Many chicken-keepers are shocked when I say I expect one egg a day from my hens. Honest, I'm not a cold-hearted task master who expects our girls to behave like egg laying machines. I do, however, expect them to do their job on our homestead. And they comply, too - as long as I do my part.
Looking to optimize egg production in your backyard? Here are my best tips.
1. Be picky. When selecting chicken breeds, bear in mind that some breeds are better layers than others. If eggs are a priority for you, select breeds that typically lay 6 - 7 eggs a week. The easiest way to research this is to check a breed chart, like this one. There is an exception to this rule: Bantam hens. They are often terrific egg layers - plus they are cute and small. But their eggs are cute and small, too, which means you'll need twice as many in the kitchen. Bantams make sweet pets, but if you want lots of eggs, there are better breed choices.
2. Feed 'em right. Chicks require chick feed. Pullets need starter feed. And once hens are of laying age, you must give them quality layer feed. Make sure your hens have access to both feed and water 24/7, even when you hope they'll mostly free range. Proper diet keeps chickens healthy, happy, and laying properly.
3. Avoid snacking. All chickens need regular access to grit and oyster shell or ground up eggs. But feeding them lots of supplemental food, like table scraps, mealy worms, or scratch, reduces their egg production. I do give our chickens food scraps, but I can always tell when I've given them too much; suddenly my hens take an egg laying vacation.
4. Avoid stressing them out - because stressed hens don't lay well. Stress can include keeping too large a flock, having an overly-dominate or mean rooster, keeping chickens in a run that's too small, or any major changes to your chickens' lives.
5. Consider the light. During winter, there's less light each day, and consequently all hens slow down in egg production. If you want to encourage better laying, add a light to the hen house. Or simply choose a breed that tends to lay better in the winter, such as Australorps.
6. Keep 'em young. It's sad but true; young hens lay considerably better than older ones. After the 3 year mark, few hens continue laying an egg a day. If egg production is important to you, dispatch older hens and replace them with chicks or pullets.
By following these six simple steps, you'll have a more productive flock - which not only gives you more eggs to eat or sell, but cuts your homesteading costs, too. Now that's what I call a winning situation.