How to optimize egg production in a backyard chicken flock

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About 75-80% of the hens in a backyard chicken flock will lay an egg a day in their first two years after reaching laying age. Production drops to about 50% during the winter and 20% when the flock is molting. Hens will lay for five to 10 years, but production drops off each year after the first two.

Egg production varies among different breeds of chickens and is affected by environmental conditions and feed efficiency.

Laying chicken breeds

The rate of lay from one chicken breed to the next is based on body type, ability to perform under environmental conditions and ability to convert feed to egg production. Generally speaking, flighty small-framed birds convert feed more efficiently to eggs than other breeds.

Hybrids

Commercially developed hybrids – commercially developed hybrids, generally developed using the Leghorn breed, produce more eggs. 

  • Affordable
  • Lays around 280 eggs per year
  • Golden Brown
  • Resilient

Rhode Island Red – a dual-purpose breed, but most often used for laying.

  • Dual purpose
  • Lays around 250 eggs per year
  • Dark red
  • Hardy, does well in small flocks

Leghorn – one of the best egg laying breeds.

  • Converts feed more efficiently to eggs
  • Lays around 250 eggs per year
  • White body with a thick red comb
  • Shy and hard to tame

Ancona – another breed known for egg laying.

  • Lays around 200 eggs per year
  • Smaller than other egg laying breeds
  • Skittish and flighty

Minorca – Hens start laying earlier.

  • Lays around 120 eggs per year
  • Larger Mediterranean breed
  • Good foragers that do well in different types of terrain
  • Not good dual-purpose birds

Environmental factors

Aside from age and breed, light exposure and nutrition are the most important factors in optimizing egg production.

Light. Hens require 12 to 14 hours of light a day to keep laying eggs. They reach peak production at about 16 hours a day. In the fall and winter, producers should supplement daylight hours with artificial light to maintain egg production.

Artificial light should be provided from the beginning of September until natural day length increases to 14 hours a day in the spring. Use a 40-watt bulb with a reflector, elevated seven feet above the floor, to provide adequate light for 200 square feet of space. If the bulbs are providing heat, you may have to leave them on all day to avoid shocking your flock due to a temperature drop when they are off.

Nutrition. Laying chicks have different feeding requirements than those raised for meat. Hens designated for laying need to develop more slowly so that their bodies will be able to withstand laying eggs for the rest of their lives. Laying chicks should not be given a feed that is too high in protein because it will cause them to mature too rapidly, which results in smaller eggs and, in some cases, prolapse.

You can slow the growth of laying chicks by introducing a whole grain like oats or wheat into their feed around 10 weeks old, and continuing to mix it in until they are 20 weeks old. After 20 weeks, they should be switched to a layer feed that includes more calcium to ensure the shells of their eggs develop strong. Oyster shells can be added to feed to further increase calcium and grit can be added to aid digestion.

An average 6-pound hen will eat roughly three pounds of food per week. Consumption will increase in the winter when they burn more calories and decrease in the summer. You can offset molt in the fall and fewer foraging opportunities in the winter by providing a higher protein feed during those times.

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