May 2, 2011

On 2nd Year Egg Laying

I've been wondering about something. It's about chickens, specifically egg laying. It's based on my limited experience, so I'd like to ask you to share your own observations.

Before we got our chickens, I did a lot of research and gathered a lot of information. I relied on the experts, with their credentials and degrees, who told me things like, chickens don't lay during the short days of winter. After reading that, we decided in favor of the chickens' natural rhythms, and opted not to artificially light the coop during the winter. To prepare for the expected egg drought, I froze about 13 dozen eggs. I was pleasantly surprised then, when I got eggs all winter long. Production was down during moulting, but I never lacked eggs for baking and an occasional omelet. In fact, my Delaware finished her moult and resumed laying before the shortest day of the year.

Something else concerned me from my chicken studies. That was, that egg production is expected to drop drastically after the first year. So much so, that most producers replace their entire laying stock every year. I wasn't sure what to do about that. For one thing we wanted to raise our own chicks as replacements, and DH is dead set against incubators. He wants our chicks to be mother raised. Because of that, I decided to put my hope on at least one of my hens going broody this summer, so we could raise a few replacements for next year.

Well, my chickens have resumed egg production this 2nd year, equal to their first. Another very happy surprise. Still, I was puzzled as to why my chickens have been so non-compliant in these areas, according to the books anyway.

Now, I'm not one to argue with the experts. True experts deserve a lot of respect. However, was it even remotely possible, that the experts could be wrong?  I don't necessarily mean in their area of expertise, which is production and profit. To accomplish these goals, "improvements" are necessary: of breed, feed, and management technique. These include unnatural lighting during the winter and starting each year with a fresh batch of layers, specifically a hybrid breed developed for high egg production. Let's face it, it's easier for them this way.

Homesteaders and small scale family farms, however, often choose heritage breeds. We do this not only because the birds are beautiful, but to help preserve rare breeds the world might otherwise lose. Could that possibly be the difference? Could it just be that these heritage breeds don't shoot their entire egg wad the first year of their lives, but the hybrids do? That heritage chickens spread their egg laying out over two or more years instead?

Do you have chickens? Would you be willing to participate in some unofficial research? I'd be interested to know:

  • What breeds do you have?
  • Are they hybrid or heritage? 
  • How did your first and second year egg production compare for each breed?
  • Did you light your coop artificially during winter's short days?

Thank you to all who participated! You can see a summary of the answers to these questions in this post, Unofficial Egg Laying Research Results.

Click button for more or to participate!


chook said...

i have three golden sex link hens. they just turned four years old in mid-april.

i'm still averaging 1.5 eggs a day, except for when they went into molt.

my one hen stopped laying completely. her eggs had become increasingly fragile; i couldn't even pick them up without them breaking.

my legally blind chicken just started laying again; i'm pretty sure that the lack of visible light is a big factor.

patsy took a long hiatus starting in the fall and began laying again mid-february.

they have a light in their coop but i didn't use it over the winter. this might be a big factor in the long dry spell.

i considered getting a new set of chicks this year, but i'm pretty sure the girls will produce enough to keep me happy.

overall, i really like this breed (or mix of breeds). they don't go broody, are pretty calm, and have been excellent producers.

Judy said...

My 6 hens came from Atwoods. I have no idea what breeds they are. At least one hen must be an Araucana because I get blue eggs. All the hens came out of the heavy pullet tub. They just went through their 3rd winter. No artificial light, they are fed layer pellet from the co-op year round. They are moved about the yard year round and get kitchen scraps as well. Egg production last winter was down to 1 egg every other day and that was the Araucana. As soon as I bought a dozen eggs, egg production started back up and I am getting 4 to 5 eggs a day again. Which from what I've read is about right. They say one hen won't lay as she will become the 'watch' bird of the flock like a rooster. The batch I had previous to this batch were 5 years old and were still laying until the neighbor's husky got them.

