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Can egg production be slowed down with less protein in diet?

 
pollinator
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I can't find any info on how diet, i.e., less protein, might affect egg production... like slow it down.   I did find that hens are born with all the ova they'll ever turn into 'eggs'.   I think the challenge with growing their food is providing 'adequate' protein.  But I think the 'adequate 'protein' percentage is typically for maximum egg production...  I'm assuming here.... and not critical for overall hen health.... ?  

So.... if homegrown feed provides less protein... would it slow down production?  I think 'stretching' out the production might also stretch out the productive life of the hen, and would help avoid 'gluts'.  Eggs are typically easy to store over the molt period, in the winter.   Any ideas?  Why would this not work?  Thx : )
 
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Hmm, that's a really good question. It seems that, especially when molting, my ducks would resume laying sooner when they had a higher protein diet (I would mix in chick starter into their grower feed for the extra protein. They're often molting around the time I get ducklings, so it works out). But, I don't know if a lower-than-average protein diet would stretch out they're laying, or if it would just stress their bodies out. I honestly have not had any layers live beyond the first two years (when ducks are supposed to start slowing down) so I don't have any evidence one way or another. I do know that my ducklings that foraged more and had less supplemental feed, are smaller ducks and lay smaller eggs, and that when I bought the same breed of ducks from a lady that fed her ducks higher protein feed, her ducks were larger and laid larger, more frequent eggs. I wonder:

  • If the size of the duck egg is correlated to their protein intake
  • If a higher protein and higher feed level when young, will result in larger, more frequent eggs through out the lifespan of the layer
  • If lower protein results in stress on their system that might result in less eggs developing
  • If too high of protein causes too rapid of egg laying, which is stressful on the layer and results in a shorter lifespan or more "weird" eggs like shell-less eggs.


  • I'm so helpful, LOL! I came on your thread, didn't answer any questions, and added four more to your question. I'm gonna back out of here before I fill your thread with even more questions!
     
    nancy sutton
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    Thanks, Nicole!  inquisitive minds think alike : )   Yes.... I want the answers to all those questions, as I would be interested in fewer eggs for a longer laying period... don't need the onslaught.  Hmmm... it seems that human mothers are physically taxed by non-stop gestation and birth... maybe hens too?  Maybe their productive years don't really 'end' at about 2 yrs, if they don't have a 'commercial' diet?  Maybe a smaller body size and smaller eggs have an advantage of some sort or other for the hen?   (I think the commercial strategies are aimed a maximizing profit, rather than a more congenial and leisurely poultry life.. ?)

    BTW, sorry for not doing my research, as I suspect your answer is buried in the threads here, but do you prefer ducks to chickens?  : )

    Now.... to wait for the answers to surface!
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    I love my ducks! At times, we've had a chicken (our last one was like a pet to my son, and got eaten by a bobcat, which was heart breaking for all of us ). We only have one chicken at a time because how much devastation they can cause! I like how they can turn my deep litter bedding and tear up compost. I love how good at foraging for insects they are--my chicken's yokes were always much darker orange than my ducks, even though they ranged over the same area together. I don't like how quickly they can destroy a garden bed, or how they throw my fruit tree's mulch everywhere! I can generally fence a duck out of an area with a small fence or by having it be a raised bed. A chicken flies right over that little fence! It's also harder to keep a chicken in a fenced area. Ours would always fly out. Our ducks were safe in their electrified yard while the chicken had flown out...and gotten eaten by a bobcat. Also, if five ducks gets in my garden bed for 30 minutes, and I have a few less slugs and no pea seeds left in the ground. One chicken gets in there, and the whole bed gets tilled in that time, and all my plants are uprooted and seedlings are dead! The ducks also love my rainy weather, and I have enough room for them to spread out their poop.

    I started up with ducks, and built my system around them, so I find them much easier than chickens. But, we sure did love our mouse-eating Chicky who loved to be held and would even tolerate my son carrying her around. None of our ducks are that tame, though we didn't raise them in the house from a hatchling, either!

