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Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Mskayladog, Oct 12, 2012.
I'm planning next years flock. And would like some input thanks.
I only know this. If you want birds that stay productive for many, many years, the better the breeding, the slower they develop in the first place. We have, for example, some heritage, true bred, old line Barred Rocks. I'll compare them to the typical, utility, hatchery type Barred Rocks we also have. The typical utility stock feathers out in 5 weeks. The HBR took almost 12 weeks to feather out. The utility BRs started laying at 20-22 weeks. The HBR may take as long as 7 or 8 months.
Slow everything down in development. A bird that is slow will be steady for a longer period of time. Strains and breeds that are selectively bred to feather quickly, mature quickly, lay lots and lots of eggs in a hurry? Well, such strains cannot be both the sprinters they are and still finish a 26 mile marathon, if you get my drift?
There are no breeds that will meet that criteria. If you manipulate the light and keep them laying for two solid years, they will all burn out. They really do need some rest, which molting provides.
That's probably not what you meant although I'm not 100% sure I know exactly what you meant. There really are several different ways to take that question. I'll try a few different approaches and maybe one will come close to what you mean.
Chickens go through a cycle. They lay pretty well when pullets. After their first adult molt they again lay really well and the eggs are a little bigger. After each adult molt other than their first, a flock will reduce egg laying by about 15%. There are plenty of exceptions to this. Individual hens can vary a whole lot from this 15%, but if you have enough hens for averages to mean anything, a large flock will average about 15% fewer eggs after their second adult molt and every adult molt after that.
Heredity influences this. Forget about breeds. Breeds really are not that important in regard to this. Strain is important, not breed. I’ll try to explain what I mean by that.
Some people think that one chicken of a specific breed is identical to any other chicken of that same breed. Not anywhere close to true. By selective breeding (choosing your breeding birds for specific traits) you can reinforce certain traits or eliminate other traits. But if you don’t reinforce certain traits, they can be lost in a couple of generations. If you are breeding birds for show, you are normally breeding for the right eye color, the right number of points on a comb, skin color, body shape, size, and conformation, correct colors and pattern. All the things the judge will see and evaluate. Judges don’t see eggs so eggs are probably not that important to someone breeding for show.
If you select your breeders from birds that lay large eggs early and often the first year of they lay, you will wind up with a flock of chickens that pretty much lay large eggs early and often their first year of laying.
If you select your breeders from birds that have good longevity of lay, which seems to be what you are looking for, you will eventually wind up with birds that lay well in their later years. This does not mean they will lay well their first season if you have not been selecting for that. It means they will probably lay well in later years. Of course, some people may select for both traits. Those are really hard to find.
All three of the flocks I just described may be the same breed, but their laying habits may be totally different. It purely depends on what traits people are selecting for and how good they are at selecting their breeders.
The commercial laying birds are hybrids, not breeds. They have been specifically developed to lay really well their first season and then be replaced. They are not bred for longevity. So they have a tendency to burn out. Another problem with them is that they are small birds and they are bred to lay large eggs. After a molt the eggs get bigger. They can have medical problems caused by those large eggs in their small body. Those are probably not your best choice. Several hatcheries (not all but several) sell these commercial egg layers as their sex links. Several people think sex links burn out because of this. Not true. They burn out because they got the sex links that were commercial egg layers. The sex links made from dual purpose birds don’t have this problem any worse than any other dual purpose bird.
Don’t count on a lot of help from hatcheries. Not all hatcheries are the same, but many select for hens that lay well their first year. They are in the business of selling chicks so they want chickens that will lay a lot of eggs that hatch well. Different hatcheries have different business plans but many will raise chicks to laying age during the off season and have pullets that lay a lot of eggs their first laying cycle. They are not as prolific as the commercial layers and the feed to egg conversion rate is not as good, but they are not bred for longevity of lay.
I have no idea how you will find someone that is breeding for longevity of lay. If that is what you really want, instead of trying to find a chicken that is bred to do that, I suggest you raise your chicks and manage your hens with that goal in mind. Realize as they get older they will lay less. That is just chicken nature.
How do you do this? When they are chicks, do not try to get them to grow as fast as you can. Feed them a balanced diet, but don’t go overboard on feeding them a lot of extra protein. For the first four weeks or so, give them a chick starter that has maybe 20% protein. After that, cut back to a grower that is somewhere around 16% protein. When they hit the preteen age, say 12 to 13 weeks, maybe cut back to a 15% protein. The goal is not to rush them into production as quick as you can. The goal is to allow their body and skeleton growth and maturity to match their weight gain.
When they start laying don’t cram as much protein in them as you can and don’t manipulate lights to get extra production out of them. They still need a balanced diet but they will do fine on a 15% to 16% protein feed. I think letting them forage for part of their food is great. They will get exercise and get some really nice vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. They will still lay really well that first year, but they won’t be laying the oversized eggs they get on a high protein feed that can strain their reproductive system.
