Whether you are keeping hens for your own egg consumption or want to sell the eggs, you need to manage your egg production.
The age at which a pullet begins to lay varies according to the breed, the health of the bird, diet, lighting conditions, stress and temperatures. On average most pullets lay at 18 to 20 weeks, but she can be up to a year old in some cases. In the meantime you can be providing the ideal conditions to encourage them to reach their point of lay.
Feed is, of course, most important. Do not feed layer feed until they are at least eighteen weeks old. Use a good quality commercial brand, rather than trying to mix your own. Limit the supplementary treats, even healthy ones.
Make supplementary calcium available separately, as the individual hen requirements vary and they will take sufficient for their own needs.
Naturally there must be a constant supply of clean water available.
Provide attractive nesting boxes, one for every four to five layers. Ensure that your nest boxes are in a dark, quiet corner of the coop, where the hens will feel safe. It’s also a good idea to have the boxes raised a few centimetres off the floor.
When your hens show signs of being ready to lay, place a fake egg in the nest box, which will give them the idea that the boxes are “the place” to lay their eggs. You can buy a ceramic egg or use a golf ball. Hens have even been known to be taken in by a china doorknob.
Most hens lay early in the day, so by keeping them in the coop until most of the egg-laying is done, you maximise the chances that they’ll lay in the nest boxes instead of finding a cosy place outside the coop. Line the boxes with wood shavings or straw and keep replacing it to encourage laying in the nest boxes. Remove droppings regularly.
Sprinkle fresh or dried herbs in the nest. Hens benefit from nest box herbs by inhaling, rubbing against and occasionally eating them. Some herbs repel insects and rodents, while others have anti-bacterial properties, and can act as natural wormers, anti-parasitics, stress relievers and laying stimulants. Some improve blood circulation or respiratory health. Use combinations of basil, catnip, dill, fennel, lavender, lemon balm, marigolds, mint, nettles, parsley, pineapple sage, rose petals, thyme and yarrow.
Limit stress by having little activity in the coop in the morning.
There will be signs that will indicate that the pullet is ready to start laying. Their combs and wattles begin to darken and redden, they might begin to explore the nesting boxes and they adopt a more accommodating posture when the rooster attempts to mate with them.
The first few eggs will not be perfect. They might be small, misshapen or without a proper hard shell. After a while they should start to lay consistently normal eggs.
Once your hens are laying regularly, take care to remove any eggs that have been broken. They quickly attract bacteria, insects and rodents, but you also want to prevent the hens from eating the contents. When a hen accidentally cracks an egg and she investigates it, she finds that it’s tasty and nutritious and gobbles it down. This behaviour can spread quickly amongst the flock and, if left uncorrected, can be difficult to stop.
Collecting and Storing Eggs
Collect the eggs as soon as possible. Most hens lay their eggs before 10am. If you can manage it, collecting eggs twice a day can help keep them really clean, and also discourages egg eating.
Unwashed eggs have a natural antibacterial coating called bloom, so try to clean your eggs without wetting them. This means using something abrasive to rub off any dirt or droppings until the egg is clean. This method keeps most of the bloom intact. Use a sanding sponge, loofah, soft sandpaper or abrasive sponge of some kind to dry clean your eggs. Be sure to sanitize the sanding sponge, or whatever you’re using to clean the eggs, occasionally.
If your eggs are just too dirty to dry clean you can use water to clean them. Sometimes they get egg yolk on them from a broken egg, which is impossible to remove without washing.
Make sure to use water that is warmer than the egg temperature – medium warmth, not hot, but not tepid, either. Cold water actually causes the pores in an eggshell to pull bacteria from the surface in through the shell and into the egg, where you don’t want it.
Do not immerse the eggs in water or let them stand in water – rather wash the eggs under running water from the tap. Another method is to spray the eggs in wire baskets with warm water, let them sit, then wipe them with a dry paper towel one at a time. Place clean eggs into another basket.
Follow this with a sanitizing spray, using bleach diluted in water for the spray mixture. Then allow the eggs to dry on a rack or in a basket.