What kind are the best layers?
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For pure production you can't beat the white leghorn - there is a reason they are the bird of choice for commercial farms -- they are egg laying machines and they are extremely efficient at feed conversion, especially in comparison to larger, heavy breeds. If brown eggs are what you are looking for I would suggest looking into red or black sex links (sold as cinnamon queen, red star, black star, golden comet, etc) -- they hatch with male and female being obvious by down color, making mistaken sex identification a non-issue and red sex links are the most common brown layer used in commercial production.
Age at the point of lay will depend on breed -- the commercial strains will mature more quickly (laying as early as 16 weeks, with 18-22 being most common) and other breeds maturing anywhere from 18-30+ weeks. Generally speaking, the heavier the breed (think standard cochin, brahma, etc) the longer they take to mature and begin to produce.
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For white eggs, Leghorns are the most prolific. For brown eggs, red or black sexlinks can't be beat, but they burn out after their second summer. Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, Production Reds, or Australorps will be better producers in the long run. They average about 4 to 6 eggs a week for the first 2 years, and they will continue to produce 3 to 5 eggs a week for at least 3 to 5 years.
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You do not need a rooster to get eggs from a hen. Roosters are good to have if you want fertile eggs (so you can hatch your own chicks) and they do provide some level of protection against predators but they are not necessary to get eggs.
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Leghorns are lightly built, scrawny birds, so they don't make for a good dual-purpose breed. No animal, bird or mammal, requires the presence of male to ovulate (essentially what laying an egg is for chickens). It's kind of like saying to a woman that she needs a man around in order to menstruate. They will lay eggs whether there is a rooster present or not. They can also go broody without a rooster.
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