I wonder if because we are not stressing our birds with lights, cramped quarters, and over-crowding, along with we give them a more natural diet if that isn't helping us have longer egg production life in our birds.

Doyu Shonin said...

We have currently some rhode island reds, some americaunas, and an australorp. formerly we had some araucanas, bantys, and barred rocks. We did not light the barn and everybody's second year was good, regardless of breed.

Geodyne said...

As you know, I had Araucanas. Their second year was better than their first, with a break for moult in the winter. But my hens preferred to eat when free-ranging rather than eat commercial feed, which meant that they ate less in the dark months. I think that affected their egg production.

In this, the third year for the one surviving original hen, I'm told her egg production is as good as for the pullet.

Leslie @ Farm Fresh Fun said...

Delighted to have found your wonderful blog thru HR party! Our hens have been as you describe... Laying through first winter, then lighter next winters but always laying except during molts. They are a three year old mixed flock of heritage breeds. THANKS very much for all you share here! I'm your newest follower.

Mr. H. said...

I have often wondered if some of the older breeds that don't lay as well might lay much longer as their systems are not as stressed, so it was very interesting to hear you bring this up. We have 15 hens right now and they are all allowed to free range on about an acre as they wish. I can't speak for our newest additions of Red Star, Buff Orpingtons, and a Leg Horns as we have only had them for a few months, but our original Rhode Island Reds are still laying pretty good and are over 4 years old now. Their second year egg production was excellent. We do light our coop from late afternoon until evening during the winter so the birds can have a longer day...they hate going to bed.:) Honestly, I think the best thing for good egg production is free range and plenty of greens and bugs...a natural diet and life.

Evelyn said...

It sounds like the "experts" are experts for the commercial field as you say. When I had chickens they continued to lay all winter and well into 3rd and 4th yrs., just a little less and the flock was added to as necessary. No extra light. I had Barred Rocks and I think it was just because I liked how they looked!

Nellie from Beyond My Garden said...

I agree with Mr. H. Your chickens have less stress and confusion. I am no expert but I don't like to have the stress and crowds when procreating. Perhaps chickens don't either.

Sherri B. said...

I am glad that you asked these questions and I tend to agree with Evelyn, that the 'experts' must be for commercial laying. We have one rooster and 12 hens...9 Rhode Is. reds, 2 Barred Rocks and 1 '?'. We are currently getting, on the average, 9 eggs a day. The reds have been laying for 2 yrs. now and the first year for the other three. We had eggs through the winter but very little during the molt...We use no light or heat. We feed with an organic, No GMO, no corn, no soy, layer blend. We also have a heated water bowl for them in the cold months. They free range and have plenty of room in the coop and run...We are hoping that one of the girls will want to hatch some chicks and are planning to let the 'moms' take care of their own with no interference from us.

I thank you for bringing us all together like this with your questions. Hopefully we can all help each other learn and share helpful hints. I am off to check you the other blogs now. xo

Anonymous said...

Growing up (mid-80's) we had chickens. I have no idea what breed they were, some do-good-in-the-desert variety. There were always eggs. We never bred specifically. Every once in a while there'd be chicks (CUTE!) and every one in a while there'd be a chicken that got put down. We didn't 'manage' anything, never incubated, never used artificial lighting, they had free range, and there were always eggs.

Leigh said...

Chook, it's interesting about your blind chicken. At least we know they don't absolutely need light! I have trouble with fragile shells sometimes too. I dry the ones I have, crush them, and offer free choice. The hens love them (and so far no one has put 2 and 2 together to equal crushed shells come from whole eggs!

Judy, I have Americaunas and they too lay blue/green eggs (the difference between them and Araucanas being that Araucanas have no tails.) Your comment is interesting because my Americaunas never stopped laying and gave me winter eggs faithfully.

I think you're correct about stress and housing. It will be interesting to tally all the comments.

Risa, that's more evidence in favor of heritage breeds!

