We have a mixed flock of free range chickens. Our oldest girl, Ziggy, is almost 8 years old and our youngest hens are less than 1 years old.
We keep these hens for their eggs, but due to the nature of chickens and free ranging, production rates vary wildly. Normally each hen lays one egg every 25 hours but as they age they lay less often. Once a year laying hens drop their feathers and grow new ones. During this moult they do not lay eggs. They also lay fewer eggs as the days get shorter or if they get broody and try to hatch the eggs they lay. One other factor is that free range hens can lay eggs where ever they want to. If we cannot find or reach their nest we are unable to collect their eggs. Our philosophy is that we will collect the eggs we can and not worry too much about the ones we can’t. We do not use any of the commercial tricks for increasing egg production.
Commercial egg factories do not allow their hens to go broody, nor do they allow them to reach 8 yrs of age. Free range means a completely different thing in the world of commercial egg production too – we use it to mean running around the farm loose, many factory farmers use it to mean not in battery cages. Many people are surprised to learn that there is no legal definition of free range in the US when it comes to eggs.
Loose chickens have many predators. We try to minimise the risk to our flock by closing the hen house door at night. Chickens are smarter than most people realise and will come home each evening by themselves. Although we do have a few that need encouraging. Garfield, the farm cat likes to help with that – especially when our big rooster, Borat, is bumbling about in the dark. This is the one time that Garfield has the advantage and he makes the most of it but it is harmless fun and Borat is the boss again when the sun comes up.
Borat our large and very handsome Cuckoo Maran, was killed by a predator one night when he did not return to the hen house. We have not replaced him and so our hens are without a mate, but contrary to popular belief, a rooster is not needed for egg production and the girls do just fine by themselves. We lost a few hens too – some to old age and some to predation. We still have some Buff Orpingtons, Americaunas, 1 Speckled Sussex, 3 Golden Comets, 2 Golden Laced Wyandottes, 1 Barred Rock, 1 Golden Laced Campine and 1 Brown Leg Horn (who turned white in the spring and is now turning brown again) and a few others that we are not sure about – a gift from friends.
Our hens lays brown, white and green shelled eggs. Many people believe that brown chickens lay brown shelled eggs and white chickens lay white shelled eggs, I do not know where they think green shelled eggs come from. In reality the colour of the chicken has nothing to do with the colour of their egg shells, it is all dependent on the individual breed.
I DO like green eggs and ham, sam I am…..
Was raised on 200 acres in brandywine, and we too had eggs of different colors, though they all pretty much tasted the same, including the ginny keeyt and duck eggs we consumed.
I did enjoy reading this article, and hope to sign on for the summer veggies 1/2 share. Been getting eggs from the amish though, so think im good there…..
I have 1 1/2 year old girls (7)
Americunas Coco Moran Rhode Island red
they were giving 7 a day…then it slowed..and molting and broody…they have to be confined (to a bi run)
we are in the hills of So Calif..lots of coyotes etc…now just 3 a day..have tried teamed the good..help0??
aren’t they too young to be slowing down so much..and no I cannot let them go free..they would not last the nite..so what do I do..build a retirement coop?? ugh…
Hi Shirley, did you see my post on overall egg production in free ranging hens? It includes a chart that shows how much egg production slows down over time which may be helpful to you, but I would say your girls are just not doing their part right now. Given your mix of hens it will be easy to see who is laying and who isn’t, I would guess the RIR’s are back to laying and the Americaunas and Marans are taking their time – it is the price we pay for the fun coloured eggs. Moulting takes a lot of energy from a hen, she has to regrow all of those feathers and that takes lots of protein. We like to give them some extra food during the moult to make it a little easier on them – good quality feed, not corn or scratch – and we make sure they get plenty of water too. As long as you still have adequate daylight and no other stresses on your hens, I would expect the egg count to rise again, but I don’t think you will see 7 a day again very often.