Don’t go overboard feeding them fats either. You want a balanced diet. A fat obese plump hen is not necessarily a healthy hen. I’m quite happy when mine can run without waddling, though they still rock from side to side a bit.
Which breeds to get? It really doesn’t matter. Hatchery birds will be fine. Get a good dual purpose breed and raise them in a way to extend their productive life. It’s not the perfect solution but I think it is the most reasonable solution for you.
This is a longer post than I intended. Hopefully you can get something out of it that will help you. I really don’t think breed is that important to your goal as long as you get a chicken that should lay well. Very few people are breeding for longevity in lay, but if you think about it, chickens are not made that way. They have been domesticated to lay a lot of eggs early in life. They have not been bred for longevity of lay for thousands of years.
Thank you Ridgerunnerr, very informative. Answered my question, gave me lots to think about.
Wonderful information, and makes a tremendous amount of sense. Thank you for posting. I guess why should chickens be like any other animal we try to selectively breed. Takes time, patience, money, and a lot of observation and knowledge of your animal. Just like people are all different, so may chickens be. I am so new to the chicken world, but with my first example of my 5 breeds of hatchery chicks, I all ready can see the difference between the 2 of each breed I have, and also how different than their little description in the catalog they seem to be. I am so very intersted to see as I head into the cold weather, and them in their 11th week how the egg laying will be. They are my first little experiment flock, and even though I may see them burn out in 2 years, they are wonderful nonetheless, and I am thankful to them for teaching me.
To prevent early burnout, there are things a flock keeper can consider doing which seem to help in enabling a longer life.
Feed 15% Grower from week 12 until point of lay. Continuing to feed high protein after week 12 seems to speed them into POL. This would seem to be supported by the studies done in the commercial egg laying industry. Super high protein appears to enhance maturity at the expense of building the skeletal structure.
Don't light the birds during low light seasons. The chicken photo reacts to artificial light, causing them to stay in a constant state of high production. If a hen has the potential to lay 700 eggs in her career, you can decide, to a large degree, how fast you want her to lay those 700 eggs. Over 3 seasons? Over 4 or 5 seasons? Pushing laying hens to produce as many eggs as they can, as quickly as they can, is a matter of economics. How long do you wish to feed to achieve that number of eggs?
Maintain good feed, water and health conditions. The rest will depend upon the genetics of the birds.
To ridgerunner and Fred's Hens:
Thank you soooo much for your informative writing. This is just the kind of thing I needed to read. When I first found out that hens can quit laying after a couple years, I thought....Whaaaat? I have to do this all over again so soon? Then I told myself I'm sure it'll get easier as time goes on, but what about the emotional attachment you have for these birds and some people just put the worn out birds in the stewpot. I can't relate to stewpots for my little girls when I'm thinking scrambled eggs, custards, cakes, soufflés, etc. Just kidding (but not really), the cost of food to keep them around could get questionable.
It's definitely not breed dependent, per se. It's quality of breed as well as management, as Ridge and Fred have summarized for you.
I do not add extra light, not after having so darn many hatchery hens die from internal laying/egg yolk peritonitis. If it contributes to their issues at all, I certainly didn't want that, so no added daylight hours for my hens. The breeder quality hens don't seem to suffer from those malfunctions nearly as much as hatchery stock-better overall genetics.
I have BR hens who are 5 1/2 years old still laying. They are daughters of hatchery stock. I have a 5 1/2 year old hatchery Brahma who is laying about half the year still. I have Delawares who are almost 4 years old and rarely miss a day when not in molt. My 5 year old breeder quality Ameraucana hen is still laying 3 eggs per week. My almost 6 year old RIR/Buff Orp, both parents out of breeder stock, hen still lays 3 eggs per week when she isn't recovering from her yearly molt.
My very best layer of all is a BR hen named Fern who is almost 4 years old and she rarely misses a day, ever. Someone told me that was impossible at her age and trust me, I'm no liar. She is the daughter of a hatchery BR hen and was sired by a rooster who is the son of hatchery BR parents. She molts fast and gets back into production quickly. Right now, many are molting and off-production so out of 23 hens (a large percentage of whom are well over 4 years old) in the main flock, I may get only 3 eggs. Fern's huge speckled egg is always one of those.
You have a choice, get more eggs in the first two-three years and get a few for years after that or get a few for their whole lifetime. When they are laying well with light in the first 2-3 years, they can almost pay for themselves. Later on you have the choice of fewer eggs either way. I had a barred rock that was lighted for her whole life and still laid 3-4 eggs in her 8th year. Lighting is a personal choice, but I think the whole burning out thing is obsessed over here. It's a whole different thing as to whether you have chickens for eggs, breeding or for pets. I'll take they more eggs in the first few years, as it has worked for almost 20 years.
I wonder if you being in a slightyl warmer climate may attribute to this. What is your thoughts on that Specledhen?
I love your description of your chickens, especially Fern. She sounds lovely. I hope my Kate is like that. learning, learning, learning. Love it!
Here is Kate 11 weeks old.
Thanks for the information!