Did you know that egg quality and quantity are linked to nutrition? Our innovation and technology lead for Nutrena®, Mark Eggers, has completed some research and the results are impressive. If you’re in it for the eggs you won’t want to miss this video.
How a Hen Makes an Egg
The laying cycle is an important part of a hen’s life. An egg, or ovum, starts in the ovary, high in the bird’s body, near the spine. The ovary looks like a cluster of grapes, with some ova larger than others. As the ova mature, they are released into the reproductive tract or oviduct. If there is a rooster in your flock, the egg will be fertilized soon after entering the oviduct. The various structures are added to the egg by the oviduct: egg white, chalazae (“twisters”), and membranes. The final step is the secretion of a calcium coating in the shell gland. Then the fully formed egg passes from the body. The whole process takes about 25 hours. Most hens begin laying at between 16 and 24 weeks of age. Their peak productivity is between 1½ and 2 years of age. While they continue laying throughout their lives, their output decreases by about 10 percent per year after they turn 2 years old.
You love getting tasty eggs from your hens, so how can you keep them healthy, happy, and laying? There are a number of factors that can influence how many eggs a hen lays in her lifetime.
The breed you choose is related to the number of eggs you can expect per bird. Certain breeds or hybrid strains can produce large numbers of eggs.
- Heritage, dual-purpose breeds, including Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Australorps, and Wyandottes, are bred for both meat and eggs. They produce a good number of eggs over their lifetimes.
- Hybrids offer high-powered laying ability because they are crosses between two pure breeds that are good layers. They include ISA Browns, Red Stars, Gold Stars, and Amberlinks.
- Henderson’s Breed Chart online provides more information on chicken breeds and their laying abilities.
Did you know that egg quality is closely linked to diet? Many people assume that brown eggs are healthier than white eggs, but shell color makes no difference in the quality of the egg. Your birds’ diet influences the content of their eggs.
Free ranging helps your birds produce eggs with better nutritional content, including higher levels of vitamins A, D, and E; omega-3 fatty acids; and deep orange-yellow yolks from beta carotene. They also get activity while looking for bugs, worms, and other tasty goodies!
A good commercial diet should provide a large majority of what your birds eat. A good layer ration should support egg-laying and supply essential nutrients that are not easy to find in nature. These nutrients include carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins, as well as amino acids.
Extra ingredients that benefit your hens include enzymes, probiotics, essential oils, and yeast culture. These additives help keep your birds’ digestive tracts healthy, support healthy growth, and benefit the immune system. You can find these ingredients in our Nutrena Naturewise feeds.
Eggs are 75 percent water, so having a clean, fresh source available to your birds at all times will help keep them happy, healthy, and laying.
- Clean waterers to prevent disease. This is a necessity, especially in summer, to prevent the growth of toxic blue-green algae and other harmful microorganisms.
- Prevent freezing in winter. Cold weather and shorter days provide enough of a challenge for your ladies.
Your birds should have a stress-free environment to lay their best! Stress can cause hens to stop laying until the source is removed.
- Know their stressors. Some common stressors include extreme temperatures, a move to a new coop, change in feed, the presence of predators, new flock members, or construction projects.
- Stick to a routine! Any changes are stressors. Chickens like daily routines, which are dictated by the time of day. It’s best to let them out at dawn and close them in at dusk.
- Make changes gradually, like switching to a new diet or moving your birds to a new coop.
Give your birds their best lives so they give you great eggs – and make NatureWise layer feeds part of your flock’s diet!
Getting the Most Eggs from Your Hens in Winter
Bring more eggs in from the cold!
By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC
As cold winter weather approaches and the days grow shorter, your normally productive hens may be challenged to stay productive, and the cold weather may take its toll on the eggs they do lay. How can you keep your hens in optimal laying condition and assure that their eggs are the highest quality possible, while helping the birds live their best lives in the dark, cold months of winter?
Let’s look at some important factors to consider with regard to winter egg production.
Check your nest boxes early in the morning and several times a day, depending on how cold it is. Collecting eggs often prevents them from freezing and expanding, which leads to cracked shells. You can also winterize your nest boxes to help prevent your eggs from freezing:
- Ideally your nest boxes will be in the interior of the coop.
- Insulate your nest boxes by cutting pieces of cardboard to fit sides, top, and bottom. Do not use insulation! Chickens will eat it.
- Put deep bedding, such as pine shavings or chopped straw, in the nest boxes.
- Make curtains for the nest box entrances from a heavy cloth, such as wool.
If you find a cracked egg, assess how bad the damage is. If only the shell is broken and the membranes are intact, wash the egg and eat it right away. If the membranes are broken, discard the egg. Do not feed broken eggs to the chickens; they will break and eat their own eggs once they realize how tasty they are!
Mental and Physical Health
The winter months can bring boredom, leading to pecking problems, also called flockmate persecution. Provide enrichment for your hens, such as scratch scattered in bedding/litter, a cabbage hung from the ceiling of the run, and suet baskets with lettuce and other vegetable treats (not suet!) tucked inside.
Nutrena’s scratch grains can provide energy and keep your birds’ metabolism going at night when it’s cold! Feed only a handful of scratch in the evening. Be careful not to overfeed; extra fat on their body can lead to egg binding and other health issues.
Winterizing Your Coop
While chickens can tolerate low temperatures, sudden temperature changes can be challenging for them. A heat source such as lightbulb in a safety cage (Beware: it’s a potential fire hazard!) or heat panels can be used to raise the temperature about 10° F above outdoor temperature. Heat only part of the coop; this allows the birds to choose where they are most comfortable. Other ways to winterize the coop include
- putting extra bedding in coop;
- providing heated perches;
- making sure the coop is well ventilated;
- eliminating moisture and drafts, especially around roosts; and
- covering the coop and part of the run with tarps or heavy plastic (not blankets).
