In the past many people had a few hens in the backyard for meat and eggs for the family (we did when we were kids). We prepared food for them using basic products like bran, pollard, meat meal, shell grit, warm mash etc. to make up a diet necessary to sustain the hens & produce eggs at a rate one egg every two or three days.
Now days a commercial crossbreed, like these ISA Brown pullets, are bred to lay consistently every day in their first season, unlike the previous backyard or traditional pure breeds. In order to maintain a healthy egg-laying flock certain basic rules need to be taken into account:
1. Food - VERY IMPORTANT. Water
Good quality layers pellets provide a balanced and complete diet for commercial crossbreeds. They require a ration of 15 -18% protein. Adding low protein grain or lots of bread will result in fewer eggs laid and a possible deterioration of the hens, as they will draw what they need from their own bodies to substitute for the lack of protein. It is safe to just add house scraps (particularly meat scraps) to their food availability as this along with green pick is beneficial for them and will add colour & flavour to your egg.
We recommend 'Golden Yolk' or 'Top Layer Crumble' - as we use these products. We have heard complaints of lack of egg production when cheap, lower quality products have been used; this includes grains. Hens starved of protein can cannibalise each other.
Fresh, potable water must be available at all times. Stale or stagnant water will dramatically affect the health of the bird and in turn its egg-laying capability. Basic rule – if you wouldn’t drink it, change it.
Roosts should be at least 75mm wide, flat with 150mm space for each bird and higher than the nest boxes. Nest boxes should be in the darkest place in the shed facing away from the morning light (think privacy!). Allow 1 nest box per 5 birds with a size approx 250mm wide, 350mm deep and 350mm high open only to the front. A 20 litre plastic bottle standing upright with a 150mm X 150mm hole in the front will work well. They will need to be supported to avoid movement.
One of reasons for lack of egg production is aftermath of stress. Many factors such as rough handling, changing their surroundings, competition for food or water, mixing flock ages, overcrowding etc. All these things should be avoided especially in the first few weeks of their arrival. Birds do not like change so if anything needs to be altered i.e. food, then it should be done gradually.
5. Other Issues
At the end of each laying season (10-12 months) it is necessary for the hen to rejuvenate. The hen will moult for about 8 weeks and needs to be fed well during this process. Seasonal changes and quick weather alterations, especially abrupt ones, will affect the hen’s pattern of laying.
**You may assist the hens to have this moult by confining them to their shed, removing all regular food & replacing it with whole oats for 1 week only with no other food - your hens should cease laying & start a new cycle - at the end of week 1, replace the normal layer diet; hens will rejuvenate over a 7 week period & return to looking & behaving like brand new with their egg laying quality back to normal - always ensure fresh water at all times. Remember oats only, no other food for 1 week only.
6. Most Important
Your hens are most vulnerable right now as they are coming into lay. They are still growing feathers, putting on weight & laying your eggs. To give them the best start they need a well balanced, high protein layers diet. Wheat, oats, bread & other low protein foods should not be given until your bird weighs at least 2kg + (Note: triticale should never be fed as a whole grain to chooks - it must be cracked)
7. Laying Time
Your pullet should begin to lay between 18 and 24 weeks old (the majority 20-22). Expect some small eggs to start then gradually increase in size as pullets get older.