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Year-Round Laying From Your Chickens?!

 
Cassie Langstraat
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I just came across this amazing article by Erica Strauss of NWedible.com on Optimizing For Year-Round Laying From The Backyard Flock.


It made me super curious about this topic so I searched around permies but couldn't find anything about it.

SOO.. here I am starting it. Do any of you do this sort of rotation of different age groups of chickens so that you can have year round egg production?

Or do you have a different strategy?
 
Chad Dreyer
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Location: NWMO (Zone 5B)
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I've read so many books/articles about managing the flock that I gave up and just do what works for us. I have about 30 hens and a couple roosters. I let the girls go broody when they want to and we don't keep lights on in the Winter. We have several breeds (on purpose) and the oldest of the girls are two years old. We keep them in a coop with a large run and let them out to run the farm when I get home from work and lock them up at dark. The girls normally raise about 10-12 chicks to maturity on their own so we don't supplement with ordering new birds to keep the age demographics in balance. Once the oldest of my layers hit 4 years I'll start culling them for meat. I do get chick fever sometimes and will get a new breed just for the fun of it and I like to keep two different breeds of roosters around...just keep the ratio around 1 roo to doz hens and you should be good...they'll peck it out for a bit but will fall in their place before too long. I always learned more from asking others how they run their operation so I hope this helped a little.
 
Tina Paxton
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Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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I also did much reading and then decided to manage "al naturale" (that is Southern-Latin hehehe). Not artificial lighting in the winter (hens are born with a set number of eggs--they can lay them in two years or 4-6 years depending on how natural or commercial your operation), I have a mixed flock with no rooster...not that I wouldn't like to have a rooster--they are pretty and they protect the flock--but the one rooster I got was mean and I can't have a mean rooster around with an elderly mother living with me. So, no roosters. So far, I've not had to deal with a hen reaching the end of her useful (egglaying) life and I dread the day. My mother is not going to cotton to the idea of sending old hens to the stew pot...I guess they are just going to either live out their lives here or "disappear" I haven't decided yet. This is where the plan outlined in the article would fall apart for me -- culling the birds in their fourth year (or end of year 3) would become an issue....unless they can get "culled" to an old hen sanctuary somewhere.
 
Chad Dreyer
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Location: NWMO (Zone 5B)
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If you have a small flock I'd recommend having them "disappear" to keep your numbers in check otherwise your egg production will be so low that you'd be raising pet chickens and not producing any real outcome from the animal. Feeding an animal w/o a purpose is nice if you can afford it but in my neck of the woods if it doesn't have a purpose than it ends up in the freezer or worse. Sounds barbaric but to keep a productive farm you can't have critters eating out of your pocket book just to keep them around for enjoyment. However...I do keep my children around so who am I to judge!
 
Tina Paxton
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Yeah, I'm leaning toward "disappearances" as well. One good reason to have multiples of the same breed--makes it harder to identify individuals. So, I just need to keep about the same number of each breed.... Oh, which means...I need more buffs! yeah, me!
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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I've got a flock of about 35 layers and five roosters. I started with buffs, eggers, RIR, wyandottes, black australorps and black giants about 4 years ago. I allow any birds to brood that want to, though I choose the eggs and then set them up in a separate area to brood.. Buffs have been the best mothers followed by the austrolorps. I usually get about five or six hens that go broody each year and they each raise between 8 and 15 chicks. Half are male and they get culled as they mature unless they keep themselves in check. I'll tolerate a docile rooster as long as he's guarding the girls. Hens are culled in two waves. The first wave is older birds that have not been spending much time in nest boxes. They are usually 3 years old or so. They are kept around as long as there is plenty of forage but once I have to supplement with bought feed, it's the end of the line. This is more about keeping the flock at a certain number and in improving genetics but there's no sense in feeding a bird that won't lay. The second wave is any hen that don't live up to physical expectations. Foraging, weight and laying from first year birds should be strong and those that sit around waiting for food are likely going to be eaten. Lastly, mother nature is allowed her "take". A few chicks get scooped up by hawks or falcons each season. That's the price you pay for rodent control I guess.

