By Mikelle Roeder, Ph.D., flock nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition – Raising backyard chickens should be fun. You provide your hens a chicken coop, care and quality feeds. They provide you nutritious eggs and undeniable companionship. But what’s the best strategy for helping hens lay eggs that are fresh and healthy for your family?
A quality hen care plan begins with a well-designed management strategy and a complete nutrition program.
Here are three tips for a successful laying.
- Provide at least 90 percent of the diet through a complete high-quality layer feed, starting at 18 weeks of age.
When hens lay eggs nearly every day, it’s a full time job. Our job is to provide them the nutrients they need to be most successful. The number one tool we can give them is a complete and balanced diet when they begin to lay eggs around 18 weeks of age. Hens lay eggs that are more nutritious when fed a premium chicken feed, so feeding them well can result in better nutrition for both them and your family.
Complete layer feeds are formulated to include all of the nutrients hens require while laying eggs. The diet should include: calcium for strong shells; amino acids, vitamins and minerals for enhanced egg quality and hen health; and probiotics and prebiotics to promote the hen’s digestive function.
The complete layer feed should comprise at least 90 percent of the hen’s diet. The remaining 10 percent can come from supplemental feeds, such as scratch grains, good quality table scraps and oyster shells.
Feeding chickens scraps and scratch grains is OK, but we don’t want to feed too much “extra” feed because it can dilute and unbalance the complete nutrition in the hen‘s pellets or crumbles, affecting her production and health.
- Prevent shell cracks by gathering eggs 2-3 times per day.
Once hens begin laying eggs, be sure to gather eggs at least in the morning and in the evening. This helps to keep the eggs cleaner and reduces chances for eggs to get cracked by hen traffic in the nests.
Egg cracks can allow bacteria access to the interior of the egg. Microscopic cracks and large cracks can be a result of an inadequate diet and infrequent egg gathering. We’ve found that feeding a complete layer feed can improve shell strength, helping to address microscopic shell cracks and keeping bacteria from entering the egg.
In addition, gather eggs 2-3 times per day. This helps prevent eggs from getting stepped on and thereby cracked or broken, which can lead to egg eating. Egg eating generally occurs when a hen finds a broken egg, tastes it, likes it and begins searching for other broken eggs, then learns to break them herself. Address egg eating by feeding hens for strong shells and gathering eggs frequently.
- Provide light for at least 17 hours per day.
Light is a critical ingredient in egg laying. One primary reason hens may stop laying eggs is decreasing day length.
Hens need a minimum of 17 hours of daylight to sustain strong production. Without supplemental light, they will naturally stop laying eggs when daylight drops below 12 hours per day due to a hormonal response in the hen that is triggered by light.
To address this problematic hormonal response and promote long-term egg production, provide one incandescent 40-watt or LED 9 to 13-watt bulb (brighter light is neither necessary nor advantageous) per 100 square feet of coop space. Use an automatic timer to keep light and dark hours consistent so hens stay on a laying and sleeping schedule.
As with nutrition and management, consistency is key when providing light to our hens. Just a day or two of change in any of these factors can hinder egg production.