Raising Chickens for Eggs
Learning how to raise chickens for eggs can be a somewhat daunting proposition if you've never owned chickens before, but are interested in producing your own eggs. It takes planning and a significant time commitment to start your flock, not to mention the initial investment of money needed for supplies; however, the payoff can be awesome in the return on your monetary investment as well as the tremendous personal satisfaction in knowing you are reaping the benefit of your own efforts.
Always make sure before starting your venture that you know the regulations, if you are living in the city. Is it legal to raise chickens in your city? Also, be a good neighbor and let them know your plans. They may not object to the noise if you are willing to give them some free eggs every few weeks. A rooster is not absolutely necessary unless you want your hens to have fertilized eggs for reproducing your own livestock, and although hens squawk, they won't crow like roosters. Lastly, think about care-taking if you need to leave home for any amount of time.
Egg-Laying Chicken Breeds
Hybrids, such as California White, Cherry Egger, Hy-line Brown, Golden Comet, and Indian River, are the most productive egg layers. But if you would rather raise heritage breeds, Rhode Island Reds and Whites, Leghorns, White-faced Black Spanish, Australorps, and Plymouth Rocks are good choices. Some chicken breeds lay white eggs, some lay brown eggs, but Ameraucaunas and Araucaunas lay eggs that are various shades of blue, green, and cream. The egg color does not affect the nutritional value of the eggs, but you may choose what breed, or breeds, you raise based on your own personal egg-color preference.
Another consideration for choosing what breeds you raise is egg size. The heritage breeds that lay the largest eggs are Jersey Giants, Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, and Orpingtons. A number of hybrid breeds actually lay mostly extra-large eggs. If this is your goal, check into Hy-line Browns, Cinnamon Queens, Brown Sex Links, ISA Browns, and Golden Comets.
One more thing to think about is how quickly you want your hens to start producing eggs. Hybrid breeds - Indian Rivers, ISA Browns, Cherry Eggers, Golden Comets, and Pearl Leghorns mature quickly and can begin laying eggs as early as 17 weeks old. Leghorns and Leghorn hybrids are nearly all quick to mature. Other heritage breeds, such as White-faced Black Spanish, Red Caps, Minorcas, and Anconas, can start giving you eggs as early as 21 weeks. Pullets of some breeds don't mature enough to lay eggs until more than 26 weeks old.
For a breed comparison guide, click here. If you'd like to get more detailed research information, you can check out this page.
How to Raise Chickens for Eggs
Once you have done all the research and decided what breeds you want to raise, it is time to go out and get supplies. You will need to either buy or build a chicken coop. You can find pre-built coops here at Tractor Supply Co., but you can also find plans and building instructions here if you prefer to build it yourself. You will also need a feeder, water containers, and a nest box for every three hens. Make sure your coop is large enough that you can stand in it to gather eggs and clean the manure. Another option is a chicken tractor, which you can move around to different parts of the pasture or yard outside to enable their natural foraging instincts.
If you are just starting out with chicks, put them into a brooder with about an inch of litter for the first few weeks. They cannot generate their own heat, so you will need a heat lamp. Keep the temperature at about 95°F (35°C) the first week and decrease the temperature by 5°F each week until you reach 65°F. The following week you can remove the lamp entirely. While you have the heat lamp in the brooder, make sure you keep an eye on the chicks' behavior. If they are huddling under the lamp, it isn't warm enough. If they scatter away from the lamp, they are too hot. The temperatures are just a guideline.
The chick waterer should be small to prevent drowning. When you bring the chicks home and place them in the brooder, dip their beaks in the water gently so they know where to find the water. Make sure that the chick feed you give them has grit included in it. They will find the food on their own. After a couple of months, you should be able to move the chickens to the coop. If it's still very cold where you live, you might want to wait a little longer.
Once you move them to the coop (or tractor), give them dietary variety. Cracked corn in the winter will help them keep up their body temperature. Chicken feed, food scraps, insects, and grass all help feed them. You might also look into allowing your chickens to range freely in your yard (with proper precautions to protect from predators), since free-range eggs have lower cholesterol and saturated fats, as well as higher omega-3 fatty acids. Don't ever let them roam unsupervised and make sure that you close them up in the coop at night.
Put a fake egg in the nesting boxes of young hens so they will learn where to lay. Don't use a real egg, because you don't want them to get into the habit of eating eggs. You should gather the eggs at least once a day, and sometimes twice a day if they are laying a lot of eggs. When you gather them, you can wipe the eggs with a soft cloth to remove the mess. Don't wash them unless you have to.
To protect against Salmonella, wash eggs that have chicken feces on them in a sanitizer with ½ oz of chlorine per one gallon of warm water. If you are using the chicken waste in your garden compost, it needs to age 45-60 days before you put it on your vegetable beds in order to avoid possible Salmonella contamination. For more information about Salmonella and backyard flocks, click here.