When looking to keep chickens the first question to ask is “What is the main reason for keeping chooks?”
If the answer is “primarily for eggs” then we definitely recommend going with the commercial hybrids - the brown shavers. Brown shavers also make great pets for young children as well as keeping the family well supplied with eggs. For chook newbies these girls are an excellent first choice and will not disappoint with their vigour for life and their awesome ability to lay. But how you care and feed for them also plays a huge part in how well they are going to lay…
What are Brown Shavers?
Brown shavers are a commercial hybrid (parent stock are two different breeds) developed by mankind to be little modern-day egg laying machines. These girls are compact (not much too them under their feathers!) and built for premium production.
Do Brown Shavers make good table birds?
They are designed to be layers not meat birds. If you are wanting a roast dinner best to raise some broiler chickens! Brown shavers have an insatiable need to forage and feed and are programmed to eat and lay. They eat little and often throughout the day (chooks rarely overeat) and this constant demand for feed is because they need to lay lots of lovely eggs!
What is in an egg?
To lay lots of nutritious eggs they need to consume plenty of quality feed that contains the right nutritional balance: protein vs carbohydrates vs fats vs fibre vs salt vs minerals. Each laying hen needs to eat 120 to 140mgs of feed daily – best eaten on a self-help basis out of step-on feeders. We raise our brown shaver pullets from day one on premium feed rich in animal proteins to grown good healthy strong laying chickens. Chickens grow fast and reach POL (point of lay) at around 22 weeks. All this growing and feather production requires truckloads of protein – and the proteins they need come from complex amino acids found in animal proteins (plant proteins are not the same).
What is the best diet for laying hens?
Chickens are omnivores (surprisingly many people think of them as vegetarians…) Their ancestors hark back to the Jungle Fowl that lived and ranged under the forest canopies scratching through the leaf litter consuming bug, slugs, worms and small invertebrates. They need the lysine and methionine found in animal proteins to do well, grow well and lay well. We eat eggs because they are a packed with protein and all sorts of other essential goodies….so all the more reason to make sure your hens have ruminant protein in their daily quota to produce these high protein eggs! So in light of the above we cannot stress enough the important of keeping your layers on quality feed - fed ad lib. There are many ‘chicken pellets’ out there that do not contain ruminant protein or contain a synthetic version of it. Choose carefully. Look on the bag – the ingredients and analysis should be there - make sure it is a complete feed, high in proteins (16 to 18%) and contains blood, meat and bone meal and tallow for optimum results.
Please remember hens fed on wheat and barley or left solely to free range will not produce like hens with access to balanced feed. What you put in is what you get out! Most feeds already contain wheat and barley so there is no need to double up with more (and dilute the ratio of proteins to carbs.)
Remember chickens like consistency.
Another important point worth considering is that hens are creatures of routine and habit – they do not like change and find it stressful. So changing their diet by swopping brands of layer pellets can impact on their production. So going from a good quality feed that meets your hens protein demands to a low quality feed with no animal proteins will affect their laying. So when you find a feed that contains ruminant protein and does your girls well stick with it. Feeding out incomplete, vegetable based feeds with synthetic or vegetable based proteins just means the girls will be doing it tough – it puts their bodies under more pressure to find the means to lay (take it out of their bones, body etc). Invariably these girls will in the long run do it ‘hard’ and have shorter and usually less productive laying lives.
Do Brown Shavers moult?
Shavers, unlike the heritage breed girls, are not good at looking after themselves. Man has designed a hen that is purely focused on laying and just about all year round. In the old fashioned breeds (like the heritage breeds) reproduction (laying) happens in the breeding season when the weather is warm and food is abundant. When the laying season is over the heritage hens go through a moult to replace their feathers they also build up their reserves again so they are in good order and good health for the start of the new season. The Brown Shavers after their first season (year) of lay tend to look a touch tatty. Well wouldn’t you if you were laying eggs flat out. There is little protein left after laying to put into the annual moult (new feather coat!)…never mind little time…so these girls just keep at it as man has designed them to do!
How long will a Brown Shaver live for?
Brown Shavers can live for 6 to 8 years….but egg production drops off each year. After the first year egg production will drop around 30% and by the time they are into their third season of lay they could be laying half the number of eggs they laid in the first season. Most folk tend to replace their laying flock after two years as it is no longer economical. (Feeding out the same feed for half the eggs!) These days it is all sadly about economics and not the life of the hen!
