Disclaimer: if you think of your chickens as pets, if you let them live out their full, natural lives regardless of economics of laying productivity vs. feed, then this may not be the post for you. While there is nothing graphic in this post, it assumes the reader is comfortable with the concept of slaughtering livestock. This post is not intended to specifically advocate culling your birds at the end of their productive laying lives, but if you choose to, or if you send them off to some other form of retirement off your property, the approach to flock management described here may help you get achieve more consistent egg production.
Suprise! Eggs Are A Seasonal Food
Small-scale chicken keepers know all too well how egg supply can vacillate between nothing (and a shameful trip out to the store for commercially raised eggs) and enough to supply the props department at a Cool Hand Luke remake.
As weird as it seems to folks used to those unchanging cartons of eggs at the market, eggs are a seasonal food. Several things contribute to this natural production variability:
• Hens stop (or dramatically slow) their laying during the short days of winter.
• Chickens must rest periodically, for reproductive health and when they are regrowing feathers after a molt.
• New chicks take about 5 months to mature into reliable producers.
• After about two to three years of laying, a hen’s productivity starts to decline dramatically.
Industrial egg producers get around this by selecting breeds which are early and heavy layers, then raising them in artificially lit enclosures so that low natural light levels never slow frequency of lay. They keep flocks of same-age hens together, and force the molt of all hens in the flock simultaneously by manipulating heat, light, water and feed (including, commonly, total removal of food to initiate molting).
Forced molting keeps hens at the highest average rate of eggs production, but is ethically unbearable.
If a backyard, small-flock chicken keeper wants to ensure a more steady supply of eggs, we need different tactics. While natural egg production is much higher in the summer than the winter, the cycle we’ve developed for our hens gives us the best chance of some decent egg production year-round.
Let’s Explain This With Classic Rock and Chicken Cartoons
In order to make sure we get eggs as close to year-round as possible without resorting to evil industrial-style shenanigans, we need to make sure we have some birds coming into lay, some birds at their peak production, and some birds easing off of strong production to make room for the younger batch.
To make this more clear, picture three bands of hard-rocking chickens. We’ll call them Bennie and the Chicks, Lay Ladies Lay, and, naturally, The Free Birds. Here they are:
(Shut up. I never claimed to be a graphic illustrator.)
Figure out your ideal, stable, long-term flock size and divide that number by three. That’s the number of members you can have in each chicken “band” We’re going to add one band a year for three years to get us up to our desired flock size. Say you want no more than a dozen hens. 12 / 3 = 4. So, each of your chicken bands would contain four birds.
Spring: Bring home Bennie and the Chicks as chicks.
Late Summer: Bennie and the Chicks come into lay. Once they get going, expect 5-6 eggs per week per hen.
Fall: Bennie and the Chicks continue to lay very well.
Winter: First year chickens typically don’t molt. Bennie and the Chicks will slow down a bit, but will continue to lay 2- 4 eggs per hen per week straight through winter, especially if a small amount of supplemental light is provided during the shortest days of the year.
Year One Egg Estimates
|Bennie and the Chicks
Spring: Bring home Lay Ladies Lay as chicks. No laying from them, but as the days of spring lengthen, Bennie and the Chicks are in their peak year of laying well. Look for a consistent 5-6 eggs per week per each Bennie and the Chicks hen.
Late Summer: Lay Ladies Lay start giving you eggs! It’s a little sporadic at first, but they get there, and soon each Lay Ladies Lay bird is producing 5-6 eggs per week too. Meanwhile Bennie and the Chicks continue to lay.
Fall: Lay Ladies Lay are rocking out the egg production with 5-6 eggs per hen per week. Bennie and the Chicks are getting tired – they’ve been laying for over a year now! They need a freakin’ break. One by one as the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, they start to molt. Egg production falls to almost nothing as their bodies do the hard work of re-growing feathers.
Winter: Lay Ladies Lay keep you in moderate egg production (2- 4 per week) straight through the winter. Depending on breed, climate, and supplemental lighting you may get a few eggs from Bennie and the Chicks, or they may just take the whole winter off.
