How Many Eggs Will My Hens Really Lay?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Fred's Hens, Oct 18, 2011.

  1. Fred's Hens

    Fred's Hens Chicken Obsessed Premium Member

    With so many folks new to keeping hens, I've been contemplating writing this column for some time. Some new flock keepers seem awfully disappointed in their various chosen breeds. Some are surprised and shocked to discover that their hens, in the second year, go into moult and virtually stop laying. Others discover that shorter autumn days brings production to much lower levels, even to a virtual halt. Others are caught off guard, perhaps, of how poor laying can be in the dead of winter. I wonder how many threads have been started under the title, "When Are These Pullets Ever Going To Start Laying?" The answer, of course, is simple. When their bodies tell them to start and not a day sooner.

    Chickens Aren't Vending Machines Speckled Hen gets credit for that quote, and I agree. I should disclose, I suppose, that I assisted in keeping chickens for my grandmother in mid-1950's and began to be responsible for my own flock in 1959 or 1960. (the memory fades). You can do the math as to my age. [​IMG] Just make sure you do it using Chicken Math so I'll only be in my 30's.

    If the flock is populated mainly by pullet-year Red Sex Links, commercial strains of Leghorns, production reds, ISA's, certain 'Lorps or certain Barred Rocks you can be pleasantly surprised just how well they lay in that pullet year. You can get spoiled by that seemingly consistent supply of 6 eggs, per hen, per week and begin to imagine this as the new normal. But even those hens will go into moult their second autumn if not before. Production can slow dramatically the second and third years. Soon, such a hen is only laying every other day, and that means 180 eggs per year, not the nearly 300 she once laid. Some breeds are notorious for virtually taking every winter off. They may as well have gone to Florida for the winter and played Canasta.

    Other breeds are simply not "wired" to lay more than 3 eggs per week, or 150 eggs per year. Plus, once you deduct moult days, poor stretches, or even times of turning broody, that annual number can easily fall to something akin to 120 eggs or less per year. Flock keepers do "chicken math" about the egg laying too, not just about buying more chicks to raise. Just because a hen lays 4 eggs per week in spring doesn't mean she is truly a 200 egg per year layer. In all honesty, if accurate charting is done, after deducting all the off days, for all the reasons there are off days, (winter, moulting, predator scare, brooding, soft shell or broken shell days) she may well be a 180 egg per year hen or even less.

    We flock owners also suffer from amnesia. If a hen lays for two days and takes off a day as her routine, we can have in mind that she is laying very, very well, and quite likely, she is! We forget about all those off days. But a hen that lays two out of three days is not likely to lay more than 220 eggs per year, at best.

    More experienced flock keepers find a big, knowing grin spreads across our faces as we read excited and proud new posters exclaim, usually in defense of or in support of a breed they were fortunate enough to have chosen, "My (fill in the blank) lays an egg everyday for me" We cannot help but smile, and inwardly chuckle just a little bit because we know, of course, that no hen lays an egg everyday or that person should absolutely call the poultry press or alert the media because we would have some real news! What the proud poster means, of course, that right now their favorite breed of hen that they own is laying very, very well. I've had ISA's lay 40 to 50 in a row and turn around and do it again. But even an ISA or production strain of Leghorn won't lay everyday, ie 365 eggs per year. The best these hens will lay is 330+ eggs per year, thus, not laying almost 35 days per year. Chicken math is a funny thing. Oh, and even that quality layer will not, can not keep that rate of production up in the out years.

    Some folks take on a "heritage" breed, perhaps to take part in perpetuating the old breed and then are quite disappointed to find the laying is sub-par. In all honesty, it may only be sub-par to one's expectations not sub-par to the heritage breed's intended dual purpose ability. If the old breed was bred to serve also as a full bodied, eight pound meat bird as well it is only reasonable that we not expect the egg production of a tiny, 3 pound lithe of a Leghorn or ISA.

    Indeed, chickens are not vending machines. My gentle suggestions might include the following. Enjoy chickens for all the reasons you do beside the eggs. Their entertainment value is high. The compost they produce is invaluable to an organic gardener such as myself. They provide meat, if you eat the birds or donate them to a someone who is in need of food. The pictures on your walls are there to please you, to bring to your mind joyful, peaceful or inspiring thoughts. Likewise, chickens provide other tangible and intangible benefits besides the eggs. Learn to "count" those blessings as well as counting the eggs.

    If you are serious about operating economically or with a business edge to your enterprise, you'll have to have your knowledge base in place. Be realistic about the breeds you choose and keep meticulous records as to your feed, electricity, and bedding costs. Keep strict accounting on your egg production and use real math, not chicken math.

    I do not expect my more heritage type birds to compete one-on-one with my ISA's and Bovans.
    Thus, I have two flocks, really. One flock is stocked with production birds. That is a business and it can be no other way. But the other flock is for enjoyment, eye candy and yard art. They please me. I am a small scale organic farmer. There is a need for the farm to be profitable. I do not overly apply anthropomorphic traits to the birds. I rather prefer they remain chickens. My chickens are not my pets, but I am rather affectionate to them and they bring much to the fabric of my life. So, it is a balance. A balance that , at this point in my life, I enjoy very, very much.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2011
    2 people like this.
  2. ChickensAreSweet

    ChickensAreSweet Heavenly Grains for Hens

    Very nicely written.
     
