How to Raise Chickens for Eggs?
Whether you are looking to open an egg business or just enjoy a backyard flock, it is helpful to know what is involved in raising chickens for eggs before you start. Thanks to the rising popularity of “urban” and “backyard” chickens, there is a lot of information available about beginning your chicken journey, but it can also be overwhelming. At least if you are unprepared. We have put together this comprehensive resource to help you get started.
Before You Begin
The first consideration before planning for your flock is to check local ordinances. Depending on your area, chickens may not be allowed or the number of chickens in your flock may be limited. If you live in an area zoned agricultural this won’t be a problem. But if you live in a typical residential zone area then more often than not the limit is going to be six hens at most. You will also want to make sure that your property has enough space for a coop and space for the chickens to graze, whether in an enclosed area or around your yard.
What You Will Need to Buy
You will need to buy or design and build a coop suitable for the number of chickens you plan to raise. There are many pre-fabricated options available online or from your local feed store or co-op. If your birds are not going to be free-roaming all day, plan to have an enclosed chicken-wire yard for them to graze in.
Inside the coop, the chickens will need nest boxes, roosts, feeders, and water containers. If you are starting with chicks, you will need to also prepare an indoor brooder to house them until they are large enough to transfer outside.
Planning Your Flock
To determine how many chickens you want, you should first determine how many eggs you would like to collect. During the laying season, hens can lay an egg every 24-26 hours. Meaning a single he will give you a couple dozen eggs or more per month. Chickens are a social species, so I recommend no fewer than four hens in your flock. A rooster is not necessary for the hens to lay eggs, but one is needed if you’d like fertile eggs to grow your flock. Local ordinances may not allow rosters as they can be very noisy.
Believe it or not, there are dozens of breeds of chickens, many have unique properties. Do a little research to see which breed is best for you based on what you expect from them Some have better temperaments, some require certain climates, and some lay brightly colored eggs. We love Easter Eggers for their light teal eggs and Olive Eggers for their deep green eggs.
My personal favorite is the Leghorn Chicken. It has wonderful characteristics that may get the perfect egg-laying breed especially for warmer clients. Because of their smaller size the ratio of feed to the amount of eggs you get is phenomenal. They are also originate from the Mediterranean so they have adapted to warmer clean climates. A white leghorn will produce 260-300 per year.
Prepping for Chicks
If you’ve decided to start your flock from chicks, find a local supplier or order online. Be aware that chick sexing is only 90% accurate, so there is always a chance a rooster could slip into your order of hens. Alternatively you can buy pullets which are hens that are 3 months old. This is a better way to ensure what you buy are hens not roosters. Before they arrive, have your brooder set up and have your coop set up. You can build your “run” once your chicks have grown up a little bit.
Starting Your Chicks
Chicks are usually less than a week old when they are sold, so they will need special care until they are large enough to fend for themselves outside. A brooder will give them a safe space to grow.
You can purchase a pre-made brooder or fashion your own out of a cardboard or plastic box. A red light heat lamp set at 92-95 degrees Fahrenheit should be placed a few inches above the bottom of the box. A light layer of bedding or newspaper should be spread along the bottom of the brooder. It can be helpful to block any corners in the brooder so chicks cannot congregate and accidentally injure one another.
Your feeder should be large enough to accommodate all the chicks at once, even once they have gotten a bit larger. A waterer is a necessity and should be shallow to prevent chicks from drowning. Food and water should be available at all times and the brooder should be cleaned out daily.
When to Transfer Outdoors
Once the chicks have fuller plumage, you can decrease the temperature of the heat lamp every few days until you match the outdoor climate. If the weather is warm, chicks can move out to their coop when they are as young as 6 weeks old. Have your coop and run set up by this point so everything is ready for your chicks’ big move.
Your coop size is determined by the size of your flock; you will need at least three square feet of floor space per chicken. There should be one nest box for every three hens and it is helpful if they are easily accessible for collecting eggs. Just like in the brooder, food and water should be available at all times.
Based on your location, keep climate in mind and add heat lamps and insulation or use chicken-wire for well-ventilated areas. Chickens like to roost (rest off the ground) overnight, so perching areas should be provided for them.
Raising Chickens for Eggs
Providing your hens a large, safe space with ample food will set your flock up you up for success in raising chickens for eggs.
Provide a Nutritious Diet
The most nutritious eggs come from free-range chickens. If your location allows, let your hens roam around your property during the day. Not only will their bodies stay stronger, but they will eat help keep your yard free of unwanted insects!
Supplement your chickens’ diet with a high quality, high protein feed to keep them in tip-top egg-laying shape. A calcium supplement, such as ground oyster shells, can help the hens produce eggs with strong shells.
Make sure your chickens have a safe space to rest overnight. Many predators, like raccoons and feral cats, are magicians at getting into hen houses. If your coop and yard are in a permanent location, consider burying your fence into the ground to prevent predators from digging underneath. Placing your coop close to your home or in a high traffic area can also help deter unwanted visitors.
If you’re going to be out of town, make sure that you have a chicken-sitter to take care of your feathered friends. Choose someone who is experienced in working with chickens and can handle anything that might come up while you’re away.
Cost of Raising Chickens for Eggs
Hens will lay eggs when there is approximately 12 to 14 hours of sunlight during the day (typically spring to early fall). Many breeds begin laying eggs by the time the hens are 26 weeks old. Depending on how many chickens you have, you might even be collecting eggs twice a day.
You will want to collect your eggs every day to prevent accident breaks or egg-eating from your hens. If you do find a broken egg, remove it from the coop and clean up any mess in the bedding and nest boxes. Fresh eggs do not need to be washed and any debris can be wiped off with a dry cloth. Once the eggs are washed, the natural protective coating is removed and the eggs will need to be refrigerated. If left unwashed, eggs can be stored on the counter for up to a month.
Here is the payoff you came here looking for, is it worth raising chickens for eggs? If you only wanted to raise chickens to pay less than you would for eggs at the store, then raising chickens for eggs will not be economical. And how could it? You don’t have economies of scale to pay back your fixed investment. If you instead look at the security you will have in being supplied with a fresh supply or eggs along with the enjoyment of the chickens themselves, you come out ahead by a lot.
Let’s use my favorite hen, the white leghorn in our example. The cost of feed is about $14 per 40 pound bag. A typical white leghorn will lay 280 eggs per year while consuming about 114 pounds of feed. That comes out to 2.5 eggs per pound of feed. Using the feed cost states above, 2.5 eggs cost .35 to produce in feed. Not bad right? If you had four hens you would produce 93 dozen eggs per year at a cost of $213.
Based on that math it is very economical to raise chickens for eggs. However when you consider the cost of the coup, run, and other associated equipment you will need to get started it would take a few years to break even That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Because I would count the enjoyment you get get as an unaccounted for economic benefit. There are many types of value that can’t be measured in dollars and cents and raising chickens is certainly one.
While this may seem like a lot of preparation and work, raising chickens for eggs becomes quite easy and routine once you get the hang of it. The benefit of farm-fresh eggs is more than worth it. You get tasty eggs organically raised eggs for a relatively low cost and can have fun doing it.