So I guess that's my methodology more or less. This all occurs in a paddock rotation system with a few pigs if that matters in some way but here's my egg averages.

January-March 6-10 eggs/day
March-September 24-34 eggs/day
September-November 12-16 eggs/day
December-January 3-5 eggs/day

So at least I have enough to have eggs for the family and during the gluts I can sell some to cover winter feeding expenses. Anything that can't be sold is fed to the pigs.
 
Tracy Kuykendall
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We've always had multiple breeds, some seem to lay better than others through colder months and moult etc., we also keep some of the older breeds of bantams or game crosses for brooding and mothering. The older breeds do better than the layers at brooding but can be pain to keep. You just have to try until you find what works for you, I'm not sure where this rule of getting rid of hens after 3-4 yrs came from, I've had hens close to ten years old still producing an egg a day, not all but several, and we've always added new hens every year so that there would be a good mix and we wouldn't get caught with a pen full of chickens ready for the stew pot, but no eggs for breakfast.
 
Ty Morrison
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I am dubious of the whole set number of eggs and how long they will lay. My three girls (Brahmas) still lay eggs at three years of age, although we can go a month with none, then one a day. I am not satisfied with three and will go with the maximum eight this spring by adding five more chicks. I do keep two lights on in the winter for heat, as even the eggs freeze if I can't get them before the sun sets. For the price of a rotisserie chicken, I have a hard time eating such a hard working member of the farm! Same with my goats. If I had more and was farther from a grocery store, I would have a much better attitude.

Now how to acquire a taste for raccoon and fox!
 
Zach Sears
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I've only been keeping chickens since the spring. We received 8 chicks from a friend who hatched them herself. 6 of them turned out to be roosters leaving us with a good BBQ for us and our friends as well as a New Jersey Red and Buff Orphindgton. As soon as I butchered the roosters my girl/partner went out and bought 6 new chicks and after raising them to near maturity we integrated the flock slowly to avoid too much hen on hen violence. We keep them in a moveable coop or tractor if you will that allows them fresh grass as long as we move it often and we let them out from time to time. The new Australorp turned out to be a rooster that literally disappeared one day when we were both outside hanging out with our chickens. So we have 7 hens and 3 of which are mature enough to lay.

We get 2-3 eggs per day and I attribute it to buying two inexpensive solar led light strings that i fitted on the tractor up in the roost area. They switch on at dusk and stay lit just a few hours or a max of 6 on really sunny days, but usually if the sun is down by 5ish they're off by 9. I'm guessing our two Rhode Island Red's will start laying soon followed by the Barred Rock and the Americauna. The sex link is the other layer and since it started laying about a month ago it has missed maybe one day. I know Buff's and the New Jersey aren't prized layers (although they are good) but we're not experiencing any egg shortages due to winter.

We'll see what happens when they start to brood but by then I'll have probably built another tractor and have another group of about 8 birds starting to lay. I plan on doing a rotation every couple years in each tractor buying new chicks to experiment with different breeds. Sometime in the future maybe I'll start letting them raise their own chicks.
 
Zach Muller
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I agree with everyone that a set number of years for laying is indeed sillY as a rule. There might be a general correlation with some breeds and age, but I have one old hen ( don't know exactly but older than 5 years. ) who lays an egg a day even in the winter, unless she is raising babies. I have some other old hens who do an egg every other day, so combined with being eggcelent mothers they pull their weight.

I don't use supplemental light on purpose, but there is a lot of light pollution around my property that could be contributing to winter laying, I'm not sure it's a strong contribution though.

Craig, it sounds like you have a good method that works. As long as you have eggs coming in and new chickens growing up things will continue in the right direction.
 
Su Ba
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Gradually I developed a system that works for my own setup. Early each year I raise a few dozen new chicks. Roughly half will be males and thus automatic freezer fodder. Excess females will also go for food.The new pullets are integrated into the flock and will be the primary layers during the upcoming slow winter months. Older hens that are not laying in the spring automatically go into the freezer. The rest of the year I'll watch for hens that are not laying. Those too will be kicked out of the flock. They will be either slaughtered immediately for the dinner table or allowed to self forage until needed. Generally I maintain 40 layers, give or take.