    How about you? Do you have ducks?
     
    nancy sutton
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    No, I had 4 chickens about 10 yrs (that long!) ago (I'm 71 yo ... for a few years, and loved them.  Yes, they truly are rototillers!  I tried every way to portable-fence them to keep where I wanted... and they always outsmarted me, and escaped.  Smarter than me, apparently!  I had also had a few ducklings earlier til the racoons found them.  But, if I get back to poultry (only a few... I'm on a suburban 1/3 acre lot), I think ducks might make more sense, as I really like to use mulch for weed reduction, etc.  But then.... they are both such adorable species!   (I wonder if ducks eat pillbugs... ?)   BTW... time for us to hit the sack!  especially you, young mother
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    Oh, I wish I could pass out. I'm currently nursing my baby to sleep. Yesterday she didn't pass out until after 1:00am! I'm really hoping she goes out sooner today!

    I don't know about ducks eating pillbugs. Those are roly-poly, potato bug things, right? My husband calls them roly-polys and I grew up knowing them as potato bugs. I don't see that many of them on my property. If I peel bark off of a log on the ground, or lift up a piece of bark, I'll see some there, but the ducks also can't get in there... I do not, however, see slugs any more. I live by a wetlands. Before we got ducks, there were slugs EVERYWHERE. I could grow nothing. I leave my property and walk down the road, and there slugs all over it, but there's not one to be seen any more on my property. Thank you ducks!

    The ducks also eat carpenter ants. They LOVE them. Every late summer, the buggers fly around at dusk, and my ducks go crazy. And, since our duck house is made of cedar, the carpenter ants fly in there to eat, and then get eaten. It's wondrous!

    My ducks also eat spiders! When we first moved in, we had millions of grass spiders. I'd literally take one step in the grass, and about 100 spiders would flee. Seriously, there were like 100 spiders in every 2 square feet. It was rather creepy. Now i only see the things on the far reaches of our property where the ducks don't roam. We don't have nearly as many spiders invading our home, either, like we did when we first moved in.

    I love my ducks!
     
    nancy sutton
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    When kids were older, and in bed by 8 (or 9?), I loved the late, quiet hours that were all mine...another reason why I hated to go to bed when I should have

    Yes, rollypollys, pillbugs, woodlice (in UK), etc.  I use a lot of wood mulch, etc., and they're supposed to limit themselves to eating up rotting material.  But in spring, they find teeny seedlings very tasty... like carrots.  (I think I would, too!)

    Love all your info about ducks.... I think they'd figure out that pillbugs are tasty.  (I originally got 3 chickens as my pillbug exterminators... but they had to learn to eat them, too!)  And they are really lovely, quiet.... yes, quiet!! I forgot their #1 advantage for me!  I live in a suburb  

    If I can figure out how to 'easily manage' their very valuable manure.... hmmmm.  
     
    pollinator
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    Might I ask why you want to do this?

    Since the hens have a fixed number of eggs, it's much more efficient (i.e. cheaper) to get those eggs as soon as possible rather than stretching it out.  Chickens eat roughly the same amount of food whether they are laying or not, having a long period when they are laying, or forcing them to lay every other day, etc. just wastes food.
     
    nancy sutton
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    I'm thinking in terms of a very small home flock, the possibility of growing all of their feed, and avoiding the inconvenient gluts of concentrated maximum production.   I'm not considering the monetary savings on purchased feed, nor selling the eggs.  I'm also considering their utility when not laying.... weeding, debugging, 'tilling', manure production.... and general good company : )
     
    gardener
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    All my chickens arrived at my house at over 2 years of age.
    They all lay to various degrees.
    I make a point of not feeding them the same thing from day to day.
    BOSS one day,crumbles the next, food scraps the third.
    Even so, they spend most of their time foraging,not begging me for food.

    I've gotten a butt load of eggs on forage and scraps alone.
    The only reason I'm feeding them at all during the warm months is to ensure basic health.

