Young hens or pullets start to lay at about 20 weeks of age. Commercial laying hens can lay over 300 eggs per year although this is much lower for some of the older breeds and those bred for meat production.

Flocks do not require to include a rooster or cock if they are to lay eggs; only where fertilised eggs are required for breeding. Fertilised eggs, if collected and used regularly are perfectly OK to eat.

Shell colour is a determined largely by the breed and while the most common are white and various shades of brown, some breeds lay blue eggs e.g Araucana, or the Cream Legbar. When birds are stressed through disturbance or disease then the colouring may be reduced. The intensity will also reduce with age.

The shell contains thousands of tiny pores to allow it to breath although it is protected to some extent by a surface bloom. Washing removes this natural protection so should be avoided by ensuring nest boxes are kept clean and eggs are collected daily.

Egg yolk colour is determined by the diet. Hens on free range generally ingest enough plant material containing the required carotene to keep the yolks bright yellow. Some feed producers add additional food dyes to ensure that hens lay well-coloured yolks but this can be achieved naturally on free range by supplying additional green materials such as carrots, kale and broccoli.

Laying is triggered by day length and so the increasing day length is Spring will stimulate egg production. On average a hen requires 14 – 16 hours a day to stay in lay, so production slows down as Winter days shorten. Laying can be extended by using artificial light but for long life hens need to take a break from laying at some time during the year. If providing artificial light do so in the morning to allow the hens to roost naturally as dusk approaches.

Egg eating can be a problem if it becomes established in a flock. Having well bedded dark nest boxes will be a help as will roll-away nest box liners. If you can identify the culprit early on remove her before the bad habit spreads to the entire flock. Leaving a few unbreakable artificial eggs around the hen house may also help persuade them that it is a futile exercise.

Keeping Chickens

  • Questions to ask before you start?

    Keeping chickens can be an extremely satisfying pastime with the added bonus of providing fresh eggs for family and friends. It does however require sustained commitment so before you start

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  • Choosing a Breed

    Hybrids. Commercial hybrid chickens are particular commercial crossbreeds based on those originally selected in the 1950s for the battery cage producers seeking to vastly increase production over the traditional pure

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  • Housing

    As explained earlier housing for hens does not need to be large or elabotate as long as it provides the essential requirements of shelter, protection, and sufficient space to exercise

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  • Feeding

    Poultry will eat most things but like all animals they require a balanced diet for good health and best performance. The best way to achieve this is by feeding ready

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  • Eggs

    Young hens or pullets start to lay at about 20 weeks of age. Commercial laying hens can lay over 300 eggs per year although this is much lower for some

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  • Flock Management

    It is helpful in managing any flock to understand bird behaviour. Chickens have a well developed social structure based on the “pecking order”. The dominant hen is at the top

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  • Pests and Diseases

    As with all livestock, chickens do occasionally fall ill and if in doubt you should consult a veterinary surgeon. However good management will prevent many diseases and lead to early

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  • Breeding and Rearing Chickens

    Breeding and raising poultry can be very rewarding, especially watching them hatch as chicks and then grow into mature adults. You can either breed your own stock or purchase “hatching

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The Supply Chain Development Programme is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD). Further information on the programme is available at www.countrysiderural.co.uk