You can start off by buying young hens called “point of lay pullets” of around 18-21 weeks of age, which are ready to start laying eggs. You may also buy chicks and rear them but they may die if they don’t receive good handling and care. Each hen may lay between 6-12 eggs a week, which means that with only 12 laying hens, you can produce around 6-12 boxes of a dozen eggs a week.
Cross breeds are the most adequate for laying eggs because they are known to reduce “broodiness”, making them efficient egg producers, as well as having a lower body weight (less costs on food). At first, pullet eggs might seem to be small, but as hens grow older and after the first molt, they will produce less eggs but they will generally bigger.
The peak season of egg production is when pullets are a year old. After a year, hens begin to produce fewer eggs and will require the same amount of food to maintain them. In this case, the profitability is progressively reduced and it is recommended to buy new point of lay pullets and sell your old ones as “second-hand hens”, “reject hens” or “cull hens”.
Generally in small scale egg production, pullets and hens are kept in coops or sheds. Most often people will allow their hens to free range grazing on greenery and insects around the yard, garden, grounds and will ensure the hens are safely returned to their nesting boxes each night. Rarely do we see small scale egg producer caging their hens.
Eggs should be collected daily – depending on the numbers and ages of the hens – you may need to collect eggs twice daily. Once collected eggs should be immediately checked for any abnormalities. Eggs should be washed thoroughly in a basket which ensures the entire surface has been rinsed. Rinse the eggs carefully; the rinsing water should contain an approved sanitiser. Eggs should be immediately refrigerated, large ends upwards.
Hens should have a daily supply of clean drinking water and compounds feed available to them, even if they are free to roam, having food in their coop or shed is essential.
Large Scale Egg Production
There are two types of egg production:
- “In-line”, where eggs are produced and packaged in the farm. Here the eggs are sorted, graded, packed or further processed, and then refrigerated prior to shipping or transportation.
- “Off-line”, where eggs are produced in one location and processed in another.
Free-range poultry are generally free to roam pastures but have access to indoor shelter. Free range poultry have access to fresh air, sunshine, which enables them to build up their vitamin D supply, and they can graze freely on insects and greenery in the environment. Generally, free range eggs are sold by smaller scale farmers and freeholders (or even domesticated poultry keepers).
In this system, consider the need for adequate fencing to protect poultry from dogs, cats, foxes, snakes. In large scale outdoor productions, guard dogs are often used to frighten off predators and to warn the poultry of a threat.
Certain poultry have an instinct to react to a particular bark of guard dogs will often run into sheds and coops at the sound of the dogs’ bark. Additionally free range management includes the management of land on which the poultry graze – avoid the use of contaminated land, land which is overly wet or muddy, or land which provides no shade or shelter.
Egg quality is affected by the way in which the hens are farmed and eggs produced - dark yellow yolks are associated with the greenery consumed by free range hens. The orange-yellow pigment in green plants, xanthophyll, is responsible for the colouring of the yolk. So say hens graze on a large volume of green plants their yolks will look darker than those fed on compound feeds. Be aware that the colour of yolk can be affected too by what green feed is grazed – say Alfalfa or Lucerne is available the yolk will be quite yellow in colour, when corn is fed in higher quantities; the yolk will be darker orange.
‘Barn kept’ poultry systems.
Barns or sheds are common for poultry production as they keep the poultry safe from predators and the weather, enabling the farmer to manage the environment easily. In the barn or shed system, the flooring of the system is quite important. Flooring should be slated or open with wire or any combination of these.
Also a deep litter is often desirable allowing the birds to dust, bathe and forage. Again there are requirements for appropriate litter and slated flooring which may be required in your country or location. For example, in Australia, the gaps between the slats should not exceed 2.5 cm. There are also specific requirements for perches,
Caged commercial poultry systems result in poultry being kept continuously in small cages within a shed. These types of systems for egg production require carefully management to ensure the health and wellbeing of the hens.
Feeding and watering is essential in all types of egg production. Ventilation is necessary as the accumulation of dust, noxious gases, water vapour or heat can cause stress and discomfort. Ammonia air pollution can occur from an accumulation of droppings. This can also cause eye and respiratory damage, as well as hock burns.
There are a number of legislative requirements for cage construction and design and space allowances. These requirements are not specifically noted here as they may differ depending on location