  3. Fred's Hens

    Fred's Hens Chicken Obsessed Premium Member

    Quote:Thank you, you're kind to say so.
     
  4. JodyJo

    JodyJo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I 2nd that...very nice....ever consider sending it to Backyard Poultry for publication?
     
  5. Fred's Hens

    Fred's Hens Chicken Obsessed Premium Member

    Quote:JodyJo

    No, not really. Feel free to do so. [​IMG] I need an agent. [​IMG]
     
  6. JodyJo

    JodyJo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Fred's Hens :

    Quote:JodyJo

    No, not really. Feel free to do so. [​IMG] I need an agent. [​IMG]

    lol......they are always looking for articles and photos...I do this for a magazine called "The Fencepost", photos and stories...pays for gas!​
     
  7. Marcymom3

    Marcymom3 Chillin' With My Peeps

    That was wonderful! Thank you for the wise advice. [​IMG]
     
  8. Eggcessive

    Eggcessive Chicken Obsessed Premium Member

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    Great post. I always enjoy reading what you have to say, and very helpful to newcomers. There are certain people who post here regularly, and you are one whose advice I would always follow.
     
  9. Maggiesdad

    Maggiesdad Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Well said! [​IMG]

    And my girls said, "Thank you!" [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  10. Fred's Hens

    Fred's Hens Chicken Obsessed Premium Member

    Chickens Don't Really Lay For Us Anyhow

    I recently read someone here on BYC who said, in effect, "God made the Jungle Fowl, man made the chicken."

    That is good insight to the process of domestication. This truism also provides insight as to the purpose of a chicken laying eggs. It is good to remember that chickens do not lay eggs for us. Actually, the egg is not particularly intended as food at all, except for the embryonic chick being formed. The reason a hen lays an egg is to reproduce. We need to realize, I suppose, that a chicken's urge and need to reproduce would only require it to lay one successful clutch per year. If a hen laid a dozen eggs, of which she succeeded in bring forth 8 viable chicks, she would likely have done her biological duty to her species.

    If she laid two clutches per year, climate permitting, and hatched out 16 or 18 of her kind, she would be doing so because her species required her to be just that prolific. Since the chicken is nowhere near the top of the food chain, nature no doubt requires a hen to lay somewhere around two dozen eggs per year, for propagation of the species. It is unlikely that many more than that is required. Some "breeds" of chicken obviously inherited the capacity to do far more, however.

    Enter the domestication process. A process that in some degree has been going on for almost 4000 years. Through the keeping of chickens, and through selective breeding, the explosion of poultry science in the 19th century, and the discovery of dietary requirements, the domesticated chicken began to be bred to produce more and more eggs. Cross breeding, poultry association contests, and the establishment of breed standards all served to push the chicken to higher levels. The discovery of Vitamin D and its function in the early 1920's was huge. Poultry science was coming of age. The use of technology, including massive artificial incubators and brooders changed the nature of chicken reproduction and the production of chickens for the first time in 3900 years. Breeding was achieving lay rates of astounding success. The world wide poultry industry was exploding. The discovery by Thomas Edison in how to harness electricity allowed for new found studies in the photo reactive nature of a hen, how it is production could be ramped up, even during winter, through the introduction of artificial lighting, things never before done. The world's population was exploding, life expectancy was growing and the need for more food was ever increasing.

    Still, there would be more to come in the fields of genetics and further knowledge of dietary requirements. The modern "meat bird" varieties almost spelled doom of the dual purpose bird. What with hyper layers on one hand and hyper growing meat breeds on the other, what would become of the old standby, dual purpose chicken?

    When I was a young man, keeping flocks, a meat bird meant a standard White Rock or that new Delaware bird and a "layer" meant you kept Leghorns. There was no CornishX. I had heard of barnyard mixes and mutts, but had never heard of a specialty hybrid. Who could have imagined that birds would be "patented" and seen as a genetic commodity? I had never heard of the Institut de Selection Animale, nor Hubbard, Hi-Sex, Bovan, Shaver, DeKalb, Babcock or any other of the "genetics" conglomerate.

    Which brings us full circle to what we enjoy in our "backyard" flocks. If all we genuinely cared about was eggs, eggs and more eggs, then we would stack up cages in our garages and fill them with Leghorns or other commercial layers. I suspect we have other goals in mind, whether we are interested in chickens as part of a natural, organic, sustainable agriculture endeavor or whether some of us just like the chicken as a pet. After all these years, the lowly chicken still amazes me. I am in awe of their abilities and attributes. There is something about husbandry that can bring out the best in us. A wise old guy once told me, "Never trust a guy that dogs don't like".

    Although I have a few earned degrees in human behavioral sciences, I suspect that old guy was on to something, at least. For many of the same reasons I garden and enjoy growing plants and harvesting the produce of those labors, husbandry adds an important dimension to life. It's about caring for a flock. I suspect it helps bring out the best in me. It challenges me. It is earthy and basic and human. Some things not easily experienced in our modern, techno world any other way. I reflect on these things and do not take them for granted.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2011

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