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Laying hens do more than provide eggs. For the backyard flock owner, they provide entertainment -- chicken society makes for fascinating watching -- and a way to unwind. If you're toying with the idea of obtaining laying hens, check your local ordinances. Some towns permit chicken-keeping under specific circumstances, while others completely prohibit the practice.
Choosing a Breed
Chickens are usually bred specifically for egg or meat production. Some are dual-purpose breeds, bred for both functions. Commercial egg producers overwhelmingly use the white Leghorn, but this bird is rather high-strung for most backyard flocks. Suitable, relatively calm, backyard laying hen breeds include:
- Plymouth and barred rocks
- Rhode Island Reds
- Buff Orpingtons
- and Wyandottes, which appear in a variety of patterns.
Hens and Eggs
Pullets -- hens under the age of 1 year -- start laying eggs at about the age of 20 weeks. A hen can't lay more than one egg daily, but the numbers during the peak laying season vary according to breed and the bird's age. Expect the average hen to produce about 180 eggs in the first year, with the number declining to about 144 in her second year. While older hens continue to lay eggs, they do so in lesser quantities and more sporadically.
No Rooster Necessary
You don't need to keep a rooster for your hens to produce eggs. If you want to raise chicks, that's another story, but hens lay on a regular schedule whether or not a rooster is present. If you live in an urban or suburban area that permits chicken-keeping, local statutes often specifically ban the presence of roosters. A homeowner can keep a few hens in a clean environment and no one may ever know the difference. You just can't hide the constant crowing of a rooster.
Feeding Laying Hens
Your laying hens should always have food available. Feed your birds a high-quality, 16 to 18 percent protein commercial layer diet, available in either pellet or crumble form. Your flock may have a definite preference for either pellets or crumbles, and the former are easier for larger breeds to consume. If your prefer to feed your chickens organically -- or sell eggs marketed as organic -- you can purchase organic feed at most farm supply stores. Your hens should always have access to clean, fresh water.
Your budget -- and zoning restrictions -- are the limit when it comes to hen housing. Your coop must be dry and have good ventilation in hot weather, yet stay snug when the temperature drops. You must ensure that no predators can get at your hens, whether they're local wildlife like raccoons or foxes, or your own dog. Provide hens with nest boxes lined with hay or straw for egg laying. If you have a large flock, you don't need to provide one nest box per bird -- you'd need a Chicken McMansion. Four to five hens can share each nest box.