Year Two Egg Estimates
|Lay Ladies Lay
|Bennie and the Chicks
Spring: Bring home The Free Birds as chicks. Let them enjoy their peeping childhood for 20 weeks or so. Lay Ladies Lay come back up to their peak production as the days lengthen, giving 5 to 6 eggs per week per hen. Bennie and the Chicks are probably back to lay again after their first molt. Production will be a bit less than pre-molt, but should still be about 3-4 eggs per hen per week.
Late Summer: The Free Birds start laying. Meanwhile Lay Ladies Lay are at their peak of egg production and Bennie and the Chicks are contributing as well. You’ve got a lot of eggs now. Make sure you collect eggs at least daily, and be prepared to bribe neighbors, sell eggs, or freeze the inevitable egg glut for the slower production time of winter.
Fall: The Free Birds are up to full production and are laying 5-6 eggs per hen per week. By late fall, expect Lay Ladies Lay to need a well-earned break. They’ll start to molt for the first time and Bennie and the Chicks will enter their second molt. Egg production falls, but The Free Birds continue to pump out eggs like tiny dinosaur champions.
Winter: The Free Birds maintain that first-year production at 2- 4 eggs per hen per week. Lay Ladies Lay may add a bit to the treasure in the nesting box, but without supplemental light, don’t count on it. At their second molt, Bennie and the Chicks graduate to Stockpot Camp, or go on to whatever retirement you deem best.
Year Three Egg Estimates
|The Free Birds
|Lay Ladies Lay
|Bennie and the Chicks
Year Four and Forward
From now on, the flock size stabilizes. If your ideal flock size was 12 birds, this rotation will keep your flock between 8 and 12 birds consistently.
Going forward, as you maintain this rotation, a new batch of chicks is brought in every spring, and the oldest “band” of hens is culled at their second molt, about age 3, and sent to the soup pot.
The nice thing about a three year cycle with your birds is that you always have a cohort of pullets that is naturally inclined to keep laying through the winter. You also don’t end up in that unfortunate Urban Chicken-keeper dilemma: 1/10th of an acre, 8 aged birds, and 4 months without backyard eggs. With an planned cull of older birds and a planned buy of new chicks, you can keep the small backyard flock productive.
What About Artificial Lighting?
Artificial lighting can do a lot to increase the rate of lay in younger birds in the winter. It’s a personal choice if you use lighting in your coop. We do, to a point. We only add artificial light after birds have re-feathered in the winter after their fall molt. A natural molt is essential to a healthy chicken, and we don’t want to mess with the change-of-season signals that tell the birds to molt.
Making feathers is metabolically costly, so we give the birds extra protein rich treats while they are in molt. They are disturbingly fond of scrambled eggs.
Once they’ve all stopped looking like tiny ugly dinosaurs, we will jumpstart “Spring” a bit with a single 7 Watt LED lightbulb that draws very little electricity. It’s connected to a timer that’s programmed to automatically turn the bulb on for a few hours before sunrise and run it a few hours after sunset. This triggers the “lengthening day” photoresponse that fires off egg production. Some sources will advise gradually increasing the length of this light window but we’ve had perfectly good success just snapping the light on. We aim to supplement natural sunlight enough that the birds get about fourteen hours of total illumination.
Many variables influence the frequency of a chicken’s egg-laying and the longevity of its egg-laying. Age is not the be-all and end-all. Breed, nutrition, temperature, humidity, disease, stress and more all influence how well your birds lay.
Many dual purpose and heritage breed birds – the kind you are more likely to want in a backyard flock – will continue to produce well for a 4th year. I’ve heard a few stories about someone’s grandma’s chicken that kept laying an egg a day until it was 9. While I’m sure there are a few super chickens out there, these numbers reflect our experience with common backyard breeds such as Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Black Sexlink, Red Sexlink, and Australorps. Your milage may, of course, vary.
There is some cold logic to the timing of a late fall / at molt slaughter. Chickens have a pretty predictable productivity cycle. Every time they molt, their egg laying potential goes down. Laying stays very strong through the first molt, and then drops off after the second molt. After the third molt, egg laying drops off again, and in some breeds becomes pretty sparse.
