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Friday, July 1, 2011

Egg Production-The Facts of Life

Commercial egg producers, whether they be battery or free range, have one goal in mind,
to make money.
The juggle is to achieve optimum eggs from a hen in the shortest feeding time possible in order to have the most profitable ratio.
A hen can only lay one egg a day at best.
At low light level times like winter when the daylight hours are shorter, hens go "off the lay" naturally and resume again as the days grow longer. 
Periodically they will get broody and "go off the lay" and want to just sit on the nest. It's a natural occurrence and will happen to hens in different degrees and definitely to some breeds in different degrees. For instance, bantams are known for their broodiness but that works in your favour if you are wanting to raise chicks.
Sometimes hens can get stressed by hot weather, lack of water etc and go into a moult and guessed it,
"go off the lay".

So a farmer raises his hens juggling the conditions and manipulating the environment to keep his hens laying, cos a non-laying hen is a mouth to feed. He will put artificial light in the coop to keep them laying. When they go broody, hens are thrown off nests or placed suspended in cages so they can't get warm and comfortable. I have known people to even put bricks in the nest!
Just like humans, fowls are born with a set number of eggs. 
They have a genetic pre-ordered number of ova at birth, that's it. 
Just like humans, they don't release an egg every day of their lives.
Production is high in their peak, sometimes they get clucky, and then egg production becomes more spasmodic in their 3rd year gradually dwindling away with age.
For the back yard fowl keeper, naturally you desire egg production but it's not that vital that we have them laying every day at all costs to justify their existence. Let them be and be natural. If you are really bent out of shape by poor production then only keep your fowl short term and dispatch or re-home them at the end of their second year. I tend to think nature knows what it is doing. As a woman, I know that sometimes fertility can take it out of you and if a fowl goes broody I let her hormones go and know that she will resume duty when she is ready, perhaps like mine sometimes, she needs a break.
Come winter, I accept the seasonal food changes and modify our diets. We are getting about one a egg a day on average here but that is fine for our needs.
Too often I see commercial "advice" crossing over into the domestic locale.
Have a bit of respect for your food and work with it. 

Dr. Harry can rattle off the top of his head the average number of ova a bantam carries and the average of a leghorn etc but the point is, there is only a set amount. Why do you think Isa Browns lay so methodically, reliably, exhaustably and rapidly? Because commercial farmers have bred them that way.
Go with the flow. Stop making your hens uncomfortable with bricks in their nest and light in their eyes and let nature be. If you get to a point where you do not want to keep financially outlaying for your fowl, then move them on and get new stock but seriously, the cost is not that great when they are free ranging and converting scraps to manure and keeping down the pests in the area. For a domestic grower there are far more benefits than just egg production.
(not one of our layers but one of our meat birds ie: rooster)


  1. Ah, Tanya my girls must've missed me while I was away. I received a couple of eggs as a welcome home pressie........... and that was it.

    I know some of my girls are getting on a bit but I just love having them around and although I wouldn't mind a few more googs each week it's not about the eggs for me.

    Lovely pics of your gals.....I think Australorps have lovely ,big, soulful eyes


  2. Hear, hear! I agree. I plan to add a few girls each year to keep me in eggs. They can decline slowly into old age and have a good life here...even if they stop laying.

  3. Great post Tanya !
    Your technical explanations are so untechnical and clear.
    Our girls are merrily wandering about, chaperoned by their fella, and dropping us the odd egg now the solstic has passed.
    Now waiting on signs of broodiness - lets hope young Roger is more then a pretty face :)

  4. Great post Tanya
    Makes me happy to know there are such well cared for chooks in our back yards.
    I dream of having hens. Grew up with hens and my Dad taught me all about looking after them. I still think about collecting eggs in my basket.
    I have a theory, that if you ask people about their memories of grandparents, chooks are always up there. I think most children love the hens.

  5. I don't agree with leaving them to brood without supplying them with chicks. Living with no rooster is, of course, unnatural to begin with and can be expected to cause other unnatural behaviours, like long broody periods, and hens neglect themselves while broody. But I can't imagine putting a light in to make them lay in winter, unless I was completely dependent on them for food!

  6. What a beautiful post!!!
    I am a fellow 'chook' lover and have my girls roaming freely often.
    They are such great pets and what a BONUS - we get eggs and meat from them as well.
    They also give us fertilizer for our garden and help with the weeding when scratching about...
    I just love my girls - can you tell?? :)


  7. Hi Tanya..that was a really interesting post and I wholeheartedly agree with the logic of what you're saying. It must be like anything else too that if the chooks are less stressed the eggs are probably better nutritionally for us too.


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