Steps to having a great egg laying flock:
Step One: Choose breeds that are great egg layers. For chickens, we recommend breeds from our brown egg layers for hardy egg layer breeds. For white egg layers we recommend the White Leghorns for the most efficient white eggs.
Step Two: Raise them right. Check out our Raising Chicks for help with this.
Step Three: Feed a complete layer feed. We recommend going to a feed store and ask for a egg layer mash or pellet. Complete layer feed includes the correct ratios of carbohydrates, protein (16-20%), fats, calcium, minerals, and vitamins. Scratch Grains or just plain grain are not an appropriate feed to be feeding your chickens as the only feed because they are not balanced for a complete diet, it can be good as a treat. Eating scratch grains is like humans only eating bread.
Step Four: Feed fresh feed. If the feed has a date on it make sure it isn’t more than a few months old. If the feed is too old it may be very dusty or might smell musty or moldy. Do not feed old feed to your laying hens.
Step Five: Add a calcium supplement as a side dressing. I recommend using Oyster Shells that you can find at most feed stores. Calcium is included in the complete layer feed but sometimes hens need more than is included in a complete ration. The birds themselves can decide when they need more so make it always available to them. I also recommend using a vitamin supplement powder weekly in the water.
Step Six: Add supplemental lighting. Best egg production happens when hens have fourteen hours of light. Hens slow their laying in winter for most backyard flocks, but most of this is not because of the cold, it is a result of the fewer hours of sunlight that the hens are getting. I recommend purchasing a timer that ensures that the lights are on fourteen hours a day. Add the supplemental lighting in the morning instead of at night; laying hens cannot find their roosts very well in the complete darkness. Natural sunlight allows them to find their roost because it is a gradual dimming.
Step Seven: Keep predators and distractions away. Read about poultry predators here. Laying hens also do not like to be the victims of too many roosters in the flock. One male for every five or more females should be about right. Also dogs or other animals pestering the hens can also limit their laying.
Step Eight: Provide a nesting space. You can choose either a commercial nesting box, a homemade nest, or you can use a simple cardboard box. It just has to be a secluded place that the hens feel comfortable laying their eggs.
Step Nine: Cull unproductive Layers. Sometimes hens are not as productive as others. If the hens are not laying as well as the others you are spending a lot of money on feed that is not producing any eggs for you. When you cull laying hens you can get rid of half of the hens, half of the feed bill, and still have the same egg production. I will write another article in the future about culling laying hens.