Because every laying cycle gets less and less productive, we know that a bird after its second molt will not be pulling it’s egg laying weight come spring. Therefore, we cull in fall/winter to cut down on the winter feed bill and stock the larder with chicken broth.
Backyard chicken-keepers who want to follow a rotation like this, but feel that a three year rotation is too aggressive, might also consider a Four Year Rotation. In this scenario, you divide your ideal flock size by 4. Follow the general outline as above, introducing one-quarter of your flock each year, but cull birds after their third molt. They will be nearly four years old at this point.
Just in case you skipped the disclaimer at the top, I’ll say it again here: I am not suggesting you must, should, or would be well served by killing your chickens. I want you to manage your flock in the way that is best for you. If that is chickens-as-pets, you have my full support and blessing. So don’t leave a bunch of crazy in the comments section, ok?. Keep it civil and on point, please. Thank you!
Leslie Ross says
This is a fantastic article! We keep considering chickens but haven’t quite pulled the trigger yet. I have a dumb question though… how do you freeze eggs? I never even knew that was possible!
Barb Stork says
Erica has discussed freezing eggs previously, on this post http://nwedible.com/2014/02/what-to-make-when-you-have-too-many-eggs.html.
I haven’t tried it yet myself, as we never seem to have too many eggs, but this next spring, when I have my 2nd rotation coming into lay, we’ll see.
Thanks for fielding this one Barb. 🙂
Barb Stork says
Anything for you, my dear! Now go outside and enjoy the sunshine!
Leslie Ross says
Yes, thank you Barb! I must have just skimmed that article, seeing as how I don’t (yet) have a glut of eggs. Good to know for future reference though!!! 🙂
Great article, especially as the chickens I inherited are probably all at least four this year. Not sure if I can stomach culling, but I have plenty of space. It’s time to add a couple of young ones to the flock!
Well if you have lots of space, there isn’t the same pressure to stick to a specific number.
We’ve tried identifying each hen as to what year she was born (or bought) with leg bands, and without fail, the leg bands fall off. I have several boxes of multicolor leg bands if anyone is interested! We grow separate meat birds and occasionally cull a hen or an extra rooster from the laying flock. I know one of our Americanas is 9 or 10 years old and in season she does lay pretty much 5 eggs a week. She’s a freeloader the rest of the year. We mostly have buff Orpingtons.
So now we just freeze eggs when they are too plentiful. I whisk 6 eggs with 1/4 tsp salt and freeze them in pint jars. I use 6 per jar because that makes a nice quiche. If I need 3 eggs for a recipe then I just use half a jar, etc. Works fine, and we eat scrambled eggs or quiche all winter, and I trade frozen eggs with my brother who has a little honey business.
I have been really pleasantly surprised with how well it works to freeze eggs. My Amerucanas are the worst for egg production. Those blue and green eggs are so pretty, but I swear they lay like 2 months of the year and then stop.
Instead of banding your birds I would suggest buying all one kind each year, a different breed on a 3 or 4 year rotation. Then keep a log somewhere so you know when you purchased all the ones of a particular breed.
Controlled Jibe says
Love the graphics and the fun explanation of your rotation system. We’e looking to implement a similar system, but first need to figure out which of our 11 chickens are laying and which are getting a free ride first! They were all ‘second-hand’ gals and we really have no idea on their ages. Thanks for the great information and for the good laugh with my morning coffee!
– Katie and Mark
Thanks for this! I can’t have chickens in my city until I get a bit more land around my house, but I am planning on getting them as soon as we move in 2-3 years. This was so helpful!
Barb Stork says
This is probably the closest to plan to what I’ll be trying to implement with our flock, the 4, 4, 4, three season rotation. Of course I only have 3 right now from last spring, so we might start out a little short. Having 4 probably would have been just about right this winter with their slow-down, but really, we haven’t been doing to bad.
The only real problem I see with the plan, other than the necessity of “retiring” the 0ld gals, is that many city restrictions would probably make it hard to have the 9-12 birds at any given time. Our lot is big enough that even though we are within the city limits we can have more chickens than I’d every really want (and trust me, we pay for that land in taxes!), but I’m thinking 3-4 birds may be the limit for the normal size lot in our city. So unless you really get along great with your neighbors (and they really love your surplus eggs), you might have to modify your plan somehow.
