A question that’s largely dependent on the care and breed of laying hen, we’ve outlined some major questions to consider when it comes to answering this question! The short answer, our data shows about 260 eggs in a year, and 500 in a lifetime! All of those numbers are subjective though– read on to know why!
When do chickens start and end their egg-laying period?
One important decision when getting into the world of having your own backyard chickens is deciding if you want to buy chicks or hens that are already laying. Typically, a hen will go from being a day old chick to laying an egg around 22 weeks of age. That’s 5.5 months of caring for a bird before it will even give you an egg. Generally, a bird should be fed a higher protein feed during this time, costing more money as well. After those 22 weeks, a chicken will lay their first egg! You can expect the hen to give you an egg a day for the first year until it molts. However, the first month of eggs will be very small eggs, often known as a pullet egg. Once they start laying, you will typically get an egg every day until the bird is about 2 years old, then you may only find an egg every other day. By three years of age, it may be about 4 eggs per week. At the bottom of this post we have linked our personal farm’s spreadsheet so you can track your own, and see our data from a few years as well. After a chicken is not laying very efficiently, you need to make a few decisions about what to do with your lovely hen. The end of this post will cover decision making points for a hen that is no longer laying eggs. While a young hen has a very productive life, the average chicken can live 10 years– but rarely lays a single egg after 4 years of age.
Many individuals will choose to buy young hens that are already laying from a trusted source. Many commercial flocks will sell hens to backyard bird owners, though this is changing with Avian flu and other biosecurity reasons. We have seen young pullets being sold in Iowa averaging around $30 and older hens, about 1.5 years during the first molt, being sold for $5. Carefully access the hen’s body condition, the general care of the facility and if the hen is coming from a stress-free environment if you decide to purchase a hen in this manner. Many commercial facilities will clip the beaks and it will be very difficult for the birds to forage after living in this manner.
How many eggs does a chicken lay?
The most productive breeds include Rhode Island Reds, white leghorn, Red/black sexlinks (ISA’s) and the Buff Orphington. All of those breeds have various benefits and considerations to research and understand, but they will all produce an average of 250-300 eggs a year! Different chicken breeds that are popular include easter eggers and heritage breeds, which have other benefits but may not be a breed of chicken that produces as high number of eggs.
As you get your own flock, these are some of the numerous factors that you can research to decide which breed best suits you.
What can maximize production to get more eggs?
First and foremost, while choosing a high production breed and following the best care considerations noted below, good layers will also produce well when they are cared for! We believe in letting our backyard flock have access to pasture and foraging in a safe way, which means chicken tractors on our farm, as well as feeding a high quality grain mixed specifically for egg layers of at least 18% protein. Foraging, feeding scraps and bugs is only an added supplement to a complete layer feed that’s made for backyard flocks.
Other important things to consider is that a hen’s ability to lay eggs lessens as it ages. The first year, after the 22 week pullet period will be the highest number of eggs the hen lays. A healthy hen will continue to lay about an egg a day, average 250-300 eggs in a year, but even with proper care, the egg count will decline. The end of this post covers what we do with our hens once they have reached the maximum number of months of laying farm fresh eggs.
In our experience, we always choose ISA browns or blacks from a local hatchery and get them as chicks in the fall. This helps get eggs in the winter months, allows them to molt in the warmer season and avoids less spring chores for the busy farmers we are!
What’s the best care considerations for chickens
As our farm is a large producer of farm fresh eggs to our many clients, we’ve worked out the ideal system to best care for chickens but it may seem out of scope for the feathered friends in your backyard flock. Scale these tips to fit your home flock as you see fit!
In the winter many producers will add light to trick the hens from molting because the daylight hours will make them continue to produce eggs. We do not add light into our coops. Instead, we have a variety of ages of hen’s so we can keep getting farm fresh eggs all year!
In our operation, we value protection more than forage. Yet, forage is important so we keep our birds in large chicken tractors so they are protected, yet can graze new grass every day!
warmth in winter
A heat lamp isn’t necessary, but it is important to have a draft free, yet still ventilated area, for your birds. We’ve actually been keeping our birds in a high tunnel, which is similar to a green house. This allows warmth, protection and the ability to scratch dirt/forage all year round!
water and feed
Always keep fresh water and a complete feed in front of your birds, even if they are foraging!
How to Care for molting chickens
A chicken who is molting is going through a natural hormone cycle when they are typically about 18 months of age. During this time they will layer fewer eggs, or no eggs at all, and will often eat more feed as they are trying to replace and regrow the feathers lost during the molting period. Keep the molting chicken fed a balanced diet, and expect them to eat more. Typically they molt during the colder months, and they have less feathers so they will eat A LOT to make up for this loss.
What costs are associated with having chickens?
The handy calculator we developed and linked at the end of the post covers all costs associated with raising a backyard flock of chickens. In our current assessments, each hen costs us a little over $75 to care for over a three year period of time. Much of this cost is generated in the brooding stage when— We believe in having our chickens on full forage, even in the winter! Yet we still provide commercial grain. One of the biggest factors in our operation deciding to sell eggs to our community was that it enabled us to purchase bulk feed to lower our costs. Since a hen eats about a quarter pound of feed per day, it’s reasonable to manage at least 100 hens to be able to meet the bulk feed order minimum for most feed mills, but it has reduced our cost per 50 pounds greatly! Outside of the general care of the chicken, if you plan to sell eggs you will also need to know your state’s regulations and the department of agriculture’s regulations regarding washing, sanitizing and refrigerating eggs. You will also have to consider the cost of cartons if you intend to sell in a state that requires a new one each time! If you live in Iowa, feel free to contact us and we can tell you what our experience was like applying for the license!
What can be done with a hen that no longer lays eggs?
On our farm, we process our hens as stewing hens when they are on their second molt, close to two years of age. While this may be hard to imagine a bird being a part of your family for so long to end up being on the supper table, it is a natural consequence as they are no longer at peak production. The consistent egg production has decreased and you may get one egg out of the hen every three days, yet they have the same feed and care costs as a bird who provides an egg every day. Other options include keeping the hen until it dies more naturally, or giving it to someone else.
Hopefully this post has been insightful for you as a future chicken owner, or a buyer of farm fresh eggs! Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about eggs or raising chickens. Below we’ve included a contact form, a link to buy our farm’s fresh eggs and a link to the handy calculator we’ve made for our operation!
Interested in buying our farm fresh eggs? You can shop our farm directly at the link below! You can also find our eggs in a variety of other stores by checking out this page!
We’ve provided our handy, dandy Egg Tracker on Teachable! It covers all the costs associated with raising chickens in one spot, and let’s you input real data from your flock to make sure your egg layers are paying their own bills!
Link to chicken essentials post