Most years we are not getting many eggs this time of year. Egg production is a remarkable thing. A pullet (young female chicken) begins laying eggs at 18 to 20 weeks of age. She reaches peak production at about 35 weeks, with a production rate greater than 90 percent (that’s 9 eggs in 10 days for a single hen or 9 eggs from 10 birds daily). This period of peak production lasts about 10 weeks, after which her egg production slowly begins to decline.
A high-producing hen’s annual egg production is more than 10 times her body weight. The average commercial Single Comb White Leghorn hen lays about 265 eggs per year, with backyard breeds laying fewer. In most cases, the more exotic the breed, the poorer the egg production.
Hens stop laying eggs for a variety of reasons. External or internal stimuli affect hormone levels, which change the condition of the ovary and oviduct, the organs responsible for egg production. The result of these changes is the reduction or cessation of egg production. The most common stimuli that affect egg production are decreasing day length, disease, broodiness, poor nutrition, and stress. However, even under ideal conditions, every hen’s egg production eventually slows down and stops.
Days become shorter beginning about June 22 and begin to lengthen again about December 22. This change in day length causes hens to molt and cease egg production, a process that may take several months.
As for the 16 Buff Orphington hens here in Hickery Holler they continued to produce through the winter but did slow down drastically during late December and Early January. We are now up to an average of 12 to 14 extra large brown eggs a day.
During those times that egg production dropped I had plenty of eggs frozen for baking purposes and scrambling. However during those extremely cold days we made sure the chickens had plenty of food and fresh water. We do not put lights on our chickens during the winter as we have found that we usually get enough eggs without the additional electrical expense. We do continue to provide them with plenty of oyster shell and grit along with their food and sometimes even get old cabbage and greens from the local grocer in town for them. They also love the kitchen scraps which consists of potato peels and the like. We also provide plenty of deep straw bedding on the floor of the chicken house as well as in the nests.
Now that the ladies are again laying well we have started selling eggs to the neighbors to help offset the expense of feed. Once the weather warms a little more we will also start letting the hens out for a few hours everyday while we are outside to forage for their own food. But for right now the eagles and hawks are thick and food is scarce. The ladies would not last long free ranging this time of year.
O Wise One says that the feed store told him last time he bought chicken grain that they have doubled the number of tons of chicken food they sell in a year. I guess backyard chickens have really become popular again. Next month we will start hatching some spring chicks to have young hens coming on to replace these as layers.
How about the rest of you homesteaders out there. Have your chickens started laying again yet?
Blessings from The Holler
The Canned Quilter