Tara, very interesting about the Araucanas. So far, they (and Americaunas) are scoring quite high. I should have mentioned as well, that my Americaunas lay my largest eggs.

Leslie, welcome! And thank you for both commenting and following. This is my first HR; it was rather coincidental that I ran across it today with a good homestead oriented Monday post! I'm on my way to visit your blog as well.

"they hate going to bed" LOL. Hey, if your girls like it, then why not. Interesting about the RIRs, Mike. Four year olds laying well is a real plus. Seems like we're dispelling a few chicken myths.

Evelyn, thank you for that! More 3rd and 4th year layers doing well. I think you're correct about the experts. They seem to be geared toward industrialized agriculture rather than balance.

Nellie, I think that the absence of stress and confusion is really key. And that comes from being able to do what a chicken is meant to do!

Sherri, oftentimes, its agribiz who foots the bill for the "research." No one can convince me that doesn't effect the results! Who wouldn't want to keep the research $$ rolling in.

I would love to find an organic feed. I've not seen it around here, which is one of the reasons we're trying to grow our own corn!

Q, that sounds exactly like what we're aiming for. From the comments so far, it looks like we'll only need a few new hens to add every couple of years. That's encouraging.

Lynda said...

Leigh: A very timely post. I just purchased another 10 chicks to intergrate into my small flock. Four of my hens (Light Brahmas) are starting their second spring: they lay an egg almost every day...even in the winter (no lights)the other three: Cochin, Welsummer, Rhode Island Red were rescued so I have no idea how old(at least 3 yrs. old) they lay at least 3 times a week. My hens free range and are supplemented with fresh garden trimming, cooked grains twice a week, apple cider vinager and molassas in their water along with their daily laying mash and scratch grains. They laid all winter, rapid moults and 3 went broody...if I had a rooster at the time I would have let nature take it's course...I'm better prepared this year.

Susan said...

A great idea. I have both hybrid and heritage. I do not notice that one lays better than the other. I've had some of my chickens for over 3 years and they still lay eggs - although not every day.

I have found that there isn't much difference in the number of eggs laid from year one to year two. After the second year, production drops off.

I usually do not use artificial lighting and like to let them have a rest during the winter. However, this year it was bitterly cold and I did have a light on a timer from mid-February through mid-March. It did make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Hello and interesting study. I am curious of the outcome.

I have one Buff Orpington and three Aracanas and one Orpington rooster. This is their second year of laying and their output has not diminished. I routinely get four eggs a day. They did stop laying for a couple of months during a molt, but started right up again after their feathers came back in more beautiful than ever.

I would love for my girls to brood, but so far, they are not interested.

One of my banty hens hatched seven chicks last month and they are the smartest, fastest, cutest things you can imagine. I wish my big hens would follow in Zena's (banty mom) footsteps.

trump said...

To anyone who might be interested in reading a post from Jean, an old order Mennonite woman from New York state on my blog "Amish Stories". This is Jeans first ever post on the internet, and she's only doing this to give some insight into her culture. Feel free to post any questions that you may have for her, and if she gets enough responses in the form of questions, she may answer a few of them on her next post at her convenience. Richard from Lebanon county's Amish community.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention in my previous comment that I do not light the girls at night and they have ample kibble and scratch provided them but they mostly free range in our fenced acre of wooded area.

Monica said...

ok, i have wyendots right now. they are a docile bird, good egg layers. i do put a light in the coup in the winter months. as much for some heat as to keep egg production. I have had a variety of chickens over the past 7 years and I haven't noticed that they lay all (or most) of their eggs the first year. I even have a hen that is about 4 years old and she only went broody for the first time this past fall. I wanted the buff orpingtons because I liked the looks of them. Then I found that they were good mothers, docile, good egg layers, and a good meat bird. We will be purchasing an incubator because our history of adding chicks to our flock haven't been real good. The hens would peck them to death. Then I was told that if I introduce the chicks at night while the others are on the roost, they will wake up and think that they had always been there. I am going to try this one chick at a time until I know that they won't kill them all off! I'll let you know how that goes!

