How to Ensure a Year-Round Supply of Eggs
Eggs at your local grocery store are available 12 months out of the year, so it’s no surprise that the average person might not realize that chickens don’t actually lay eggs January through December. At least not at the rate we might see in Springtime. One challenge many chicken keepers face is how to keep their supply of eggs coming in year-round, especially if you have eager customers who are wanting your farm fresh eggs in November just as badly as they want them in May.
One consideration you might want to think about is if you want to encourage egg-laying naturally to allow them to have an annual break, or use supplemental light to speed up egg laying during their normal resting periods.
My best tip for ensuring a consistent supply of eggs is to always have new chickens coming in. Chicken Keepers refer to this as chicken math, but I call it egg security. If you can brood chicks early in the year, they will mature and begin laying around August/September, right when most of the older members of the flock are ramping down for the year. Oftentimes, these newer chicks will skip the molting process that first year (which can slow or even stop egg production), providing eggs to you while your senior hens are taking a break.
The breeds that you choose to keep can have a big impact on your year-round egg supply. Golden Buffs, for instance, will lay 395 eggs in their first 18 laying months, so keeping a few of this breed and other high production breeds in your flock rotation will be helpful. You will also want to choose breeds that do not tend to go broody such as the White Leghorn, Cream Legbar, or Lakeshore Egger. If you already have breeds that go broody, you can try to break their broodiness by promptly removing eggs from the nest and relocating her to a temporary location with a wire floor so that airflow can move under her.
A higher protein feed can be helpful in keeping egg production up and can also get your flock through the molting process (and back to egg laying) quicker. We recommend around 27% protein such as this all-flock poultry crumble during those times when egg production is not at its peak.
Keep them healthy and stress-free
A good farmer will tell you that a stressed animal will not be productive, and that’s true. You can implement every one of these methods but if you do not provide a clean living space, adequate nutrition, and minimize stress in your flock, egg production will suffer.
Many of us have been there. It’s late fall or early winter and the egg basket is just too low, or even empty, for too many weeks on end. You need something fast so that you can avoid the grocery store egg aisle walk of shame. This is where adding a supplemental light in the darker months of the year can be extremely beneficial. Contrary to popular belief, egg production is largely based on the length of daylight, not the season or temperature outside.
Your hens will naturally produce more eggs when they are exposed to at least 14 hours of light per day. Many people find that adding supplemental light in the early hours of the day rather in the evenings works better for them. Just remember that it can take a week or two for the effects of the supplemental light to produce results. The wattage and type of bulb do not usually matter, but if you are not getting the results that you want, experiment with different types of lighting and see what works best.
Some questions to ask yourself when making this decision might be:
- Do you keep chickens as pets as well as for eggs or do you plan to transition out older hens who are past their prime egg laying years? If you plan to let your hens live out their retirement years on your homestead then you might prefer to use a more natural strategy in keeping that egg supply up.
- Is there a limit on the number of chickens you can keep? If you are restricted to a limited number of chickens where you live, you might not be able to get new chicks each year to keep up egg production.
- How big is your coop? One concern when you provide lighting when it is dark outside is exposing your flock to nighttime predators. You are going to want to keep them inside to keep them safe, but this can leave you with chickens that are wide- awake with nothing to do inside of the coop. If your space inside is more conducive to sleeping, this option might not be for you.
Personally, I have used a combination of methods from both categories above. Based on your personal circumstances and what’s going on during different stages of your chicken keeping ventures, you might find that you need to add light one year and that it isn’t necessary the next. Be sure to check out this handy tool for tracking egg production for your flock.
Learn More About Additional Light & Seasonal Shifts On Our Podcast, The Coop!
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