stick to the recommended portions per hen per day to avoid overfeeding them.
Mash and pellets are a great supplement to the food your hens forage in the wild or in the run during the day. You can also combine it with other feeds to keep your chicken occupied throughout the day.
Mix Your Own Feed for to Remain Independent
The only problem with mash is if you have to buy it. This is a problem if you are shooting at self-sufficiency. You can still get the necessary nutritional balance by mixing up different things found around your garden and kitchen for the perfect diet.
Get Some Worms, Beetles, Insects and Grubs
These are a great source of protein. If you have rich loamy soil or a compost heap, you can let your chicken hunt them out on their own after you turn around the soil.
However, too much of these will fatten your chicken too much and affect their kidneys. It’s good for broilers but your layers should eat them in moderation. If you are keeping free-range chicken on a sizable organic farm, don’t go out of your way to provide these. Chances are they already get enough when out foraging.
Bake and Crush Egg Shells
Remember when we said eggshells are full of calcium? Well, you can plough back all that calcium to provide what the hen needs for its next batch of eggs.
The catch is you can’t give them raw and full eggshells. They’ll soon figure out what they are and start picking them up for themselves.
Bake them in an oven at 350F for around 40 minutes, cool them and crush them into very tiny pieces (almost close to powder or small enough to blend into other feeds like corn chips or sunflower seeds.) This makes it harder for the chicken to figure out what they’re eating while also protecting them from salmonella reinfection.
Give them Some Greens
Leafy greens from the garden like kale, cabbage, dandelion, or other easy to grow vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals your chicken needs to stay healthy. These shouldn’t be a problem to free-range chickens who feast on grass and other green leaves of their choice when foraging.
However, when keeping them in through winter or raising them in a closed environment, throwing in these leaves on a daily basis is necessary.
Sunflower Seeds and Cracked Corn
Finally, cracked corn and husked (hulled) sunflower seeds are a final addition to your chicken’s meal plan. Hulled sunflower seeds give the hen access to the endosperm that has most of the protein and fats.
Chipped corn ( or chicken crack) is another great addition. Remember that it only gives the chicken starch and too much of it will fatten them for nothing. Use it in winter to boost chicken metabolism and keep them warmer through the night.
Avoid full corn grains as they take longer to digest.
Why Did My Chicken Stop Laying Eggs?
So far, we have figured out some of the things that could prevent the young chickens from starting to lay eggs. But what if your already productive hens stop or start laying less often? What could be the problem?
Well. The same problems preventing your youngsters from starting producing still apply here. The most notable include:
- Stress and cramped quarters
- Wrong nutrition
- Less daylight hours
- Illness and pests
- Aggressive chicken
Other problems that could lead to the same problem include:
Chicken go through a feather loss and regrowth period once a year after they hit 18 months old. This process is called molting. In most cases, it happens around autumn and is accompanied by a dip in egg production. The process lasts around 8 to 12 weeks.
The reason you get fewer eggs is that the body will redirect energy and nutrients from egg production to regrowing feathers. This could last between 8 and 16 weeks depending on the chicken.
At this time, they will need time to relax and preen themselves. Ensure that the coop is clean and comfortable. The dropping feathers might leave sensitive points in the skin so reduced handling, less crowding and a clean environment is ideal for comfort and fewer infections.
Keep your chicken on a high protein diet to help them molt fast. Once they are done and resume laying eggs, you can go back to your layer’s mash or custom calcium diet to reinvigorate egg production.
Even though chicken has a productive lifespan of around 8 to 10 years, they all slow down as they age. You will get the highest number of eggs from your birds in their first year of production. After that, production will dip by around 5 to 15 percent.
Every now and then, chickens will want to sit on their eggs and make them hatch. This natural maternal instinct kept them from extinction for so long before incubators came in. It should be good news if you are an organic farmer without an incubator.
However, if you want more eggs or have no reason for your hen to sit on eggs, brooding could be a problem. Broody hens are curious, will camp in their nest, and are very territorial. Moreover, they could trigger other hens into entering the state.
You won’t get any eggs from a hen that is brooding.
What Triggers Broodiness?
In most cases, the chicken will go broody if the daylight duration starts picking after spring. Other things like the availability of eggs will tell the chicken it’s time to sit on them. Some chickens in the tropical climates even seem to be on another internal timer and will go broody after laying around 30 eggs.
What to Do to a Broody Hen
Your next choice of action depends on what you want.
- If the eggs are fertile (you have roosters) and you want chicks let a couple of hens brood
- If you don’t have roosters or don’t want chicks, break up the broodiness
Should you choose to let the chicken brood, ensure that you remove the hen from non-brooding stock as they could be triggered to do the same. The brooding hen will only leave the eggs once a day to:
- Relieve herself
- Eat and drink
Provide sufficient food and water at around the time she leaves. The good thing is they will almost always do it at around the same time for the next 21 days.
The chicken will remain in the maternal mode for weeks after hatching their chicks. Most will take care of their chicks for around 5 weeks and resume laying eggs within another week or two
How to Stop Broodiness
In case you want to break broodiness, ensure that you start the following procedure as soon as possible. The longer you wait the harder it will be. Note that some procedures might be inhumane. After all, the hen is trying to keep its species alive and won’t be dissuaded easily.
The trick is to make the conditions bad for brooding. Since chicken get warmer when brooding, your first goal is to lower its temperature. You should also keep it in an airy, well lit and public place as they prefer to sit on their eggs in the exact opposite setting.
- Create a broody breaking pen by converting a dogs crate or building a wire frame box
- The device should be lockable and have mesh on at least five sides
- You could build a box with tight mesh on all sides
- Ensure that the box is lifted from the ground to encourage air circulation
- Place the hen in the new cage and provide it with some food and water
- Don’t put beddings on the floor
The goal is to make the hen uncomfortable and let the air circulation cool its body temperature. The openness and lack of bedding make the environment dissimilar to what it would get when sitting on eggs.
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Keep the hen in the pen for two or three days before opening up. If it puffs up its feathers, is still protective and goes straight back to its laying nest, capture it and return it to the nest. The brood is broken if it is no longer interested in sitting on eggs.
At the end of the day, you can only get so many eggs from your chicken in a healthy organic setting. Focus on getting the best layer breed, giving it the happiest life possible and enjoying the returns you get. If you have the space, you can keep more hens (without overcrowding them) to meet your needs.
Since eggs keep well, you can always keep some for winter consumption or at molt times and let your chickens enjoy a natural annual cycle as much as possible.