Robin at OurOwnFlavor says
We’ve been lucky so far in that nature seems to cull the birds for us. We take good care of them but things happen. One got wet, one got egg bound. Of our original four birds, we only have one.
I’m definitely not ethically against culling but I personally can’t eat a bird I’ve known for so long. My hubby mocked it until I pointed out that the way I want the best for everyone and get attached to people and animals easily is one of the things he loves about me. 🙂 We have friends with a farm so we’re going to see if we can contribute our chickens to their cull.
We’ve kind of accidentally gotten into this schedule by attrition–as our flock ages we’ve added a few hens every couple of years, and we haven’t had to cull any yet (except one due to a prolapse). So far it’s working pretty well–though I fully expected to lose a couple of old hens this year and didn’t, so I’m a bit over my target numbers, oh well. I don’t really mind feeding a couple of semi-freeloaders, usually the hens that last long enough to “retire” have enough personality to deserve it at that point!
Does anybody else notice that when the young pullets start laying it kind of inspires the older hens to pick up? Even my 4-5 year olds have been laying this winter–I don’t know if it’s biological or competitiveness! Also a few sunny days here and some winter free-ranging makes for a ton of eggs, and I totally understand that 🙂
Another use for the culled birds. If the bird is old enough that you aren’t interested in eating it yourself (or if you need to cull more than you want to stuff in your freezer) it’ll still make great dog or cat food to someone who does a home-made diet for their pets. And raw pet food diets have been growing in popularity, so there are more and more people everywhere looking for food for their pets, and since one of the tenets of a raw diet is to be healthier buying locally grown meat is the ideal. I personally usually offer $2/lb for such animals, and am always delighted to get such to feed to my dogs. The hardest part would be finding that local community of raw and home-made diet pet owners. Once you find it they’d be delighted to see you!
A nifty trick is to purchase a different breed each year. This makes it easy to know the age of your birds.
My problem is that I have a couple roosters, and have had several batches of chicks hatched out on our land. I desperately NEED to cull, but haven’t been able to do it ’cause I’m not sure who is who anymore! They’re all Barred Rock crosses.
Could you point me toward info about chicken culling (i.e. How To Do It) for the backyard chicken-keeper? Thanks. And fun article. “Stockpot Camp.” 🙂
I typically don’t discuss slaughter how-to on my site, but if you search YouTube for “broomstick method chicken” you can see the method I consider the most humane, quick and effective for dispatching older birds.
Great post! And perfectly timed!! We ran into this issue last summer. We’d been poking along, not thinking about the age of our hens, when suddenly we went from getting 3-4 eggs a day to…none. No spring eggs. No summer eggs. By fall the chicks we’d hatched in the spring (simply for the fun of hatching some eggs) started laying sporadically. Its been 9 months since we’ve gotten the extra large eggs the old girls were laying and I’ve slowly been coming to the conclusion that it stew pot time.
One thing we’ve accidentally found that is turning into a huge help: we have different colors/breeds for the different ‘bands’. It makes it much easier to tell the age differences. We are looking at breeds to add this year and I’m kicking around the idea of cream legbars for the blue eggs. Then we’d know instantly which group is starting to drop off on production.
Thanks for sharing! I think the “breed by band” thing is the way to go for the small flock.
I’d like to hear more about how you identify the hens by age. If we keep the same breed, we lose track of who’s who. Like a previous commenter, leg bands don’t seem to stay on.
Different breeds, and also I inspect their legs. The younger ones have prettier, smoother scales. But I also have a small flock, so I’m not trying to age-check 80 birds.
I had all my chickens processed this winter as they were at their 3.4 year mark. There is a processing place a half hour from our house that does same day or while you wait processing. I was very attached to one of the flock, but knew the day was coming. With a fresh start I want to have our coop/runs inspected by the city so I can get a permit for more birds. The house next to us is a rental and I always run the risk of having too many birds and a new renter that isn’t pleased with them. I will likely start with pullets rather than chicks this year, but would like to start adding as suggested. I wish Portland would get a Mobile Chicken Processing Van business. I would think the density of chicken owners would make it viable if the regulations could be met. I like your art.
