First, you don’t need a rooster in your flock to have eggs. Hens will lay eggs with or without a rooster around. If your only goal is to have eggs to eat, you can skip the rooster. He’ll just consume feed and raise the cost of your egg production. If on the other hand, you want to hatch eggs, you will need a rooster.
As a general rule, your hens will begin laying eggs between five and six months. If you’ve never seen young hen eggs, you are in for a surprise. They are miniature versions of the ones you buy at the grocery store. They will get bigger as your hens get bigger, but the eggs are tiny when the hens first start laying. Hens will lay eggs until they are four years old (sometimes longer), but reach their peak between one and two years. My young hens generally produce an egg a day.
To ensure good egg production, make sure you provide proper nutrition for your hens. They need plenty of protein (16-18%). My chickens free range and get much of their food that way, but I also supplement their diet with a good layer feed. The feed is also specially formulated with additional calcium to ensure strong shells. If you can’t find a layer feed with the proper balance of calcium added, then you will want to give your chickens another source of calcium. You can use an oyster shell, or even feed them ground up egg shells. You also need to make sure they have access to plenty of fresh water at all times. This can be challenging during the winter if you live in a harsh climate where their water may freeze.
It’s a good idea to have nesting boxes for your hens. They prefer to lay eggs in a somewhat enclosed area. Be sure to have a separate perching area, so that the hens don’t try to sleep where they are laying their eggs. Be sure to have some sort of bedding (I use hay) for the hens to scratch out their nests to lay the eggs. Be sure to collect the eggs frequently, unless you want your hens to go broody and hatch them. They will tend to lay eggs in a series until they have a “clutch” of eggs to sit on. If you don’t collect the eggs frequently, your hens may feel they have enough eggs to hatch and stop laying.
There are several reasons why your hens’ egg production may decrease. The most common reasons are the change of seasons, poor nutrition, age, stress, molt, and disease. Your hens need 14 hours of daylight to maximum egg production. When the days become shorter in the fall, your hens may stop laying altogether unless you provide artificial lighting.
Your chickens will molt a couple of times a year — usually in the fall and in the spring. During this time, they will loose feathers and egg production will decline or stop altogether until they are finished molting.
The worst situation, of course, is to have a disease in your flock. If you suspect your hens are sick, you should contact a veterinarian for help. In order to protect the health of your flock, make sure you provide them with proper food and water, shelter and protection from predators. It’s also best to be very cautious when adding other chickens to your flock. I always keep any new chicks in quarantine until I am certain they are healthy — even those I hatch in the incubator, and I never take in adult chickens
Eggs are a wonderful and delicious source of nutrition for your family. But beware: Once you’ve had farm fresh eggs, you’ll never want to go back to store bought again!