Hens for laying eggs

Chicken that lay eggs are called layer hens. Layers – or hens that lay eggs are used in layer houses involved in egg production. Layers are purchased at the age of 18 weeks to 20 weeks and are ready to start their 60 week laying cycle.When you buy chickens you can usually specify at what age the birds will be. It is not often that a chicken farmer will buy hens at any other age except 18 weeks to 20 weeks. By this time the hens will be ready to lay and will have (or should have) had all the shots needed to avoid disease. The hens will be placed directly into the layer cages and once they have settled in – about 2 weeks, they will begin to lay eggs.

The hens should also have been debeaked if you are going to use battery cages – this means that they have had the tips of their beaks burnt – this takes the sharp edge off the beak so they will not hurt each other in the cages. As they will spend their lives quite cramped – up to 5 birds in section it is a necessary precaution. If you are planning to do free range eggs or organic egg farming you will need to specify to the supplier as generally all layers are de beaked. For free range and organic the regulations state that they may not have their beaks removed. Anyway – as a free range farmer you will want your chickens with their beaks so they can forage and peck – the hens will get a good portion of their diet from the fields in which they range.As the birds will not be cramped up there is very little chance of them harming one another.

The feed you give them should also be proper layer mash – in the case of cage eggs – if the pellets are too small or too large a hen without her beak will battle to pick the food up. In a layer cage the chicken food will be placed by hand (unless you have a fully automated feeding system on your layer cages) in the troughs at the front. The hens will be able to eat at any time they like – and as long as they have sufficient water they will eat. Generally hens lay in the early hours of the morning – if you are in a very cold place they will lay a bit later – I say generally because there will always be chickens laying through out the day and sometimes the night - especially if you are using your light effectively. You can bank on about an 80 percent to 90 percent lay rate throughout the laying cycle. In the beginning you will only have a few eggs but as the hens get older they will lay more and more. Towards the end of the 60 week laying periods you will see a drop in production. At some point in time you will be spending more on chicken feed than you are making in profit. – this is the time to sell your layers for slaughter and buy a new batch of 20 week old hens.

The type of chicken food your layer hens eat will also determine how well they lay. The breed of hens for eggs is also specific – broiler chickens and layer chickens are bred for specific purposes. There are several good breeds of chickens for laying – speak to your supplier. Specify you want hens for egg production when you buy chickens. Ask if they have had all their shots – and even better – find another egg farmer and ask him who he is buying from. As with all businesses – some guys provide better hens than others. In my experience it is very easy to get a horrible batch – and I have also ended up with male chickens (cocks) in my batch. Remenber not to place the new birds too close to older layers to stop disease, and also remember to put vitamins in their water for the first few days – these are called stress packs and help the hens settle in.

Nest boxes for Free range egg farming

Nest boxes for Free range egg farming

When you are doing free range egg farming or organic egg production you will not be able to use layer cages – you will need to use nest boxes for the hens to lay eggs in.

nest boxes for free range egg farming

24 hole nest box

Nest boxes are equally effective as nest boxes, also allowing the easy collection of chicken eggs. Nest boxes can be used in small chicken houses or large poultry houses. Large poultry companies that produce day old chicks use nest boxes in the layer breeder houses.

Nest boxes used in free range egg farming and breeder houses come in various sizes – the egg boxes, or layer boxes for egg laying come with different amounts of “holes” this is where the hens lay the eggs. In an intensive chicken house and a free range poultry house you can have up to 8 hens per hole. The cost of nest boxes changes with the steel price – as does the price of layer cages and battery cages.

Layer cages or Nest boxes?

What is better layer cages or nest boxes? Depends what you wish to achieve. If you have no qualms about the way you farm your chickens then layer cages or battery cages will be the method to use – if you have a conscience or want to do free range eggs or organic chicken farming then you will have to use nest boxes. Both methods give excellent results – although nest boxes are a bit more work.

Organics South Africa – chicken farming

Chicken farming in South Africa is mostly intensive poultry farming. Organics in South Africa is not a big thing – although it is growing in popularity as the consumer wakes up to the cruel practices used in poultry farming.

Broiler farming is mostly done in closed houses – many of them closed environment houses. Up to 40 000 broiler chickens are kept in a poultry house that cram 15 broilers per square meter. The chickens are fed with automatic feeding systems, food comes from a silo and then fed to chain feeders or pan feeding systems. The water is supplied to the house from a header tank and the chickens drink from nipple drinkers or bell drinkers.

Layer farming – the production of eggs, works in a similar fashion. Lots of laying chickens in a small place – usually kept in layer cages. Although this form of farming is legal in South Africa – it is banned in the EU countries.

Organic farming requires the farm and the supply chain (feed etc) all conform with Organic practices. This for of farming requires space – lots of it – the chickens need to free range and the farm needs to produce a percentage of food on the farm.