One of the most common reasons to have backyard chickens is because the hens produce such wonderfully healthy fresh eggs. Once you crack open an egg that was produced by one of your own hens, you will realize the true differences in flavor, texture and color that fresh eggs have over supermarket eggs. There really is no comparison.
Hens begin producing eggs around 6 months of age, while they are still called pullets, and some could lay for as long as 10 years. Frequency of egg production varies by breed and changes depending on the season. You are likely to see fewer eggs in colder months as well as during the autumn moult and more eggs in spring and summer. Assuming you are raising either egg-layer or multi-purpose breeds, you can expect 1 egg from each hen every day or two. And, as you might expect, egg production will begin to slow down as the hen gets older.
There is one thing you do not need in order for your hens to lay eggs… a rooster! We are often asked if roosters are needed in a backyard flock in order to have eggs, and the answer is always “no.” Just like many other animals (humans included) female chickens are perfectly capable of producing eggs without a partner. The partner is only needed to fertilize the eggs. Unless you plan to hatch your own chicks, having a rooster is 100% optional!
There are several things that your hens will need in order to lay eggs:
- Nesting box: safe comfortable location for your hens to lay eggs
- Fake egg in nesting box: helps direct a hen where her eggs should be laid
- Egg-layer food: gives hens proper nutrition
- Water: keeps hens hydrated, particularly important because eggs are primarily water
- Soluble grit: contains calcium required for proper shell development
If time allows, you should try to collect eggs several times per day. But, if the reality for your family is that everyone is out of your home during the day, then there is no reason to worry about a few eggs sitting around until you get back in the early evening to harvest them. If you have the ability to check mid morning and mid afternoon though, it’s nice to a grab fresh eggs right after being laid so that your hens don’t try to go broody on you.
If you have a small backyard flock, you can collect eggs easily in a small pale or dish. If you have a larger flock, however, you may want to consider purchasing a specially designed egg basket. The downside to using an egg basket is that you will need to spend a little money. The upside to using an egg basket is that you can carry a decent number of eggs without them being damaged in transit.
You should store eggs in your refrigerator immediately after collection. They will keep well in the fridge for 2 weeks.
Optionally, you may want to use an egg candler to check your fresh eggs for small crack or blood spots. Cracks are bad because they may allow bacteria to enter the egg. And, blood spots are aesthetically unpleasing and may be reason to add an egg to your compost pile.
If egg production drops, it may be an indication of illness. So, ensure you keep a close watch on your flock and consult your veterinarian if you notice behavioral changes. Also, if eggshells are coming out too soft your hens are likely to be calcium deficient, so you need to ensure proper egg-layer rations are being provided in addition to calcium rich soluble grit supplements.