How to Raise Chickens for Eggs
Once you get used to eating fresh eggs, there's no going back to store-bought. Raising chickens for eggs isn't difficult, and even a few hens can provide you with plenty of eggs for your own use. You don't need a rooster for your hens to lay eggs. He's only necessary if you want to raise your own chicks. If you live in the city or suburbs, make sure zoning regulations permit keeping hens.
Start out by purchasing breeds specifically developed for egg production. While all hens lays eggs, those bred for meat production don't produce as many eggs as the best laying types. Dual-purpose birds, bred for meat and eggs, are fair egg producers. Other considerations include egg color, bird temperament and climate suitability. Some breeds don't do well in extremely hot or cold regions. Top producers include the Leghorn, which lays white eggs, but can be too flighty for beginners. Others include the Rhode Island Red, the Plymouth Rock or the barred rock, all brown egg layers. Choose the Araucana or an Araucana cross for bluish-green eggs.
Feeding Laying Hens
Feed your hens a commercial diet designed for laying hens, usually containing between 16 and 18 percent protein. The feed should be age appropriate, so that pullets -- young female birds not fully grown -- receive a growing ration with a higher protein content. Transition them to an egg-laying feed as they age. Have feed available at all times. If your hens free range, they'll happily consume bugs, worms, seeds and tiny pebbles -- the latter important for gizzard health. If they stay confined, provide them with oyster or calcium shell supplements, which serve the same purpose. Hens always should have fresh water available.
When choosing a hen house, allow for between 2 to 3 square feet of space per hen. Provide the hens with roosts, along with nest boxes, filled with straw, hay or shavings. You don't need to provide one box for each hen if you have a larger flock, but try to have at least one box for every four chickens. Clean the nest boxes daily. Make sure no predator, whether wild or domestic, can enter the hen house or any chicken run. Use proper chicken wire for any run or cage, as predators can get through larger mesh openings.
Egg production depends on the age of the hen and the time of year. Pullets generally start laying between the ages of 4 to 6 months, depending on breed. Expect young hens to lay an egg almost daily during peak season. Once a hen reaches the age of 3 or 4, her production slows considerably, and she's eventually a "spent" hen. Even though older hens still might produce the occasional egg, the laying becomes erratic. If you want hens to lay year-round, you must provide light in the hen house during the late fall and winter months, so that hens enjoy 14 to 16 hours of natural and artificial light daily.