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.