Megan @ Purple Dancing Dahlias said...

We have heritage breeds, Araucanas, Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Partridge Rocks, Golden Polish, Crevecoeurs, Silver Spangle Hamburgs and Light Brahmas.

They are all in their first laying year, we usually butcher then at 13months so that they don't get tough.

The only light they have in their coop over winter is their heat lamp when it gets really cold here so I don't know how much of an effect that has on them.

Leigh said...

Lynda, I hear you about being prepared. But then, it's step by step. I hadn't thought about cooked grains, though my chickens do get leftovers. Ditto for cider vinegar and molasses, though I do blend up fresh garlic to add to drinking water if they get the "runs."

Susan, thank you for this. I'm getting varied reports about 3 and 4 year old layers. What breeds do you have of both the hybrids and heritage?

sgtempleton, do you have a blog??? I would love to come visit. Sounds like you get excellent production from your hens. I'm really thinking the Aracanas are a great breed. You know, you could put any breed eggs under your broody bantys. I doubt they'd notice the difference!

Richard, thanks for the heads up. I'll definitely come read Jean's post.

Monica, my DH loves the look of the Buffs too. In fact, I believe we'll probably get some next spring, for the same reasons. I'll be interested to know how your nighttime chick introduction goes! I may need to do the same.

Megan, what a wonderful assortment of breeds. It will be interesting to see how it goes as they mature.

Ken and Mary of Fancy Fibers Farm said...

Not sure if we can be of much help as we don't keep records or rather have any way of knowing which hens lay which eggs. Anyway, we have buff orps, barred rocks, ameracauna/EEs, brahma, black australorp, RI reds, Norwegian Jaerhon, Wellsummer, Speckled Sussex, and Russian Orloff. We generally run about 30 or so hens of egg-laying age. We don't artifically light and we get eggs year round with diminished production during the winter. I'm talking about maybe just a few eggs a day then. But once the daylight starts lengthening, the girls kick into overdrive and now were getting an average of 2 dozen a day. I know that Orloffs are a heritage breed, but I'm not sure about the Sussex. Our girls subsist mostly in the pasture, when the bug populations down, we will provided them with a little extra laying mash/scratch. Hope this can be of some help.

Michelle said...

What breeds do you have? Light Brahma, "Americauna," Welsummer, Brown Breasted Red
Are they hybrid or heritage? Heritage, mostly
How did your first and second year egg production compare for each breed? I am starting my third year, and my three oldest hens are stil laying just as much as the hens that are last years' chicks.
Did you light your coop artificially during winter's short days? I didn't deliberately use light to cause the hens to lay, but it was such a hard winter that I had to use a heat lamp, which caused them to lay in the winter. This spring has been so wishy-washy that their laying has been sproadic, though, so at least they got a reprieve in this past two months or so.

Betty Bohemian said...

My first try at chickens was 3 barred rocks, and 3 silkies. They all started laying at about 6 months and continued to do so until they ended up in the belly of a bobcat 2 and a half years later. The silkies were broody OFTEN. I never used artificial light or heat. They did stop laying when temps got down to about 30 degrees, which is about as cold as it got.

megan said...

I have Anconas, an italian heritage breed. They are now 2 years and 7 months and just started laying again after a very long hiatus. They stopped laying altogether last summer when one went broody and the others followed suit. Anconas are supposed to be "completely non-sitters."

Then there was late summer molting, before they got back into laying. I thought they were done, having hit year two and already egged-out. Then, in February (in maine) I started getting maybe one egg a week out of the three girls. Since the beginning of april, I am back up at average production from all three - usually two per day, sometimes three. Twice this week, someone laid a small "wind egg," just as they occasionally did when they first started laying. No Idea.

