The Egg Layer Chicken

The Egg Layer

Chickens will lay about 1 egg every 1-2 days. It makes for a lot of eggs if you have 3-4 girls.

Feed/water: Layer feed, kitchen table scraps- fruits, veggies, grain products (OK so they will eat just about anything – I saw one of our girls eating a dead mouse, slugs and they love the compost pile especially their own egg shells.) They love fish leftovers, soybeans, kelp (off the beach), yard clippings and just about anything really. They are carnivorous. They will also eat their own eggshells, which are a good source of calcium. Some foods to avoid giving to your chickens are chocolate, beans, potato peels, large amounts of salt.

Buy a big self-feeding container that holds about 3 gallons of food. That way you don’t have to feed them every day. They will need to have calcium supplemented in the form of oyster shells, which you should be able to find at the feed store.

Buy a big watering container that has water storage (3-5 gallons) and a regulating system so you will only have to fill the water once a week or so. If the water in the trough area starts looking bad, you can just dump that out and let the water refill the trough without refilling the whole thing.

Housing:

Nesting boxes – approximately 12″x12 “x14″ deep. The boxes may be at ground level or about waist high or whatever is most convenient for egg collection. 1 box is needed per 4 hens. They like to share and will take turns waiting for the box to be free even if there are other boxes available. The boxes may need to be lined with newspaper of some softer material. You need to also put a nesting material like straw or hay. (We use scraps of hay leftover from the horses). Eggs may break if they hit the bottom of the box or nest. The boxes can be made out of anything really. Wood, a crate on its side, a large bowl! Old milk crates work great! You can experiment with what you have around first to see what they will go in. The nesting boxes can be left at ground level for regular size chickens. Bantys usually like their nests higher in the coop. I like to have the nests off the ground just to keep the shavings and manure out of the nests. I did see one coop on the Seattle City Chickens Tour that just had a large bowl placed on the floor.

Care:

Feed and water as needed. They become stressed out if the food or water runs out and may stop laying as a result. Keeping the coop clean keeps down the chance of disease and illness.

They need a cool breeze in the summer. If it snows in your area in the winter, they may need additional heat. Water may freeze in winter. If it doesn’t thaw out during the day, they may not be happy. You can buy a water heater unit. I just made sure to break up the ice the few days that it was that cold.

Behaviors:

The first egg: They will most likely be shocked when they lay their first egg. It is often not laid in the nest. I found the first egg in the garden bed outside my door. This must be where the idea of an Easter egg hunt came from! One had been laid previously on the hard cement floor of the barn and the shell was not intact. This sometimes is the case for the first eggs as their bodies get used to the idea. Don’t worry. This usually clears up within an egg or two. If it doesn’t it may mean they need extra calcium, which is the main component in eggs. Some recommend supplementing with oyster shell calcium, but I think it may be too contaminated with hazardous wastes. Another source of calcium is vegetable matter – kale, broccoli bits and grass clippings. (Just think about how much grass a cow eats to get that calcium in the milk). I just recently had to add the oyster shell calcium to their diet as they were eating the eggs in the coop and the shells were really thin.

To encourage them to lay their eggs in the nest, you may have to place an egg in the nest or another egg like object like a golf ball. They actually have fake eggs for this purpose, but I don’t think they are necessary.

Laying hens may also need sunlight or artificial light. They need about 16-18 hours a day, which means in the winter you will have to leave the lights on or have fewer eggs. I like to give them a break and it seems more natural. If they aren’t supposed to be laying as much in the winter, they may need the rest for some reason. I still got plenty of eggs with my 4 hens during this past winter – 1-2 a day.

Hens in general will lay one egg every 24-48 hours or so. How they do it is actually amazing when you think about it. All that they eat is turned into the process of egg laying. That is why they need so much calcium too!

I give extra treats of corn in the winter only because they seemed to be getting bored. I also regularly give my chickens golden flaxseeds to get more of those omega-3’s that we are supposed to be getting.

Molting – chickens will lose their feathers once or twice a year depending on where you live. Molting time is usually in the fall, which really doesn’t make any sense since it is getting cold by them. My girls molted their second fall. They didn’t loose all their feathers, but they did loose most of them. They usually stop laying eggs during the molt. They do look really funny, but the feathers all grow back really soon.

If you add new chicks to your flock, be sure to wait until they are a few months old before putting them together. They need to be big enough to hold their own with the larger chickens so they can figure out the pecking order. They really do have a pecking order. You can usually watch them as they figure it all out. You can put a fence between them to keep them separate. This will give them a chance to get to know each other before putting them together.

When I added 2 new 6-month-old chickens to our already mature flock, they made the 2 new girls sleep separately for a few days. They were easily assimilated without much pecking.

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