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.