Anconas are known to start laying as young birds. Mine started in January of their first year (born in late august), with a red bulb heat lamp in their coop, set on a timer. Red bulbs aren't supposed to have an effect on laying; they're just for heat.

I don't understand chickens. I don't think they understand either.

Dicky Bird said...

I have around 75 chickens - I know, I let the hens set on alot of eggs last spring and replenished my flock. I let my chickens do what chickens do, they know how to do it better than me - so I let them be chickens. I live in northcentral Wisconsin and have never put lights out in the winter. I've never lost one due to the extreme cold either. Due to my free range methods and letting my hens set on their own eggs, my flock is alot of cross. I have Silver Lace Dorkings, Deleware, Old English Game, Silkies, Astrolops (sp?), Wyndottes and a bunch of ???'s. My hens will lay 3-4 years. There are about 15 roosters and 60 hens -I've been getting over 40 eggs a day. They are starting to get "broody" now and I just decided this week to let them set on their nests. You can learn alot from watching chickens - they are excellent mothers! I sell the eggs, butcher the extra roosters and sell some young chickens. Good luck with your flock. Blessings from Wisconsin.

Joe Stultz said...

Just like to say I'm really enjoying your blog. I'm not a homesteader but a wannabe. I do have a couple of garden spaces though and I live in the country.

To your question: I'm not an expert on chickens but I am an expert on experts. Most are "second handers", that is, they just repeat what they are taught, told, or read somewhere rather than reporting from independent research and experience. I think often "experts" will contradict their own experience rather than go against the "experts" that went before them.

I like John Seymour as he reads like someone who walks the walk and doesn't give a rip about what others have said- he reports from his own experience. Or else he's got me conned.

Back OT: please be sure and update us on your pancake patch as I am using your experience to guage whether or not to plant my own. If you can believe the "experts", an eighth of an acre (26' square, or the equivilant area) should yeild at least 3-4 bushels based on the low average (quoting "experts") of 30 bushels an acre. That's 180-240 lbs. of wheat for a tiny patch! I am frankly skeptical of that figure. I can't wait to see how yours turns out. I live in the foothills of Appalachia in SW VA so spect what would work for you would work for me.

Joe Stultz said...

Actually, to correct myself I meant to say 26 yards square, but even that would have been wrong. Closer to 25 yards square.

Leigh said...

Ken & Mary, yes the Speckled Sussex are definitely a heritage breed. In fact, they were #5 on my wish list when I decided to only order 4 breeds. I wish I'd thought to include diet & area in my question. Seems like those things are a big factor too.

Michelle, 3rd year and still laying strong! I'm really getting encouraged by everyone's comments.

Betty, I never thought of keeping silkies for eggs! Nor of using them for brood hens. Very interesting. Sorry about how you lost them. :(

Megan, I don't understand chickens all that well either, LOL, but I am absolutely loving learning about them. Sounds like your Anconas didn't read their own description. ;) That's why I love sharing our experiences. I didn't know that about the red bulbs, so thanks for that.

Dicky Bird, wow, 75 hen raised chickens! Another myth blown. I can't tell you how many folks have told me it can't be done; that I need to invest in an incubator. Seems like 3 - 4 years of laying is a common comment. Thanks for adding yours!

Joe, my husband and I have reached the exact same conclusion about "experts"! I agree that those with experience, like John Seymour, Gene Logsdon, Carla Emery, speak with so much more genuine authority.

Very encouraging figures on the wheat. I believe my patch is roughly 15 - 16 square yards. I have to say it has headed out beautifully, so barring some other disaster, I think we'll do fairly well.

BTW, most homesteaders start with a little land and a garden, so welcome to the club!

Leigh said...

CORRECTION - my pancake patch is more like 6 X 30 feet, or 10 sq yards. Still, it will be a good frame of reference.

ontario farm girl said...