There might be someone in Portland that doesn’t like backyard chickens? Next you’ll be telling me there are people in Portland who hate beards, used bookstores and food carts. I just can’t imagine such a thing. 😉
Ien in the Kootenays says
Excellent article, except there is no extra for the eventuality of predation. It may be less of a problem for the urban chicken keeper. I have given up for now. Unless I can get things electrified it is too much heartbreak, and with two old people it makes sense to just buy fresh eggs. We do have access. Though nothing beats an egg so fresh it is still warm.
Barb Stork says
I feel your pain on this one. My husband doesn’t think I’m in the chicken raising business. He says I’m in the coyote feeding business. 🙁 They steal one, I buy two more, they steal two more! Mind you, none have been lost from within their very safe coop/run that he built me….only when I fall for the hens deepest desires to range in our yard (and they really do love it!). Have you looked into the electric poultry netting? Perhaps powered by a solar charger? I’m getting closer to that decision, just so the girls can have some more room to roam. The hubby is building them another 12 ft x 12 ft run that they can be in during the day, but there’s something about having chickens lose in my yard that I love.
You need a Livestock Guardian Dog. 😉
Barb Stork says
Oh, don’t think I haven’t been thinking about (researching, looking up breeders) this option. The only thing, truly, that holds me back, is the fact that our property doesn’t have any fencing and I’ve heard they have a tendency to wander off if there is no visible fencing. We actually picked up enough fencing off of craigslist about a year ago that would fence about an acre of the backyard….I don’t dare tell my husband I’m getting an LGD once that is done or I’m sure he’ll find more ways to put off getting that fencing in.
Oh, how I dream of letting my hens range to their heart’s delight with a big fluffy Pyrenees out in the yard ready to rip the hiney off of any coyote that dares step foot in the yard again. 🙂
Erica, I love your work. But there are a few quirks to your system that don’t jive with our experience. First of all, do your Buffs et al never go broody? Where are you getting heritage breeds that don’t go broody?! 🙂 Breeds vary, of course; we’re settling into mostly Australorps precisely because they don’t seem to. But otherwise, our laying cycle is: Feb-April or so, full production, April-October, fight rotating broody hens and collect about half the eggs we do in full production. Then Oct or so through late Nov, full production, except for the molts that seem to rotate any time from Oct -February. In fact, we have one finishing her molt now! 🙂
Then, I think we need to be a bit more specific about “Spring” for introducing new chicks. We’ve found most of our heritage breeds take a full 6 months to lay consistently, and that they need to be laying (as you suggested) by September if they’re going to lay fully through the winter. Count backwards, and this means they need to be hatched out by late February, realistically, especially if you’re not going to use light as the days get shorter because you have other birds molting.
Then there’s the issue of getting chicks. We prefer to have our broodies hatch out eggs, but this does wreak havoc with the system, because, as the schedule shows above, our hens don’t go broody until late April, usually. Most breeders hatching out chicks to sell in February are using incubators (not that this is a problem, just an observation). But if you’re buying chicks, you’re into the conundrum of straight-run (where you can’t predict how many hens you’ll end up with, so need double the number of chicks as you want hens and you’ll end up with roosters to pass on or raise to eat) or sexed (where boy-chicks, if you’re ordering from a hatchery, are killed at a few days old). Anyway, the point is (I know you know this already), you can’t necessarily just buy the number of chicks that you want in your “band”.
Sorry for the long comment, but I just wanted to flesh out the realities for those who haven’t been down this joyful road of chicken keeping and are looking ahead. I started eating chicken after 20 years as a vegetarian once I started keeping chickens because it just became so clear that there is a regular pattern of “surplus” birds, and the highest use for them is for food (whether for others or dogs, or whatever; doesn’t have to be YOUR food). Not only are eggs seasonal food, but the meat is part of the natural cycle too.
Just as a last note, we don’t bother with lights in the coop in winter. We find those first-year layers don’t need it, and the older ones aren’t laying anyway. There are lots of opinions on the lighting issue though!
