Many households are once again keeping laying hens as a source of fresh eggs. Small flocks are springing up everywhere - as profitable additions to a small farm operation, in rural and suburban yards, and even on urban lots and balconies. People want chickens again. Yet many of these new flock owners have extremely limited experience with poultry management, and sometimes none at all.
We applaud this renewed interest in laying hens, and we want to help those new flock owners get a good start. We started with poultry ourselves, and we made a lot of dumb mistakes at first because we didn't have anyone to show us how to manage our flock. To help new flock owners avoid those problems, we have put together a series of pages about small flock ownership. These pages cover feeding, housing, flock management, egg production and other related topics. We hope new and existing flock owners will find this information useful.
Housing the family-scale or small-farm laying flock can be as simple, or as elaborate, as a new owner wants. Some flock owners give their birds just enough to provide for basic needs. Other flock owners provide carefully thought out, solidly constructed, beautifully decorated living quarters - a veritable chicken palace. Some of those living quarters are mobile, and some of them are stationary. There is no single best way to house a laying flock; many different options will work well. Yet each flock's particular circumstances need to be considered. We've put together a Chicken Coops section, to take a look at some of the options, and discuss the "gotta-have" items for laying flock housing.
Layer hen nutrition is perhaps the single best way to ensure good egglaying performance, and long healthy lifespans for the flock members. Yet nutrition is often kthe last thing new flock owners learn about. Our Poultry Feeds page provides a wealth of information about layer and broiler flock nutrition. We cover the basics, provide new owners with some recommendations and provide lots of additional resources.
Whenever we are asked about how to start a new layer flock, one of the first questions people ask is "which breed is best?" The answer is ...... it depends. A number of poultry breeds have been developed over the years specifically for good egg production. But they have other characteristics as well, which may or may not be desirable within any given set of circumstances. We'll take a look at a number of good egg laying breeds, and discuss their other characteristics.
How exactly does a person or family go about acquiring a laying flock? Happily there are a number of ways to find, adopt, buy or otherwise acquire either chicks, young pullets or adult hens. Each method has its own pro's and con's of course. We'll take a look at the most common ways to start acquiring laying hens, and what to look for when choosing individual birds.
Many small scale flock owners, both urban and rural, are moving their birds out of the hen house and onto the grass. Whether it's just the front lawn, or the back 40 acres, pastured layer production is a well regarded, well documented approach with a lot of advantages. But there are some downsides as well. We'll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of this approach, look at how to optimize pastured production, and even consider some "middle of the road" hybrid approaches.
Inevitably, new flock owners will someday be faced with a sick bird (or two or three). While the news would have us believe that avian flu is going to kill us all, I'm happy to say that laying hen health is usually fairly easy to provide, and treatment of sick birds can usually be accomplished without a lot of cost or angst. As with a lot of other things in life, the key is having information, and supplies, on hand and ready to go for that moment if/when a bird or a flock comes down with some health problems. We'll look at some of the garden-variety health issues, and what can be done about them. We'll also look at some of the legitimate public health issues involved with small flock ownership, and how responsible flock owners can avoid or minimize those risks.
When a person or family starts keeping laying hens, they usually want the eggs for themelves. But almost invariably, friends, family and neighbors will start to ask about buying surplus eggs. We'll look at the logistical, legal and economic issues involved in small scale egg sales.
A laying hen's career typically only lasts a few years. So just as flock owners are getting comfortable with flock ownership and gaining experience with management, it's already time to replace the birds. Many owners then become interested in raising their own birds, rather than buying in replacements. We'll take a look at what's involved in raising day old chicks, and even using the current flock to provide for the next generation of layers.