Chickens are simple creatures that flourish so long as they’re afforded proper nutrition, shelter and light. When they’re not wasting valuable energy on things like keeping warm, stressing over potential predators or suffering from dehydration, hens react to good care by producing up to 300 eggs a year.
With relatively little effort and a bit of TLC, you can enjoy fresh, quality eggs all year long. Below we’ve gathered some basics to help you care for your chickens and collect the most nutritious eggs possible.
Food and Water
Laying an egg is hard work. To produce a vitamin and mineral packed specimen, chickens must first take in enough nutrients. Chicken feed and foraging are both important steps in helping your brood meet their nutritional needs.
When shopping for feeds, look for brands that offer sufficient protein levels, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and quality vitamins and minerals. Adjust your feed with the seasons, purchasing pellets with higher-protein content to help supplement nutrients lost during peak egg production or when summer heat decreases your birds’ appetites.
You’ll also want to ensure chickens have access to insoluble grit to help their gizzards grind at full tilt. Popular supplements include oyster shell or coarse-ground limestone, which offer additional calcium support.
Some free-range time will give chickens access to nutritious insects, seeds and plants that can help provide a more balanced diet.
Keeping chickens hydrated is also critical to good egg production. Access to a steady supply of clean water is especially important during weather extremes, and we don’t just mean heat. In freezing temps hens require water to properly regulate their body temps, so be sure and do double checks to prevent the water trough from freezing over!
Coop and Nest Boxes
Without a secure ample-sized shelter, the elements, savage predators and in-house disease all threaten the livelihood of your flock. When building or buying a coop, make sure it’s sturdy, well ventilated and is large enough to prevent over-crowding. From there it’s a matter of keeping it clean and dry to help hens stay hygienic and healthy.
Start by penning chickens with double layered chicken wire fixed with thick fence post, leaving enough yardage for foraging. For chickens to flourish, your coop should allow a minimum of four square feet of space per hen. For every five birds you house, there should be at least one perch and one enclosed nest box.
Next comes insulation from weather extremes. Chickens have a generally high tolerance to changing seasons, but egg production can suffer greatly in freezing temps or summer heat waves. Ventilating the coop in warmer weather and preventing cold drafts will help prevent laying disruptions.
Finally, you’ll want to use a ‘litter’ layer made of shavings or sawdust. This twofold treatment insulates bird droppings and provides an avenue for chickens to dust bathe. Rake chicken poop and change out this layering regularly to prevent feces and mud contamination.
Natural and Artificial Light
Chickens are highly susceptible to lighting changes. That’s because hens need loads of light if they are to continue laying eggs on a daily basis. At least 14 hours is the general recommendation from vets. During fall and winter when sunlight may be scarcer, you can set up artificial lights. Use timers to control lights that click on just before sunrise and after sunset.
Fancy bulbs aren’t necessary, either. Invest in a simple halogen, incandescent or warm-colored florescent addition to your coop to keep hens laying all year long.
Ultimately, egg laying is a complex process supported by a few simple steps. Provide your hens with access to clean water, a balanced diet, safe shelter and ample light and watch your egg production soar.