Great points, Toni. Like most urban chicken keepers, roosters aren’t an option for me, so chick purchases are decoupled from broodiness. This rotation does necessitate purchased chicks or artificially incubated eggs, it’s true. If we were looking at a 50 or 100 bird flock with a few roos to keep the whole thing internally sustaining, I wouldn’t set up my rotation like this.
I have had exactly one bird go really broody. Like, broody enough that she’d hatch a fertile clutch. Occasionally we get a bird who sits on a clutch for like 3 days, but then she moves on. So I have not noticed a real problem with broodiness in the birds we’ve had. Now I’ll admit here that I’m actually quite fond of the Red and Black Sex Links – we’ve found them docile, productive, and quiet. Very pleasant birds in the flock, but as you know, a highly bred bird with no interest in becoming a mom. If I was raising just banties and buffs I’d probably be singing a different tune.
The ethical issue of hatchery birds is kinda a separate thing, probably deserving of its own post, but my feeling is that most urban chicken keepers are buying sexed female birds. I agree that it would be ethically better to raise straight run and send the boys to freezer camp, but that’s impossible for many chicken-keepers for legal, space, and other reasons. There are always trade-offs in this space, it’s true. The issue is messy.
Thanks for your insights!
Ah! Sex-links! That explains a lot. Excellent.
Good article Erica, and great site overall. And Toni, I share a similarity, after 16 years of a vegetarian lifestyle, I am looking into butchering skills for the aging birds in my flock. In my mind home raised food and livestock is infinitely better than industrial, and ultimately consuming my birds sidesteps my concerns with industrial agriculture the same way foregoing its products so many years ago did.
I’ve been mulling this over… I get Bennie and the Chicks (Jets) and Freebirds (obvious…) But where does Lay Ladies Lay come from??? I thought I was more up on my classic rock that that!
Vicki Byers says
Sorry benny and the chicks (elton john)
No, heh. I got it. I meant the orginal song was Benny and the Jets. I was labeling the original songs, not bands. 🙂
Vicki Byers says
Great article, love the humor but love the down to earth chicken management cycles. I have been looking at getting 12 chicks to start my flock but might look at only 4 to 8 to start with. We are all part of the cycle of life and if we are not vegetarians it is important to raise our meat humanely and teach our children and grandchildren this important fact of life. thanks
Thank you! This is great information for those of us that daydream about chickens without ever having had to deal with the nitty gritty.
Since Livestock Protection Dogs came up earlier, I have a question: we have a Portuguese Water Dog, and I’m wondering how that would work if we ever did get hens (tiny city lot…).
PWDs are livestock dogs, but ours has never had any experience with chickens, except in passing.
Anyone have advice on introducing a flock when there’s already a dog in the family? (And a cat, but I would plan to treat her as a predator…)
Barb Stork says
I only got our first chicks last March, and we integrated them into a family with one 5-yr-old, bird obsessed Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and 2 adult cats (proven hunters of rodents and birds). We brooded the chicks in a spare bedroom so we were able to keep the door shut. The brooder also had a chicken wire “lid” on it, in the even that the cats got in there, and also to keep the chicks from getting out (by about 4 weeks, the could hop out when I was feeding or changing litter).
The cats were curious, but of course they also tried to “act” like they were disinterested (probably in the hopes that we’d let our guard down). The dog was way TOO interested. He would sneak in with us while we were tending the chicks and he really wanted in that brooder. He would have loved to have gotten a hold of one of those little chicks. They did survive chickhood and made it out to the coop at 8 weeks.
I let them out to free-range only under supervision at that time. The cats (1 in particular who is very naught all around) did like to stalk them, but I’d chase him off and make life unpleasant for him. By about 12 weeks, although he’d stalk them, he wouldn’t actually go after them anymore. I’d say by 20 weeks the cats pretty much ignored them.
The dog I simply had to train. I’d bring him out on a leash while they were free-ranging and make him sit and behave and give him treats. He seemed to settle down a lot as they grew bigger. They quit being such cute little squeaky things and turned into creatures about as big as him. At almost a year now, he goes with me every time I go out to the coop for feeding and egg collection and hangs out while they free range. He basically ignores them now – I caught him and a hen sharing a water bowl the other day (wish I’d gotten a picture of that!). He still freaks them out a bit when one of them realizes he’s sniffing her rear end.