You can find more tips and suggestions for winterizing your coop in this post.
Chickens lay in response to the photoperiod, or amount of light they get per day. They need about 14 hours of light per day to lay their best. Check out the post “Feeding Chickens in Winter” for more information.
You can supplement light by installing a bulb that comes on in the early morning. For more information you can read this post. If you do choose to provide extra light, it’s best to limit it to 16 hours per day. However, you may choose to give their bodies a break for the winter months.
Fresh water is critical for egg production. Your birds’ bodies and their eggs are mostly water, and they need to continually replenish this vital element. Slight dehydration may cause hens to go out of lay. Winter presents unique challenges because waterers freeze quickly. Heated waterers are especially helpful, but they require an electric outlet in the coop or a very long extension cord. Another alternative is to have a couple of waterers so you can place a fresh one outside for your birds while the other is inside thawing.
Once you’ve addressed the factors above, consider if your birds are getting the nutrition they need to be productive. Continue to feed your birds a balanced layer ration even though they might not be laying. They will need to be in top shape when days start to lengthen to go back into lay. Your birds will eat a bit more in the winter, so keep the food available at all times.
A 2020 study, conducted in 10.5 daylight hours at 12° F, showed the importance of a nutritionally well-balanced feed that includes ingredients like pre- and probiotics, yeast culture, essential oils, and Vitamin D3. In the study, hens fed NatureWise with FlockShield and essential oils not only kept laying, but they also produced thicker, stronger shells with no broken eggs. After three weeks of eating this diet, egg production increased by 325%.
As winter approaches, make sure to include NatureWise Poultry Feed as a balanced source of proper nutrition to keep your hens happy, healthy-and laying!
Egg Production in Backyard Chickens
One of the most obvious benefits of raising backyard chickens is the eggs you get. But how does the laying cycle work? And how many eggs will a chicken lay in her lifetime? Learn answers to these and other questions from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart in this video!
- Chickens will start laying at around 20 – 24 weeks of age, depending on the breed
- Most hens will lay their best in the first three seasons of life
- Most standard laying breeds will lay around 250 – 300 eggs per year
- Providing artificial light enables you to get eggs from hens year-round
- Stress and dehydration can cause hens to stop laying
Barred Plymouth Rock Chickens: What’s the Scoop?
Are you thinking about adding Barred Plymouth Rock chickens to your flock?
Then get the scoop from Molly Cooper on the benefits of this popular egg-producing breed!
How Do Chickens Mate?Chicken Reproduction. Love is in the Coop: A Guide to Chicken Reproduction
How Do Chickens Mate? Some surprising aspects of chicken mating make it possible for families to keep a few hens in suburban and urban areas and enable monstrous operations to produce commercial eggs at low cost.
Imagine the future of suburban chickens if a hen had to have a rooster present to lay eggs.
Few cities allow anyone to keep crowing roosters, so it’s fortunate that hens lay eggs whether or not a male is around. Huge factory egg operations are also lucky that hens lay without a rooster present.
If roosters were necessary to stimulate laying, commercial eggeries would need larger facilities to house male birds that eat but don’t lay. Egg costs would be higher!
Roosters are fun to watch as they strut around the coop showing off their gorgeous feathers. Having one makes keeping chickens more interesting while producing fertile eggs that will hatch.
Roosters protect their hens from intruders. Having a rooster in the flock lets people observe the rather unusual chicken mating process which is very different from how mammals mate.
A rooster often employs a type of foreplay by prancing around the hen and clucking before mounting her. The transfer of sperm happens quickly without the penetration normal in mammal mating. The cloaca, or vent, of the male and female touch and sperm are exchanged.
It’s called a “cloacal kiss” and requires a bit of avian gymnastics for both birds to position themselves so their cloacas meet.
Just what is a cloaca? Unlike humans and most mammals, a female chicken has but one rear orifice with three functions. It is where feces and eggs exit her body and sperm enter. The rooster’s cloaca has only two functions. One is to pass feces. The other is to transfer sperm to a hen.
A hen doesn’t need to mate every day in order to lay fertile eggs. She stores sperm in her body and her eggs will be fertile for at least a couple of weeks and sometimes much longer before she needs to re-mate.
One rooster will easily keep eight to a dozen hens fertile.
Mammals produce liquid urine which leaves the body through the urethra. Urine contains urea. In contrast birds have no need for a urethra since they don’t urinate. Instead they coat their feces with uric acid that exits their body through the cloaca as moist chicken poop.
Not producing liquid urine allows birds to have lighter bodies than mammals of similar size. It is an adaption that helps them fly. Fortunately, the lack of liquid urine makes keeping chickens easier.
If they produced copious urine, bedding would quickly become saturated and smelly if not changed often. Instead, moist chicken feces quickly dries and becomes incorporated into the coop’s bedding. As long as it stays dry changing litter doesn’t need to be done often and the coop stays dry and odor free.
A chicken’s cloaca is an amazing organ. To keep eggs about to be laid away from feces she inverts her oviduct within the cloaca so there is little or no contact inside her body between feces and egg, which comes out clean.
If hens required a rooster in order to lay, few suburbanites would be able to keep chickens. And, if birds produced liquid urine coops would quickly become smelly and need frequently cleaning. Far fewer suburbanites would be willing to do much more coop cleaning and simply not keep hens. So, these simple adaptations meet several needs.
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