Managing a layer flock (replacement options and stress and impact on laying)

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by iheartrunners, Jan 25, 2017.

  1. iheartrunners

    iheartrunners Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 28, 2016
    Eastern Ontario (Canada)
    I'm trying to decide what method would be best for having 50-100 layers.

    1. Would it be best to hatch out my total desired number of layers each year and sell/process the year old layers once the new ones hit laying age (housed separately until year olds are removed/sold).

    2. Or hatch out half the desired number of layers each year and every second year sell/process the 2 year old layers.

    I'm worried about disrupting the pecking order every year by introducing a lot of new chickens and removing half. Do you find introducing new chickens disrupts the pecking order and therefore causing stress affects their laying?

    The first method has the benefit of having layers at their peak production, but requires more hatcher/brooder/grow-out space.

    The second method means less space for hatcher/brooder/grow-out space, but means I have half of the flock being "less productive" the second year, and also involves stress from continual introduction of new stock.

    What method would you recommend?

    Thanks for you insight!
  2. PapaBear4

    PapaBear4 Out Of The Brooder

    Feb 25, 2014
    Integration on that scale should go pretty smoothly I would think. More birds = less chance of getting singled out. Might disrupt production a bit for a week or two, but probably not much longer than that.
    My preference would be for option #2, for two main reasons.
    1) In high production breeds your egg ROI is going to trend up until you hit that 2-year point. Processing at 1- year seems like an awful lot of eggs to not get.
    2) Processing 100 stew hens annually requires a lot of customer coordination and/or freezer space. I much prefer doing more frequent smaller batches.

    But that's me.

    Great to see someone scaling up for production! Best of luck to you!

    No Clucking Around
    1 person likes this.
  3. iheartrunners

    iheartrunners Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 28, 2016
    Eastern Ontario (Canada)
    Thanks for you input and your well wishes :)

    It's been a lot of work figuring out the logistics of a bigger scale! Going from 20 to 100 will be interesting! From breeder stock, to brooder/grow-out space to layer space to pasture rotation etc etc etc! It's really exciting though!

    I was leaning toward option 2 myself for much the same reasons you mentioned. It would alleviate many of the problems with finding/building enough space to house them all when growing up. (Cause it's just unused space for the other 7 months of the year! so I'm looking for most efficient use of space) Planning on breeding heritage breed - likely Sussex as they are a good egg producers for heritage. And possibly crossing with a heritage RIR roo for the layers (should yield an even better layer - we'll see, it's all an experiment!) Not sure how they compare Year 2 compared to the "commercial" layers. But a few years should give me a good idea of the trend. And I can adjust or change as necessary.

    I thought the same thing about "integration" of larger numbers, but it's nice to hear someone else who thinks the same thing. :)

    Thanks again!
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    One expense I didn’t see was feeding the pullets until they reach laying age. That can be a pretty big expense you need to minimize.

    You are talking about a small scale commercial operation so you can’t follow exactly what the big boys do. But you can try to steal a few ideas and see if they might work for you. The big boys have several different hen houses on different schedules to manage the flow of eggs. They raise a flock of pullets specially bred laying hybrids and by manipulating lights and feed control when they start to lay. Those pullets/hens have a certain laying curve, it quickly rams up to peak production and over time slowly declines the longer they lay. Once production gets down to an unprofitable level, say around 60% of the hens are laying, they have to make the decision to replace them or force a molt to bring production back up. This laying cycle is usually in the range of 13 months, but it can vary some. Production after the first adult molt is usually pretty good and they often decide to feed them during the molt. It probably costs less than feeding a new batch of pullets and the eggs after the first molt are normally larger and high quality. After the second adult molt production drops enough they practically always get rid of the hens and replace them with pullets.

    I try to replace half my layers every year. I don’t find it disruptive at all, but I raise those pullets with the flock. They are integrated when they are very young as chicks, either from hatch with broody hens or in a brooder in the coop and an attached Grow-out coop. On your scale you probably can’t do that. Because of the cost of feed, you’ll probably want the laying hens to eat Layer with the higher calcium level, and feed the growing pullets something else low calcium but probably a bit more expensive.