We have seven banty hens, two barred rock and a polish hen. We had just a heat lamp in their pen all winter to keep their water from freezing. Their egg production dropped but we still got eggs all winter. We have them free range. I think they are less stressed and happier so they produce more. The big producers replace after every year because they are trying to get as many eggs as possible.

trump said...

Thank you Leigh for your visit to my blog. You posted some very interesting questions for Jean, and please dont be a stranger, i know i wont be. Richard from Lebanon county's Amish community.

Donna said...

The chickens must not have read the reports by the experts lol. Great information for the future. Thanks everybody ;)

Window On The Prairie said...

I don't have any chickens, but would like to someday, and appreciate you're sharing your experience with them. My guess is that yours are free ranging and they are the heritage breeds. Or maybe your chickens are just 'onery. :)

badgerpendous said...

We have 3 barred plymouth rocks.

The first winter, they kept laying like usual, and then they kept on laying right through their second full summer.

Then the second fall hit and they slowed down. We didn't get any eggs at all during a 7 week period, and then they slowly ramped back up.

Now, in their third spring, the hens are laying almost as much as their first year (off maybe 5%).

We never bothered to light their coop, but then we don't rely on the eggs as a huge part of our diet (we live right smack in the suburbs).

cwisner said...

We were given Rhode Island Reds by friends who had them for at least 3 years. We had them for 5 and I know this sounds strange but they laid eggs til the end. We free ranged them and of course where we live the foxes got a few. Our last 5 chickens were given to friends whose children made them pets and moved them to Louisiana from Maryland. My parents also raised RIRs and had them for years because in those days you could not afford to replace good egg layers every year.
I only had light in the coop in the winter if I went into feed after dark. My girls loved winter and would not allow me to keep them penned in. They did the old wake with the sun and sleep when it darkened. They also liked to take rides on sleds.
Some experts just don't know.

Leigh said...

Jen, everyone's comments support your thoughts, that free ranged, home steaded chickens are under less stress and produce better. I honestly am thinking now though, that the commercial producers aren't better off replacing their entire flocks every year. It's just an unnecessary added expense.

Richard, thank you! I hope we don't scare Jean off! :)

Donna, I think you're right!

Suzanne, I hope this bit of unofficial research is helpful then! Even hybrids do well if allow to free range it seems.

Badgerpendous, I love that you have chickens in the suburbs. And suburban chicken info is important too! Interesting about eggs in your diet. We never ate a tremendous amount of eggs until we started averaging 4 or 5 a day. Now we eat eggs everyday. :) Though now I'm thinking I should maybe start freezing some again!

Char, thank you! You're confirming what the experts are wrong. That is so funny that they liked rides on sleds. Chickens never cease to amaze me, LOL

Toni aka irishlas said...

Hi Leigh,
I have Plymouth Rocks - White and Barred. They laid continuously through the first winter without a drop in production, but, the second winter they did stop laying. I do not add artificial light to the coop. They did start laying again about March and they are laying as in the first two years. This is their third year as layers and I'm surprised because, like you, I was under the impression after a couple of years they were pretty much done.

We did get six new pullets this year based on this information.

I may have to freeze eggs! Glad you posted about that!

the Goatessa said...

Use your goat milk to keep the hens laying all winter long. I used to put a pail of goat milk next to the coal stove for a day or two to let the curds and whey separate out. Put the whey in the hens' water tank and put the curds ("chicken cheese") in a shallow pan for the hens to eat. They love it! Lots of protein and other nutrients kept my hens laying for three years straight, all year 'round, and none of them went into a molt. Rhode Island Reds and Araucanas are my favorite layers.
Good luck and best wishes for all you dream for!

Leigh said...

Toni, thanks! I've read blogs where folks have replaced their layers based on that information. Now I'm wondering what it was actually based on.

Goatessa, hello and thank you for that! What an excellent idea for extra goat milk. I'm looking to produce all our own animal feed, and of course protein is always the question. This would be a great source of that.