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Author Topic: We're in eastern NY, and have about 400 laying hens  (Read 2479 times)

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Offline BottleFed

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Re: We're in eastern NY, and have about 400 laying hens
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2014, 07:52:42 AM »
I'm also in western WA, and my birds are just starting to lay.  One of my fifteen 20 month old hens is laying, none of my three 7 month olds yet, and one of my four 6 year olds started laying, so overall two out of 22, all started within the last two weeks.  I've lived here for 12 years, and typically my birds start laying in early February to middle March, and finish middle August to late November, depending on the breed.  Last year my current 20 month olds, which were hatched 5/7/12, started laying in November and laid well all through the winter, but this year, as adults, have taken the winter off, which is normal when hens are provided only natural light and the days are so short.  I think my current 7 month olds have not started laying yet because they were hatched 6/27/13, so when they were 6 months old the days were just too short to start.  When I lived in CA, SC and GA my birds took a shorter rest period, because winter days are not quite so short in the southern areas of the U.S., and hens need a certain amount of light to be able to lay.


The reason commercial (non-pastured) eggs are available all year round is because the hens are kept inside on artificial light, so they don't perceive any seasonality at all.  Some egg laying operations cull every year when production decreases, but most induce a forced molt for 10-20 days to allow everything to rest and "reset," and get another year of laying out of the birds before restocking.  Hens have their best production the first year, and if properly rested have quite good production their second year, then it goes down considerably, again depending on the breed.  Some of the laying hybrids have a dramatic drop in production by year three (to almost nothing), whereas some of the purebred birds have almost no drop until much later, but may not have started out as high to begin with.  Since I don't cull based on egg production (this is a hobby for me, not a business), I've had birds that totally stopped laying eggs in their fourth year, and birds that continued laying into their twelfth year, again depending on the breed.  I have also had several high production layer hybrids die of oviductal cancer in their third and fourth years, whereas the dual purpose birds tend to live and produce longer, but again with only 180-300 eggs per year, as opposed to  280-350 eggs per year (on artificial light, less with seasonal influences) with the layers purebreds or layer hybrids.  (Eggs per year numbers are for the first and possibly the second year.  I haven't seen any production numbers for older flocks, probably because commercial producers don't keep birds past their second year, and purebred hobbyists don't tend to publish that type of data, and usually don't keep large numbers of birds over the winter anyway -- just the top quality birds for breeding.)


Offline BottleFed

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Re: We're in eastern NY, and have about 400 laying hens
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2014, 07:39:09 AM »
As the days get longer, the hens will start to lay better and better, and for a while every hen with a pulse will earn her keep. Starting about now, though they'll be set back temporarily whenever daytime highs are below freezing.

Because of the inevitability of this upswing, everything you do to encourage them to lay will appear to work!

Realistically, good basic management is all that's required, and they'll soon be laying up a storm.

You said they're from a different pasture-based egg farm, which might be good news or bad news. Personally, I don't like to allow any chickens on the farm unless they're day-old chicks from a reputable hatchery or stock from nearby Oregon State University. The quality of management on many small farms is not up to par. The last time we got off-brand chickens, they brought scaly leg mites with them, a problem that we could have avoided indefinitely if we'd stuck to our own rules. In addition, many small operations are drawn to low-producing breeds, which are hardly worth the effort even in their first laying year.

But good or bad, I'm sure they'll start laying pretty well soon. It's hard to lose money on layers in the spring.

 -- Robert



Offline BottleFed

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We're in eastern NY, and have about 400 laying hens
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2014, 06:48:36 AM »


We're in eastern NY, and have about 400 laying hens, all of them those little red commercial red-bird crosses. Farmers' market customers here prefer brown eggs, and we like the color variations of the shells anyway.

Our hens are in two ChickInn tents http://www.farmtek.com on hay fields. They go outside if the temps are above +20; or if lower, if it's a sunny day.

We have a fluorescent light on a timer in each tent, so they get 14 hours of light each day. It takes very little light to trick them into thinking the days are long enough to lay.

One tent is close enough to the house that we can run an elec cord. The other timer is run by 12 volt battery power, with an inverter. Solar panel recharges the battery. When the days are short, we do have to change the battery every 3 days or so, and give it a boost from the battery charger in the barn.

When the temps drop in to the single digits at night, we bring them HOT water. For water, we don't use chicken waterers, we just fill small 2 gallon buckets. Each bucket has a rock in it, so they don't tip them over.

We've been doing this for about 10 years. Lay rate stays up pretty well even in cold weather.

We've never done forced molting. They molt when they want to. If that were to happen in very cold temps, we'd move molters to an area where we could use a heat lamp.

A very few hens can go into the cellar of the house, unfinished basement.

Because we depend on our hens for significant income, selling at least 185 doz/week, we have to make sure the hens lay all year long, except for the voluntary molting.

We turn over the flock after they've been laying for about a year. Production with the 'production reds' drops off significantly after about a year of laying.

As the hens age, the eggs become larger; the shells become weaker; the egg whites become runny.

Because we take all these steps, many customers at our farmers' market tell us our eggs are the best ever.

Weather....We've not had the extreme cold this year compared to the Midwest. But for our area, I'd say this is the coldest winter here in 20 years. The cold  has lingered for a long time. Now that it's starting to abate, we're heading for coastal snow storms, 8-12 inches by Weds night, and maybe more for the weekend.

Learn more about Herman Beck-Chenoweth's Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing system:  http://shop.b40gs.com/Free-Range-Poultry-Production-and-Marketing-DVD-Valu-Pak-VP0008.htm