    Another thing. Whether you replace your older flock annually or use a two year cycle, I would not get rid of the older hens when the younger ones start to lay. Pullet eggs are smaller and probably not worth a much. Plus you’ve fed those older hens, either as pullets or if you choose to feed them through their first molt. You have a lot of cost in feed invested in them and they should be laying a lot of really nice eggs. If you go this route it mean you will have a lot of eggs after the pullets start to lay and before the older ones slack off. I don’t know if your marketing can handle that.

    There are a lot of reasons smaller operations just can’t match the efficiency of those huge operations. But if you can find a niche market so you can charge more for your eggs, you might do OK.
    1 person likes this.
  5. junebuggena

    junebuggena Chicken Obsessed

    Apr 17, 2015
    Long Beach, WA
    You get the best egg production in the second summer of a hen's lifetime. And if you process them all each year, that means you have to start all over every spring, and that means 6 months without any eggs at all.
    I'd get 50 this year, then another 50 next spring. Then sell what you can and process the ones that don't sell in the fall. I also suggest alternating breeds so that you know exactly how old they are, like red sexlinks first followed by black sexlinks. If you stick with one breed, it can be difficult to keep track when they all look the same.
    1 person likes this.
  6. iheartrunners

    iheartrunners Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 28, 2016
    Eastern Ontario (Canada)
    Great advice everyone! Lots to consider... Thanks :)

    I'm definitely leaning towards the 2 year cycle (always seems to work out that your original idea/plan is the best one!) Seems simpler in so many ways. I think I may have over thought the affects of integrating new birds. I'm planning to start my breeder flock early this spring in hopes of having their offspring layer pullets laying by end of September-ish. Then next spring hatch the second half of the layers.

    Just need to calculate all the feed costs/storage, housing sizes etc. for the new dedicated chicken barn. (I'll be moving my existing flock into their own pen in there to keep them separate from the business end of the chicken wing haha! ;)
  7. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Chicken Obsessed

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    I knew a woman that raised a flock like what you are talking. She gave me a lot of good advice when I got started. She kept a rather long shed, attached to a run that could be divided in half, so when she was starting new chicks, they had one side, as the got older, she took down the partition and had a bigger space for the one flock. I like the idea of different breeds, different years. If people are buying home grown eggs, they often like a little variety in the egg colors.

    However, if I was going for eggs, consistent egg production, I would not do dual purpose birds or heritage breeds if you are not planning on keeping them for years. I think you want egg laying birds. Hybrids are going to give you more eggs for your money. However, remember if you want a few heritage birds in the flock, that will not be a problem. Then you can have both, great eggs and some pretty chickens.

    Mrs K
  8. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon
    There are so many threads on integration, one can really get overwhelmed and think it's always got to be a huge production to change any bird in any flock, ever.

    That's not my experience at all.

    Most of those are folks with small, what I'd call micro flocks, contained as a single unit where they never see another bird. Then, someone dies or they want more birds, so they add 1-2 new birds, usually younger. Chances are, the space was maxed out to start with. So, yeah, things go poorly for the new birds.

    Larger groups, it's not the same thing. A larger flock is going to have smaller cliques within itself already. Adding 20 birds to 50 birds should be much of a non-event, if there's enough space and resources available. I mean, sure, you're going to get "Who are you? I don't know you! You're going to eat MY food? I don't think so....I'm gonna kick your butt!" the newbie freaks out and runs away. Older hen says "Yeah, you better run!"....then decides she has much more pressing business elsewhere, cause who wants to spend all that effort chasing a little punk around?

    that's how my group to group mergers seem to go. Once in a while, one particular young bird just won't back down. Well, then I just let them sort it out. they've all got to live together, one way or another. I've not had a bird, being basically the same age and with enough space, seriously injured or harassed to the point where I had to pull the bird out.
    2 people like this.
  9. iheartrunners

    iheartrunners Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 28, 2016
    Eastern Ontario (Canada)
    Thanks @donrae - very reassuring! and hilarious! Hahaha!! [​IMG] I definitely feel better about the whole thing.
  10. Folly's place

    Folly's place True BYC Addict

    Sep 13, 2011
    southern Michigan
    Reading this has been very interesting! I wonder if a three year cycle makes any sense? Replace a third of the flock every year, rather than half? I have no experience with this sort of management, having some birds who stay forever, and broody raised chicks, and heritage breeds, so I'm really just curious. Are you planning to buy chicks, or brood your own replacements? Mary

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