Why do once I get my new Brown Shaver pullets home?
The brown shavers we sell are raised in our lovely dry and draught free hen houses and have access to the outside world at 5 to 6 weeks depending on the time of year. They are accustomed to going in and out of a chook house through the pop-hole into a pen/run. Most are used to perching. Please make sure when you take your new girls home to enclose them in their new house or coop so they become familiar with their new home, new flock mates and learn where the perch is and where the feed and water stations are. Once settled in - usually around 5 to 7 days the girls can be let out to explore their new home range – whether it be run, garden or paddock.
When will Brown Shaver pullets start to lay?
Our girls might have all hatched on the same day but just like us they are individuals (some bossy, some naughty, some cheeky, some shy!) and some will mature quicker than others. Some pullets will colour up red in the comb and wattles earlier than others and laying can start as early as 18 weeks or as late as 28 weeks. The time of year also impacts on their laying as a hen’s laying is also controlled by length of daylight hours. So pullets that are POL in winter can take longer to come into lay than those in mid-summer.
What are 'pullet' eggs?
When your new girls start to lay their lovely little first eggs (called pullet eggs) they do not all pop out an egg each day from day one. Laying is a process their bodies need to get accustomed too - so usually an egg is laid every other or 3rd day. Then gradually over 6 to 8 weeks when they all becomes attuned to laying most days - egg production will clock up to a regular 6 eggs out of 7 days. So if you are getting 3 eggs from your 6 girls initially it does not necessarily mean only three of them are laying …maybe all are but not every day. Eggs will slowly increase in size as laying gets underway.
How do I know if my pullet is laying?
Birds that are POL or laying will have lovely bright red, full combs and wattles and usually let you know when they have laid by letting out a cackle. Well wouldn’t you if you had just laid an egg! To confirm if a hen is laying she can be given a vent inspection. This requires picking up the bird and parting the feathers around her rear end and looking for her vent (the part of her anatomy where the egg comes out!). If it looks like a big pair of moist, full moving lips then your chook is laying. If the vent is small, thin and tight (pursed) then your hen is not. Usually the comb and wattles of a non-laying bird are smaller and duller in colour too. Moulting birds do not usually lay but bearing in mind the shaver is no ‘normal’ bird sometimes they can partially moult and lay sporadically through their moult. Both tasks of course require heaps of protein so neither task is done well! Once laying is underway and eggs are in full production shell should be hard and smooth. To maintain good egg shell consistency we recommend feeding out poultry shell grit. This can be placed in a separate container in the house or run rather than mixed in with food or scattered on the ground. Birds will help themselves when they require it.
How do I train my birds to lay in the nest boxes?
The first eggs (pullet eggs) can be laid anywhere…off the perch, in the yard, on the floor, under a bush or in the nest box. We recommend covering up the nest boxes (place cardboard over the front of them) up to 18 weeks to teach the young pullets to rest on the perches when they go to roost at night. Birds are creatures of habit so training them to perch on the perches early rather than huddle in the nest boxes will save on cleaning out fouled nest boxes on a daily basis. Nobody likes dirty eggs. Here at Appletons we recommend using fake eggs or brood eggs (wooden, rubber or plastic – we like the wooden ones – available on our site) in the nest boxes to tempt the hens in to lay. Hens will usually go and lay where there is a nest with eggs or where other hens are busy laying. That is why you can sometimes find three hens all sitting on top of each other in the same nest box laying …with vacant nest boxes alongside. It can be beneficial to set up a routine from the beginning so once the girls start to lay restrict any free range - give them access only to the pen untill laying is well under way. Once all hens are laying and in the nest boxes only then start to let them out for afternoon free range. By this stage they will have setablished a pattern of laying in the nest boxes.
Are soft shelled first eggs normal? My hen is laying double yolkers?
The first eggs laid can sometimes be soft shelled or have no shell…this is perfectly normal as their ‘egg laying machinery’ needs to get accustomed to high production and in this teething stage a little fine tuning is perfectly normal! Do not be surprised if your hen lays the odd ‘huge’ egg – these are called double yolkers and are a delight for breakfast for any child!
Enough said! We hope your little brown hens lay lots of lovely eggs for you!
From the Team at Appletons