As scarce as hen’s eggs! That’s what some chicken keepers may want to say about eggs.
This is the number one question asked by bird folks. The first step towards understanding eggs, and the laying process, involves rethinking what those round “baking ingredients” really are. Eggs are nothing more than the chicken’s way of making more chickens! It really is a chicken and egg question.
Chickens, like mammals, ovulate. Unlike mammals, they incubate their babies outside their bodies. It takes 21 days of setting for an egg’s fluffy occupant to mature and enter the big outside world. Egg production is based on three things: the day length, the chicken’s genetics and two outside influences – lifestyle and nutrition.
This is great news! We can guide and enhance two of those three factors… we can provide an enriched living arrangement and we can supply varied and beneficial foodstuffs. We can even alter the daylight – but this needs to be done with caution. More on that in a bit.
What we can’t change
Each chicken is the product of a rich and varied genetic heritage. Her ancestors supplied her size, feather color and structure, and the number of eggs she will lay. So, egg laying can be influenced through the generations by selective breeding – and this was just what humans did over the centuries. You can’t change the number of eggs that any individual bird has – they, just like mammals, are born with all of the eggs they will ever have! You won’t get 300 eggs out of a Silkie or Brahma, but you will from a Brown Leghorn and Australorp.
Raising heritage and endangered breeds of chickens is the first step to being successful as a chicken keeper and conservationist. These breeds have been developed for vigor, slow maturation, reasonable production intended to maintain health and longevity, and the ability to utilize native range /climate to an advantage. Research has proved that selecting these individuals is extremely important in order to salvage diversity, to enjoy disease resistance, and to support animal welfare.
Choosing native fowl is particularly important for warmer zones. As this article from Scientifica (2016) states, “Indigenous breeds are well known for their tropical adaptability and disease resistance, while their plumage colour helps in protecting themselves against predators.”
Stress, dirty and un-enriched living conditions limit reproduction in any animal. These negative factors also increase
illness, create behavioral issues and lead to welfare issues in the animals. Happy healthy birds lay more and better eggs. Chickens of all breeds are designed to forage for most of the day. They need stuff to do, places to see and leafy areas to dig. Busy birds are happy birds.
Chickens are biologically bound to seek out flock living. Always be sure to provide at least 4 birds to any group. You can get away with three, and this is a common breeding group known as a trio. A trio is comprised of two hens and their rooster. Roosters are a very important member of any flock. Well-bred roosters stabilize the social structure. They reduce stress in the hens, assist with activities such as foraging and nesting, alert the flock to danger and cultivate a beneficial sense of safety.
Note: Unusually aggressive or birds with genetic faults should never be bred. Responsible breeding prevents cruelty and unwanted birds.
Choose wary and range-bred chickens, such as Spangled Hamburgs, Penedesenca, Brown Leghorns, Ancona, Welsummer and Fayoumi for natural keeping practices. Refrain from purchasing and raising breeds that are not suited to your environment. “It is important to maximize the use of existing genetic diversity…in indigenous fowl [47, 60]. …In the recent past there is a growing concern to conserve biodiversity and to evaluate potential value of indigenous chicken not only for current but also for future unforeseen uses.”
Note: Laying is determined by day length. Chickens need to rest from laying during the winter months, even in warm climates. This rest period is critical, so adding light must be done with care. Hens will stop laying during the molt as well, this is when they save their energy to make new feathers! Laying will resume after the molt. Using Seabuck 7 during the molting process is important. The birds need added nutrition and vitamins during this time.
Chickens love to eat! These feathered friends can really tuck in. Anyone who “eats like a bird” has an impressive appetite. A chicken’s eating practices vary by several factors. Young birds have higher protein needs as they build muscle, bone, feathers and everything else! Hens in lay will eat a substantial amount more than their rooster friends and any hen that is older or not laying at the time. Birds eat less in hot weather and more in cold.
Always provide top quality grain for the flock and be sure to supplement this with fresh greens and fruits. Chickens crave protein and they will find this on range. Prevent behavioral issues and feather picking by supplying protein to your birds if range or wild sources are limited. The protein sources and lack of variety in chicken grain diets creates many issues for the birds. Chickens naturally desire a wide variety of foodstuffs, and being omnivores, innately crave certain textures and tastes.
Note: Behavior issues can often be linked to a mundane diet (only offering processed feed with no greens or range) as well as a sterile environment. Chickens need coop and feed diversity! Stressed and bored chickens will not produce eggs, have that special show-ring bloom, or enjoy a quality life
Chickens need that little extra boost to keep their bodies fighting ready! A few additions to their perfect world are the gilding that you need to put on your feathered lilies. Provide oyster shell for calcium and shell quality, kelp or seaweed for micronutrients lacking in modern soils, grit for their digestion and natural food boosts for their immune systems and body condition.
There are many options to choose from and knowing your flock’s needs is key. Consult with your agricultural extension and with a vet skilled in natural medicine. Be careful of what you purchase for supplementation. There are many poultry products are on the market – but they are not regulated and quality/results may not be supported.
Many supplements are not bioavailable, or they may need an additional complementary herb to boost their absorption. Turmeric and oregano will not be utilized by the birds, or you, without the addition of “bioperine” or pepper extract (yes, it is made from black pepper). If you purchase a supplement for the birds containing flakes of dried oregano – you will only be flavoring their food.
- Turmeric with bioperine
- Oregano oil
- And… Seabuck 7 Backyard Chicken – Proven to Increase Egg Laying in Trials
We mention sea buckthorn because we know that this fruit has evidence-derived, scientifically proven properties. Not to mention, its been proven to increase egg laying, egg shell strength, and even increases healthy omega nutritional levels of 3, 7, and 9 in each egg!
Happy laying! Share your egg-citing stories – tell us how do you keep your feathered flocks feisty?