Chickens have long been an irreplaceable part of the family farming scene. For hundreds of years, chickens have been raised and kept for their ability to lay eggs and to provide meat. Today, most farms have at least a small flock of chickens scratching around the farm yard, and still other farmers make the majority of their living on chickens. Whatever the size of your flock may be, if you have laying hens, chances are that you will want to take each and every opportunity to help your hens improve their egg laying efficiency and production.
Egg laying cycles in chickens are governed by the amount of light in the day. For chickens, their production cycle declines when the daylight hours drop below 14 hours. Many egg producers have found that keeping a light on their hen houses and chicken tractors during the winter and artificially extending the hours in the day is an effective way to keep chickens laying and therefore, a profitable enterprise. “We look at our laying hens as a business,” said Dawnell Holmes, owner of Real Farm Foods in Norwood, Mo. “We don’t just have 300 or 400 pet chickens running around. We choose to light our birds through the winter months to help keep our girls laying to keep up with the high demand for local, pastured eggs.”
Good feed conversion ratios are an important part of any livestock enterprise. A chicken requires about 3.5 to 5 pounds of feed to lay a dozen eggs, depending on the nutrient density of the feed. “We also keep a mineral rich, nutrient dense feed in front of the girls,” Holmes said. She noted that this has been essential to both the production of their hens and to marketing their eggs. To get closer to lowering your feed costs, while still meeting your flock’s nutritional needs for efficient egg laying, it is also beneficial to look for alternate and essentially free food sources, such as grass, weed seeds, insects, grubs and even fungi.
Getting plenty of vitamin E will certainly help your flock keep their laying up to par. Lack of vitamin E leads to troublesome and costly problems like cannibalism, feather picking and egg eating, which drastically reduces productivity for folks in the egg business. Having access to some type of pasture setting for hens to scratch and peck in can alleviate this issue – the chickens will pick up vitamin E from microorganisms in the soil.
Successes in keeping up your flock’s egg laying efficiency stems from creating a good environment from the start. Keeping diseases and health issues away from your hens, providing them with plenty of space per bird, and giving them opportunities to get outdoors can improve egg productivity immensely – and keep the hens in a good mood as well. “Buy from healthy flocks,” said Jess Lyons, from the Division of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri, “and provide fresh water and a happy environment.”