I did get a younger, very flighty pullet about 2 months ago, and his interest was definitely piqued. She was smaller, and all that flapping, it was very exciting. Fortunately she has settled down a bit, and he has gotten used to her. I completely trust him out in the yard with the hens, but will definitely monitor him around chicks and smaller pullets, and because of his prey drive, I’ll probably never get bantams. They’re just to small and “chewable” looking.
Bottom line, its going to be one of those “it depends” scenarios. I would err on the side of caution and start with a lot of distrust in your dog and work slowly to the trust. And don’t give up if it looks bad at first.
I figured my last line of defense would be to crate the dog in a wire crate inside the coop and let him live out there until chickens became boring (basically desensitize him to them). Okay, maybe not live out there, but spend a good part of his day out there anyhow. 🙂 But in the end, we didn’t have to go that far.
Oh, and if you have a garage or some other space, I would recommend that for the brooder rather than in a “living” area, such as a spare bedroom or the family room. You will never be able to imagine the amount of dust that comes out of that brooder and settles on “everything”!
My oldest girl has an organic free range egg farm. They have a guardian dog. He is not a pet and lives with the chickens.
What breed does she have?
Thanks! That’s pretty much what I wanted to hear… My MIL has hens (on a small farm setting) and doesn’t think a dog could ever be trusted. I respect her, and even consider her an expert on a lot of things, but wanted an opinion from someone who’d actually tried it.
We’re planning to start our flock next spring so this is timely information for us. Since I want a small flock I’ll likely just add 2 or 3 per year (and hope none of the chicks are roos). Thanks so much for the well-written and informative post.
Any opinions on whether culling before, during or after a molt is best? Is there an impact one way or the other in terms of the quality or quantity of the meat?
Also, for those of you having trouble determining which birds are older/less productive I remember a section in one of my chicken books saying that you could inspect the ‘vent’ to determine age and egg productivity. I don’t have the details in front of me right now but can share them later today.
Steve DeLanghe says
I find so much information on this site. I would recommend it to all.
Very nice post as usual Erica.
We are doing the same thing with our chickens. The only problem we have is most hatcheries want an order of min 25 chicks if ordered before April. After April you can order 15 and that was more doable for me and my friend to share. Next time we will have to choose from the limited breeds the feed store brings and just add 5 each. This time we ordered black giants, cuckoo marans etc because we couldn’t find them at the store.
Our chicks will arrive end of May which will make them fall chicks. I have read that ordering fall chicks is wiser because they start laying in spring and go strong their first year without winter slowing them down after a few months. What do you thing about spring chicks vs fall chicks? Also the chance of getting broodies is higher that time and you might just get lucky and give them the chicks to raise.
So we will be doing the same rotations but adding in late summer instead.
I would love to hear any suggestions about this plan Do you think it might be more productive than adding in spring or not?
All the best from chicago
I meant our chicks will be summer chicks sorry ☺.
Fall chicks are what I read were better producing than spring chicks. We will be kind of in between this time which could be the worst ☺. I would love to hear experiences from people that have actually tried all them…
I picked up a replacement pullet in the Fall. Her hatch date was 6/1. I believe she started laying in early November, and I got pretty consistent 4 eggs/week from her all winter. I thought that pretty good considering she is an Ameraucana. But then we also don’t get very cold winters here in Seattle, I think only about 3 spells of 4-5 days where we were actually down into the 20’s. And I don’t use artificial light.
My spring chicks were Black Sex Link….got them in mid March and they started laying the beginning of August. They continued to lay like champs all winter, may 1 less egg per week from each of them.
Here in late February, with just my 3 hens, I’m getting 2-3 eggs a day.
Personally, I think its almost impossible to really predict what you’re going to get. So much depends on the breed of chicken, the severity of your weather, and then of course, even the different strains of a particular breed – the same breeds can be vastly different chickens from breeder to breeder, hatchery to hatchery. I’m going to be picking up a couple of new chicks in a month or so here, probably just from one of several local feed stores, and I’m making sure to find out which hatchery they get their chicks from so I can write it down for future reference.
