How to maximize quality egg laying capacity in backyard hens naturally without resorting to unhealthy methods commonly recommended by conventional authorities.
I’ve been keeping backyard chickens for eggs for over ten years now.
I’ve learned plenty during that time about what to do and what NOT to do when it comes to keeping them at their egg-laying best.
You see, when a hen is stressed or otherwise feeling unwell, the first thing that goes down the tubes is her egg production. I call it the “daily egg drop”.
Thus, keeping your girls in tip-top condition is important not just for their health, but for YOURS as well.
Your family needs those nourishing eggs on the menu after all!
Below, I’ve summarized the top things that I’ve found are critical to a layer chicken’s health and overall egg quality and production.
This ensures that she not only produces as many eggs as possible…naturally…but also feels happy and healthy along the way. Chickens make fun and enjoyable pets too!
To give you a feel for why the tips in this article are important, the picture below is of my 9-year-old hen who was STILL laying eggs a couple of times a week.
She was a regular egg-layer right up until she died of old age weeks before her tenth birthday. Amazing!
Skip the Artificial Light
One way to keep hens laying year-round is to put artificial light in their coop so that they never experience darkness.
That said, I do not suggest that you use this commonly recommended technique to maximize egg production.
To me, this is a mean and nasty thing to do to an animal.
How would you like it if the lights were left blazing all night in your bedroom?
This method is also not good for a chicken’s health. A hen will not live as long if she is not experiencing darkness and good sleep.
It is also my opinion that eggs from chickens that never experience nighttime are not as nourishing as eggs from chickens that have a dark roost to sleep every night.
This is just my opinion. I’ve not found any research on this.
But, considering that artificial light at night would stress them out hormonally and shorten their lifespan, it would make sense that the eggs they produce wouldn’t be as high quality either.
So, skip the artificial light even though you may be tempted to do so to keep the eggs going year-round.
If you need eggs during their seasonal downtime during the shortest days of the year, get a couple more hens and store the fresh eggs you don’t use for the winter instead.
Invest in the Best Feed
Even if you free-range your chickens around your property and feed them veggie scraps like I do, you will likely need at least some supplemental feed.
This is particularly true in the winter months when green grass and fresh plant shoots are not plentiful for foraging.
When it comes to layer feed, I would recommend staying away from the medicated versions and those that contain soy.
Avoid Medicated Chick Starter
Medicated chick starter contains amprolium for parasitic control. This is not an antibiotic, but it does block nutritional uptake for some vitamins like thiamine.
Chicks on medicated feed do not develop as well or live as long as chicks that grow on nonmedicated feed.
I’ve observed both over the years and that is my conclusion.
So, opt for the medication-free chick starter (this brand is excellent) if you want your chickens to be their healthiest best when they get to the egg-laying age!
Soy-Free Feed Only
Once your pullets are ready to start laying, transition them onto soy-free feed only.
This is important because studies have shown that the isoflavones in soy feed get into the yolks of the eggs these hens lay.
Unless you want a dose of plant estrogens with every egg dish you make, avoiding chicken feed that contains soy is critical.
Need suggestions for what chicken feed is best?
I admit that I spoil my chickens. Some prefer one over the other.
New Country Organics is also excellent but is more expensive unless you have a local co-op to buy from.
Is corn-free chicken feed as important as soy-free?
In my view, this is totally up to you.
There is no doubt that cross-contamination does occur in some organic corn crops from GMO corn grown in the vicinity. (1)
Fortunately, there is a new type of organic corn that is resistant to GMO cross-contamination. (2)
I could not find much information on how widespread this type of corn is for use in animal feed at the present time.
Thus, it’s up to you if you feel the risk is large enough to warrant sourcing both soy and corn-free layer feed.
My personal approach is to try and source corn-free feed, but if it isn’t available, I will get feed with organic corn on occasion.
In other words, while I insist that my layer feed is soy-free, I’m not as strict about it also being corn-free, provided the corn is certified organic and tested to be GMO-free (no cross-contamination).
Sunlight is Critical
If you do not free-range your chickens due to space issues, then at least keep your coop in an area where your hens have access to direct sunlight every day.
This means not using any sort of mesh overhead that filters the sunlight.
If you need to deter chicken hawks, use an owl decoy or holographic reflective “scare” ribbon instead.
Direct sunlight is important so your hens can sunbathe on clear days to eliminate parasites such as mites.
In addition, hens that get exposure to UVB sunlight in the middle of the day produce eggs that are dramatically higher in Vitamin D!
After only three weeks of exposing chickens to UV light for six hours per day, the vitamin D content of the eggs increased three to fourfold. (3)
This study used artificial UV light too! Imagine what the full spectrum of direct sunlight can do!
Certainly, access to direct, unfiltered sunlight is important for the best quality eggs possible.
Keep the Laying Area Comfortable and Clean
When the egg-laying area of your coop is not kept clean or otherwise uses bedding they don’t like, hens will lay their eggs elsewhere in my experience.
This makes eggs hard to find and losses a certainty.
This article on the best and most affordable coop bedding outlines the various options and which type my hens have preferred over the years.
Changing the bedding as often as necessary to keep the egg-laying area comfortable and clean is very important.
There is a wide variety of egg laying capacity by chicken breed.
Thus, if you are strictly keeping backyard chickens for eggs, be very careful which breeds you choose.
I keep a mix of friendly, fun breeds that are more like pets and those that are more aggressive and lay the most eggs.
To give you some idea, Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Reds lay the most eggs per year in my experience.
Lavender and Gold Orpingtons are sweet and cuddly and like to be held, but lay far fewer eggs.
Other breeds I’ve kept fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
Note that the Rhode Island Reds seem to be the most easily seen and attacked by chicken hawks by my observation. Breed color matters in this regard.
Lastly, I would recommend that you not give your chickens tap water to drink.
Toxins in the water including chlorine and fluoride not only will likely shorten their life, but could potentially impact the quality of your hens’ eggs.
Well water or spring water is best with added raw apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon per gallon) is optimal in my experience.
Be sure to ONLY get raw apple cider vinegar packaged in glass. ACV is acidic and will leach toxins from plastic containers. Better yet, make ACV yourself from apple scraps.
Raw ACV added to their untreated drinking water helps keep hens’ digestive system at the proper pH so that common health problems like sour crop do not occur.
I can tell you that almost every time I neglected to add ACV to the chickens’ drinking water for more than a week (due to being out of town and the chicken sitter didn’t do it or I ran out of ACV temporarily), one of my hens got ill.
Do you have layer hens? If so, what are your best tips for happy, healthy birds that have maximized quality egg production?
(1) Organic Farmers Report Increasing GMO Contamination with Corn
(2) Is ‘Organic Ready’ Corn a Solution for GMO Cross-Contamination?
(3) Exposing Chickens to UV Light Dramatically Increases Vitamin D Content of Eggs