I used to color code the years. One year I'd add buff chicks, the next black ones, then whites, then multi colored. That way I knew at a glance how old the hens were. I've gotten a bit sloppy these past couple years though, so it's a color mishmash out there. I'm thinking of returning to my color coded year system again just to make things simpler.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Sounds like we're all doing basically the same thing. Right now I have 25 chickens. 5 roosters, one escaped the catch pen last killing day. I'll get him next time. One late chick I suspect is a rooster but am not sure yet, the rest are hens of various ages.

The broody hens hatch some chicks (I select the eggs too), I decide which roosters get to father new generations. I kill the roosters after 2 years, or the young ones I'm not going to keep when they are still tender.

How i decide which roosters to keep around a couple of years:
1 they were fast maturing
2 they grew to a large size
3 they are gentle, not aggressive to me or the hens
4 they are pretty. I know I know, but sometimes that's the only differences if they meet the other criteria.

I started with a mixed flock, and once in a while get a few chicks of a "new" (to me) breed I am interested in. That works out to once in the last 5 years. I like my mix pretty well. I started with dark cornish, and lots of the heavy old fashioned breeds.

If a hen takes forever to regrow feathers after molting, it's the broth pot for her.
If she is broody, but won't sit on the eggs, or pecks or eats or abandons the eggs, or harasses another hen on a nest of eggs, if she won't leave broody behind, she is broth.

Other reasons to cull: a hen that will not go into the coop in the evening, just has to dodge back and around. A hen that consistently pecks me HARD, grab pinch and twist, she's broth. Any other idiosyncrasy that makes work or inconvenience for me.... life is hard enough, and interesting enough.

Once in a while I get a lame chicken. He or she gets big enough that it's clear the bone structure or muscles are wrong. I cull them. If a bird dies and I don't know why, I don't consider it food.

I don't know yet how to figure which ones are laying more than others, I just look at the average number per day for the season.

I put south windows in their house. In the summer I take the window panes out so they can have plenty of air, but in the winter they are snug and warm in there. I don't have lights. This is the first winter I had a big reduction in egg laying. And for now, I don't have a theory about why. That is a first for me too.

I don't worry about synchronizing for continuous egg laying. My attention is taken up managing them for health, vigor and temperament. If a bird is an old favorite for one reason or another, I just keep him or her around. I know my auracauna is 6 or 7 years old, but somehow, she is my friend. Often one of the roosters I keep is from one of her eggs. A beautiful blue and red.

I don't apologize for having biases. Every living thing does. Especially chickens. They remain friends with their hatch mates for life, and freindly with the hen who hatched them.

The chickens are racist too! It's been a while since I had pure strains, but even though they came in the same box on the same day, they sought out their breed.

Lots of fun to be had observing chickens!

Thekla

 
Julia Winter
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I haven't done any chicken harvesting, but that's because I've never had all that many hens. I think the max I've had is a dozen. I had enough room to just get a few more chicks every other year or so and keep all the hens until they died of natural causes. I can tell you that an 8 year old hen will still lay eggs, just not as often! So, we had a glut of eggs in the spring and a dearth of eggs in the winter, at least in Wisconsin.

I think Erica's plan is clever, and now that I'm in Portland with less space I may migrate towards something like it. l live next to the Columbia Ecovillage, and they harvest their older hens, so I should be able to learn how to do this and then maybe join them with the chosen dowager hens. . . .

When I was in Wisconsin I felt like the manure and composting the hens did was at least as valuble as the eggs. Of course now that I'm in Portland I know that I would pay $8 a dozen for equivalent eggs, so maybe the eggs are more important to me now!
 
John Weiland
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@Cassie: "Or do you have a different strategy?"

Well, I guess it's called having too many chickens. The population got out of control and now around 100 of them (mix of roosters and hens) are roosting in a large outbuilding (northern Minnesota). That building sees artificial lighting from about 6 pm to 10 pm each evening....in case that has any influence. But the upshot is that there are ALWAYS eggs to be found somewhere....in the haybales, behind insulation, etc. Don't even know the mix of breeds buzzing around out there, so that won't be of help. But it is nice to have fresh eggs whenever you want.
 
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