    For me their compost making ability is their main asset.
    I don't eat organic,so home grown eggs will never be cost effective.
     
    nancy sutton
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    William, thanks for the info... and how large is your chickens' foraging area?  and how many chickens do you ha
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    nancy sutton wrote:When kids were older, and in bed by 8 (or 9?), I loved the late, quiet hours that were all mine...another reason why I hated to go to bed when I should have

    Yes, rollypollys, pillbugs, woodlice (in UK), etc.  I use a lot of wood mulch, etc., and they're supposed to limit themselves to eating up rotting material.  But in spring, they find teeny seedlings very tasty... like carrots.  (I think I would, too!)

    Love all your info about ducks.... I think they'd figure out that pillbugs are tasty.  (I originally got 3 chickens as my pillbug exterminators... but they had to learn to eat them, too!)  And they are really lovely, quiet.... yes, quiet!! I forgot their #1 advantage for me!  I live in a suburb  

    If I can figure out how to 'easily manage' their very valuable manure.... hmmmm.  



    I don't see any pillbugs in my mulch, and the ducks really love to poke their bills in there (though they don't throw it around like the chickens do), so the ducks probably love pillbugs and find them a delicacy.

    Managing their manure is a matter of where and how you want it. If you don't want it in your beds because of salmonella, etc, raised beds do a great job of keeping ducks out, as does a short 1-2 foot fence around the area you don't want them in. If you want a lot of poopy bedding to put under fruit trees, give the ducks their feed right before your put them away--they'll do most of their pooping in their house and you can get quite a bit of good mulch that way--it can be composted for the vegetable garden, or applied in the fall, or used to build new garden beds, or applied directly to fruit trees and raspberries. This costs a bit more in pine shavings, though! If you want them to poop in your grass/their yard so you don't have to do as much mucking in their house, feed them most of their food in the middle of the day, or even 1-2 hours before you put them away (save a cup or two of feed to lure them into their house at night, if you need to), and that way they'll do most of their pooping on the lawn. I've read ducks also like to poop in their water. I honestly can't tell if they do or don't, as the water is really dirty from them rinsing their bills in it. I tent to use little oil pan sized trays for bathing water, which I usually rotate from fruit tree to fruit tree to spread the muck around. I also have a normal 2 gallon pail in their duck house for use at night, to reduce their merry splashing--it's hard to bathe in a bucket!
     
    pollinator
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    Hi Nancy,

    It seems like you have two questions here; One, how does protein content affect egg production and two, can you even out the egg production cycle.  In my experience (almost 25 years raising free range flock of 20-50 birds), the first not true, the second is almost impossible.  

    First let me say that there is a vast difference in the diet of penned chickens versus completely free range.  But let's use a chicken completely dependent upon you for a food source as an example.  Most layer mixes are between 16% and 20% protein.  20% may be a little high if the layer mix is all you give them.  They can develop some health issues from too much processed protein. I'm basing this on chickens I have rescued that I know the feeding regimen that they were on.   I have not seen any increase or decrease in production based on the protein in the diet by itself.  Trying to manipulate their protein and nutrient levels may result in malnourished birds. Focus on making them healthy and they will do the rest.  You could in theory slow down production in the spring by reducing food, but at what cost to the birds overall health? Starved chickens do lay less, I've seen it in the rescue chickens I get.  I've also seen less egg production in penned birds that get a very simple commercial layer feed when the don't get much to eat.  So it seems to be more a a food quantity problem than one of protein.   Penned birds especially need a variety of foods and every effort should be made to give them access to open grazing.  This cures a multitude of illnesses.  Most commercial mixes lack a high level of omega three fatty acids that the grazing will give your chickens.  The grass and clover they pick out and the bugs that they eat are like vitamins to chickens.  I supplement my birds with a custom scratch grain mix, woodpecker suet blocks, and some commercial layer pellets just so that they always have access to food if needed.  The commercial pellets are the last thing they eat.  The scratch grain mix I give is millet, wheat, oat, barley, black sunflower, some crushed corn, oyster shell, and DE.  For the most part though, they find their own food and they are quite healthy.  

