As a hobby, raising laying hens is making a comeback in backyards across America as families discover how rewarding a small chicken flock can be on many different levels. Productive laying chickens can provide fresh eggs for eating, or for hatching into more chickens for increased egg production or meat purposes, and it’s also enjoyable to tend to one’s own flock.
Overview: There are only a few things needed to be successful at raising laying hens: plentiful food and water, a scratch yard, and a secure chicken hutch or coop to protect them from chicken predators. If you are home in the late afternoon or evening and your property is free from animals that would attack your chickens, turning the hens out into the yard or a wooded area allows them the fun of exploring and finding bugs and worms and fresh grass, as well as brings down the cost of feeding them (as they consume less grain) and improves the nutritional quality of the eggs.
Acquiring Hens: Depending on your preference, you can start with birds at any point in their life cycle: fertilized eggs in an incubator, day-old chicks shipped from a hatchery, young pullets raised by another chicken grower, or laying hens. Fertilized eggs can be found from local chicken growers and online. Day-old chicks are generally purchased online or through a catalog, while pullets and hens are found locally (try the farmer’s market, flea market and local classified ads).
Chicken Coops: A good chicken pen, impermeable by predators, is the most important element to successful chicken raising. There are a great variety of chicken coop set-ups available for purchase; many growers choose to save money by buying quality chicken coop plans and making them at home.
Feeding Hens: Laying hens require a high-protein laying mash, or a combination of chicken scratch and free range opportunity to find protein sources through bugs and worms. In both cases, a calcium supplement — generally, crushed oyster shell, should also be provided. Feed stores carry this supplement. Another way to ensure adequate calcium intake is to finely crush all eggshells after cooking with eggs, and give the crushed shell back to the chickens.
Eggs: Hens will begin laying eggs once they mature, at about 5-7 months of age, with their highest rate of egg laying peaking at about 1-3 years of age. Eggs should be collected daily to prevent loss through breakage or eating from over-curious hens.
Raising laying hens is a fun adventure, and it can be quite satisfying and profitable too. As long as the hens are kept safe from predators, have ample room to move around in their cage and plenty of food and water, they will provide eggs to their hearts’ content.