Raising chickens for eggs
We've been raising chickens for eggs for 10 years at New Terra Farm. There is nothing like your own free-range organic eggs, fresh from your backyard chicken coop. Follow along on this page to learn how we manage our flock.
This advice will work whether you are a raising chickens in your backyard for a few eggs for your own consumption, or on a larger scale on small farm or rural property.
Making a Living on Your Small Farm
Getting started: Raise baby chickens.
The most economical way to start raising chickens for eggs is to raise your own baby chickens. Day-old egg-laying chicks are readily available in most areas from local hatcheries or feed stores.
Prices range from one to two dollars per hen for the standard white or brown egg-layer, up to several dollars per chick for the more unusual or heritage breeds such as Barred Rocks or Black Australorps. Personally, we use Black Australorps as we find them to be productive layers and less aggressive than many breeds.
If you choose to start with ready-to-lay pullets, be aware that these birds may cost more than 10 dollars each, perhaps considerably more for heritage breeds. You are trading money for time, as it will take your day-olds about 20 weeks to grow to egg-laying maturity.
Be aware also that many hatcheries require orders several weeks in advance, and that chicks may be available only at certain times of the year. Check with your local hatchery or feed store to confirm availability.
Decide how many hens you want, and place your order. A typical hen of an egg-laying breed can be expected to produce 5 or 6 eggs a week in her prime. She will continue this through her first year of production. Use this figure to calculate how many hens you need to produce the quantity of eggs you desire.
Caring for the baby chickens.
Before you pick up your chicks, you need to get the equipment, supplies and feed to care for them. You will need a way to keep your chicks warm and dry for the first several weeks. We use broody boxes like in the picture below. A heat lamp keeps the birds warm and the screened opening makes sure they don't overheat. The boxes keep out rodents, too.
Use a good quality chick starter feed for the first 5-6 weeks then switch to grower. Don't overfeed; this can lead to problems as the birds may gain weight faster than their internal organs and skeletal structure can keep up. We have had success feeding the chicks twice a day, with enough food to keep them eating for 15 minutes or so.
Give the chicks fresh water twice a day also. When the chicks are fully feathered (at 3 weeks of age or so), they can leave the broody box for the chicken coop.
Raising chickens for eggs - care in the coop
Allow at least 4-5 square feet of space in the coop for each hen. The birds will need roost space and nest boxes in the coop as well. Allow about 6 inches of roost space per bird, and one nest box for every 4 or 5 hens. The nest boxes need to be at least 12 inches square.
At about 20 weeks of age, switch the hens to an egg-laying ration. We also supply oyster shell and grit to our hens, to help in forming strong shells and as an aid to digestion.
Our hens go out in the day-time, and free range around the farm. They return to the coop at night. Make sure you fence the birds OUT of any area you don't want them in; a few hens can scratch the heck out of your garden if they get in.
The hens are normally finished laying by 11 am; you could keep them in the coop until this time, to make sure you are getting all the eggs, then turn them loose to forage.
Raising chickens for eggs is a profitable sideline for a small farm or the organic market gardener. Our CSA customers buy all the eggs we can produce; we are lucky to keep a dozen a week for our own use during the busy summer season. Organic free-range eggs command a premium price; once your customers taste, them they will keep coming back for more.
More tips about raising chickens for eggs: If you are going to raise a few chickens for eggs in your back yard or on a small property, you will need a sturdy, safe chicken coop. Here's the best one we have found:
Best Chicken Coop Plans
If you want to put some food in your freezer (and perhaps some money in your wallet), check out
Raising Chickens for Meat and Money
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