    Chickens can be forced to lay eggs at a high volume even in the winter time, but only with the correct lighting and heating.  This process is where the myth that chickens stop laying after two years comes from, but even commercially used chickens will continue to lay after two years.  Depending on the breed, my chickens lay regularly for 4-6 six years.  (By regularly I mean at least one egg a week.)  I find that their prime production is the second or third spring that they lay.  I do not artificially heat or light their coops so production does drop in the winter.  It's important to remember that the wild ancestors of chickens only layed one to two clutches early in the year.  We have bred them to lay for much longer periods than they originally did. There will always be a "glut" in the spring because that is in their core genetic nature.

    In my opinion, trying to manipulate them to lay more or less at any given time through diet would just result in less healthy chickens.  


     
    nancy sutton
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    Thanks Nicole for that fascinating, farmer tested, info on how to time feeding for pooping!!  And how you manage the head-dunking requirements... confirms my consideration of some plastic mixing tubs.  And the possibiity of raising a tad, to attach a hose to the bottom for draining... did I say I am in suburbia?  (btw, my research turned up your older duck comments, that I 'saved'.... lovely! : )

    And Marcus, for your extensive experience with many chickens... seems protein might be irrelevant, and it is the level of general adequate macronutrients (fat, protein carb) that might dictate level of egg production.  It does lead to the question whether less highly 'hybridized' (i.e., more primitive) chickens would have slower rates of laying....which is leading me back to... ducks  (After all, I think our 'modern' layer chicken breeding has had one goal...maximum # of immediate eggs.... maybe not even over all poultry health.)

    Thanks again!
     
    William Bronson
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    I have a back yard 30 x 50. Lots of berry bushes, grapevine, and rose of sharon.
    Pretty much no annuals since the chooks arrived😏.
    Lots of wood. Wood chips, logs,twigs.
    Lots of bugs.
    I'm trying to reestablish some annuals inside cages, but the girls seem to get to them no matter what!

     
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    With the Marans species it is quantity of food over quality of food, this is also true of all free range chickens. Calcium is a determining factor for both chicken health and egg laying (give them free choice calcium (we use both oyster shell and ground up egg shells)).
    Protein above 12% will mean they lay at around 1 egg every day or every two days, this is more dependent upon the breed than what they are eating.

    Our Marans free range and they also get some feed from the hog's. Most of the diet of our birds is bugs and greenery with a few 16% protein pellets of hog feed thrown in on an as they can grab it from the hogs basis.
    From these birds we get one egg per day average.

    To slow birds down on laying you have to cut down on their sunlight time, otherwise they are going to lay at the rate their species dictates.

    Redhawk
     
    nancy sutton
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    Thanks all for the info!  I'm putting the various pieces together to get a general idea about how diet affects laying.... it's still a little hazy...probably need more info! ; )
     
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    A few thoughts from my own experience - my chickens get most of their food from free ranging in the summer, but I've found that if I don't provide just a little commercial feed, they stop laying altogether. So...something is missing here, have not yet figured out what.  (It's not a lack of protein or calcium.) But with the right nutrition, they lay at a rate that seems determined by their breed, not their diet. The Red Stars, Brown Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds lay lots of eggs - some of them daily - while the Dark Cornish and Icelandics lay a couple eggs per week.  So if you are wanting fewer eggs for a long time, I'd suggest looking at a heritage breed that matures more slowly and lays at a slower rate.

    I've been told that chickens need light in winter, but mine continue to lay well without it - the one thing I do for them is give them a midnight snack when I get home from work (actually about 1am every morning.) I give them just enough light so they can hop off their perches and fill their crops with mealworms or sprouts. I have the light on a dimmer and gradually turn it off 10 or 15 minutes later, giving them time to roost again. So I wonder if it's not so much a matter of light, but that they go a long time without food during those long, cold winter nights. It would be an interesting research project to compare extra light vs midnight snack vs natural darkness...
     
