With a little forward thinking you can have eggs all year round with the heritage breeds.
It is hard to believe but chickens are not designed by Mother Nature to lay continuously. Funny that! It is amazing how frequently we are asked for hens that will lay an egg every day for 365 days of the year! They would need to be super hens to achieve that!
The’ natural’ chicken or it ancestor the jungle fowl lays eggs as a way of reproducing and ensuring the continuation of the species. This reproduction is designed to occur in the warmer months when the days are longer thus giving the youngsters a better chance of survival : to grow quickly while food is abundant and the climate is temperate.
As human beings we are not satisfied and wanted more and better production from our chickens, so man has designed and breed the commercial hybrid - the genetically designed chook - with a short life of high production. These commercial hybrids are kept in battery cages (or in large barns!) en masse to ensure that we ‘humans’ have a continuous supply of eggs all year round.
For those of us that find this unnatural the heritage breeds are a good choice. The old fashioned breeds of chooks rest up after 8 to 9 months of laying each year and take a well-deserved break like their ancestors the jungle fowl. The laying (breeding) season is from early spring through to autumn of each year. For those of us that enjoy keeping the heritage breeds we notice a drop off and sometimes cessation of egg production during the colder winter months whilst the hens go through their moult.
All I know is that if I worked hard like a hen and performed the mammoth task of producing a good sized egg regularly I too would want to shed my coat, jump on a plane and fly somewhere warm to relax on some sunny beach somewhere to replenish my reserves. Fortunately our chooks have not got the language skills or (brain size!) to demand such luxury holidays or request a bit of shopping therapy for a pretty new feather coat each season! We are lucky they grow their own feathers and all we need provide them with is good, high protein pellets, fresh water and nice dry accommodation and a well-deserved rest from laying. Keep up the quality laying pellets to your chooks as they need to build up their reserves of calcium and protein especially as they are using lots of protein to grow their new feathers.
So what happens when your birds go through the moult and cease to lay in late autumn.
Do you resort to buying in supermarket eggs or just go without a good omelette! Well here is our answer to having access to eggs all year round. It takes a little forward planning but if you like your own fresh eggs then it is worthwhile. We recommend hatching out heritage breed chicks – or buying in day olds – early in the season – July/August/September. Either make use of your broody or invest in a good quality small incubator that takes a dozen or two eggs. We have hatching eggs available for sale during the season. These chicks will grow well during the warm summer months and mature in late summer and come into the lay as the days shorten in early autumn. These young pullets will be of a good size and ready to lay just as your laying flock start to pack their cases for their vacation! We have found that they will lay through the winter – if housed in good dry, draught free accommodation with ample light.
Our plymouth rocks and buff sussex pullets we hatched out August last year have kept us in eggs (and lovely large brown ones too from the buffs) right through this last winter. In August our hens (mixed age) have come back into the lay producing very good sized hens eggs. They have grown beautiful new feather coats and are in prime condition for the laying season ahead. We merge the two groups at the end of autumn when the hens are starting their moult and the young pullets are starting to lay. This works well for us and ensures a continuous supply of eggs from our laying girls. By hatching out a setting of eggs (or two!) at the beginning of each season will not only give you eggs all year round it will be an ideal way of keeping your poultry numbers constant - allowing for losses and down time with broodies. The important thing is the timing. If hatched out too late the young pullets will not mature in time to start laying prior to the onset of winter and the shortest day. Although they might seem mature they will hold of laying till the days lengthen out in spring. On the other hand chicks hatched out too early say May/June could have a short laying season and go through an early moult come autumn. It is all in the timing!
You might be asking…what do I do with the cockerels? Well the answer is twofold!
Either advertise and find them new homes or grow them on and enjoy some good home-grown free range nutritious chicken!
Wishing you all a fantastic laying season.
Fionna and Gordon Appleton
Appletons Hen Houses and Poultry Supplies
This newsletter was published 27/08/2011