Erica, how would I find someone to perhaps come to my home to cull older chickens without doing it myself? That’s my biggest hesitation to getting my old backyard flock. Thanks.
I have a root cellar, and my freezers are full, so this method looks to be the cats meow. This methodology obviates the 12 mo/year laying strategy. Does anyone see problems?
Karen @ On the Banks of Salt Creek says
We like getting chicks in August. Not as much of a choice but I feel like we kill two birds with one stone. The shorter daylight hours and their maturing to egg laying both happen at the same time.
So I could follow this schedule even though we get chicks in August ??
Thank you for providing so much information to help others. This is defiantly something we will have to consider in the near future. We’ve started with a purchase of 8 chicks of all 8 different breeds. They all impressed us with their start egg laying for Christmas. Unfortunately, our Husky snapped one day shortly after they started laying their eggs and killed 4 of them, which I’m still not over it and he knows it. I forgive him but I don’t trust him, can’t change his instinct. We ordered an additional 18 egg layers from all variety of breeds. I noticed that living a free ranging life for our hens resulted in daily production of eggs. These girls mean business, as soon as they r loose to free range, they are scraping away at all the landscape mulch and eating all day. We bought the white Cornish for meat production and I noticed only good results when used in a pressure cooker to make soup but not for BBQ. Did anyone ever notice a good breed for BBQ? I’ve tried the males of black jersey giant and barred rock on the grill at 4 months old and it was pretty good. Please let me know if anyone has any advise on the best BBQ.
As for saving eggs and freezing them, that’s a great idea! If I have any left overs, lol. This is not a issue for me. We also raise ducks & quails for egg production. Trying to improve our homestead lifestyle. New day, new ideas, the projects never end, lol.
Do I need a rooster for chickens to lay eggs?
Yes, Tricia, before your chickens will begin laying, they must have had sex – there must be a rooster in the yard. It is the same as with humans. We all know that before a woman can get her first period, she must have had sex. It must be the sex that causes the eggs to move. Doncha figger?
No. You don’t need a rooster for your hens to lay eggs. They will just never develop a chick in them without a rooster.
How do you smoothly introduce new pulleys to a flock?
I’m about to get our first chickens, yay! We have a typical suburban setup so just wanted to start with a couple and add more next year, but the breeder I’ve been talking to said that hens can get very territorial and doesn’t recommend it.
Make sure you can identify the girls by age group. I alternate between feather colors. One year Delawares, the next a red variety, etc.
I loved this article when I read it last year, and again now. Last year, I had 4 to 6 birds, and wouldn’t have bought more. Because of the article I bought 4 Wyandottes. Did I miss seeing the suggestion I thought was there, or did I make it up? In order to tell the groups apart, I buy a bunch of one new breed each year. My flock had Americauna, Barred Rock, and one more (yellow) when I got the Wyandottes. Today I bought 3 Rhode Island Reds. I now have my three bands.
I am willing to cull, theoretically, but so far have never killed a chicken. (Except the very sick one that needed a mercy killing. I was very bad at it. I need to improve. I will have someone train me next time.)
I have recently stumbled upon two hidden caches of eggs. Three dozen about two weeks ago, and seven today. I was getting about four eggs a day before finding the hidden eggs, so I didn’t really expect them. These have been the best “easter egg” surprise ever. I think the tradition of easter eggs may have come from this sort of thing. Exciting!
Christian Eckhoff says
Great article. If you want to own chickens you must think about life cycle management before you buy chicks. People who buy some eggs from me often ask: “What do you do when they get old?” I don’t want to have a chicken sanctuary. And even if that is what you decide on there will be chickens that become sick or injured. It takes conviction to kill them, and even more conviction to slaughter and eat them. I have mastered the killing part okay. I put their feet in a noose and hang them upside down on a fence over a trash can. I hold the head and cut it off with a sharp knife. Sharp is really important to make the process fast and less unpleasant. The second part (butchering) I haven’t gotten involved in for a very simple reason. I can buy a $5 roast chicken (5 lbs!) at Costco. I simply don’t want to spend hours of unpleasant work under those circumstances. So I put the bodies in old layer feed bags and off they go with the trash, one a week.