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    Nicole Alderman wrote:

    nancy sutton wrote: I've read ducks also like to poop in their water. I honestly can't tell if they do or don't, as the water is really dirty from them rinsing their bills in it. I tent to use little oil pan sized trays for bathing water, which I usually rotate from fruit tree to fruit tree to spread the muck around. I also have a normal 2 gallon pail in their duck house for use at night, to reduce their merry splashing--it's hard to bathe in a bucket!



    They definitely do poop in their water. If you have enough ducks and don't change the water daily, it is very obvious. My thought is also to pour their drinking/swimming water under fruit trees. I'd upload an image, but apparently that isn't an option and I don't know if there are any photos online.

    Even if we let them free range all day long, they only lay when they're fed commercial feed. I've been pondering why that is because they get a lot of bugs and tons of greenery to eat plus veggie scraps from the garden.

     
    Gail Gardner
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    nancy sutton wrote:Thanks Nicole for that fascinating, farmer tested, info on how to time feeding for pooping!!  And how you manage the head-dunking requirements... confirms my consideration of some plastic mixing tubs.  And the possibiity of raising a tad, to attach a hose to the bottom for draining... did I say I am in suburbia?  (btw, my research turned up your older duck comments, that I 'saved'.... lovely! : )



    When there were more ducks we used a kiddie wading pool in the summer. They only last one season. Year round though we use deep round rubber tubs in two sizes. This looks like the ones we use. It is big enough for them to swim in and not so tall they can't drink standing next to it. https://www.southernstates.com/catalog/p-200-duraflex-65gal-rubber-tub.aspx

    And you can dump these under a tree, rinse them out, and refill daily (or less if you have fewer ducks).

     
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    I've got an old baby bath with a crack in the bottom, it works wonderfully for the ducks, they have water in chicken waterers all the time, but once a day I fill the baby bath, and they all get in have a wash and a splash, the crack means it empties itself after aout 3-4 hours. and all the crappy water drains out itself. much less work!
     
    nancy sutton
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    Thanks a bunch, Skandi and Gail... nothing like a variety of options that have been 'proven' to work!   I like your report, Kelly, on lay vs no-lay.  Sounds like the genes determine the laying rate.... as they've been manipulated (or not) by breeding.  And, also, perhaps, the total gross caloric intake, per Bryant and yourself.  The 'tiny night light' effect is also intriguing.  Soooo much to learn.... and we're all so full of unique experiences.

    Oh... another question... do you suppose the heritage, ala Icelandic, etc., chickens are born with the same number of ovas as the hybrids?  and would, therefore, lay steadily for more years?   Wonder if anyone has counted and compared  
     
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    Kelly Ravner wrote:
    I've been told that chickens need light in winter, but mine continue to lay well without it - the one thing I do for them is give them a midnight snack when I get home from work (actually about 1am every morning.) I give them just enough light so they can hop off their perches and fill their crops with mealworms or sprouts. I have the light on a dimmer and gradually turn it off 10 or 15 minutes later, giving them time to roost again. So I wonder if it's not so much a matter of light, but that they go a long time without food during those long, cold winter nights. It would be an interesting research project to compare extra light vs midnight snack vs natural darkness...


    I use a similar strategy.  My hens are in a 12' X4' chicken tractor. I feed them just before roosting time so that they sleep with a full crop.  The crop will be empty at daylight so I move the tractor forward when I feed them and the will then start digging for their protein first thing in the morning.  If I miss an evening feeding a day or two later I will be missing an egg  My 3 barred rock hens are 5 years old and molting right now so my egg production is less than one a day.
     
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    I'm going to go back and read the whole thread in a minute, but wanted to comment -- a few years ago, a friend of mine had a bunch of hens that should have been high layers (Exchequer leghorns and a few other good laying breeds).  She sells eggs, and milk from two dairy cows, and was disappointed that she wasn't getting the number of eggs she thought she should be getting.  I asked what she was feeding; it was organic scratch.  That's just cracked grains, with a very low protein.  The hens were running loose in the yard and probably picking up some bugs, but I suggested that if she had a little extra milk from the cows, she might give some to the chickens, and sure enough, the rate of lay went back up to where it should have been.  So yes, the level of protein in their feed does affect the rate of lay.
     
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