by Esmaa Self
We’ve had a backyard flock seven years and have sold extra eggs for about four. I have been around and kept my own layer flocks before moving here and working to massage a thriving farm from our rocky span of hogback. And we’ve been sold out of eggs for three full years, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert on chicken behavior.
So when a customer exclaimed that our eggs are brighter, thicker, tastier and hands-down better than those she paid more for at an organic farm across town the day after another customer wrote a thank-you note mentioning how she appreciates not only the high quality of our eggs, but that she’d bought eggs from others whose supplies always dried up in winter, I began to think that maybe I’m doing a thing or two right.
Which caused me to think of what that might be.
Which in turn led me to write this list for you, that your flock might create beautiful, healthy eggs in steady supply for which your customers repeatedly thank you.
- Space. The thing we have that other backyard producers usually do not is space. Our hen house was built to accommodate 50 hens. Our 2012 flock will be 34 layers, the largest flock we’ve kept to date. In addition, the girls ‘free range’ in 1/8 of an acre hillside pen that sports a dozen trees. Why is this important? Because chickens get bored, and bored chickens start to pick on one another. The picked-on usually don’t lay well.
- Greens all year. Sure, we have a greenhouse in which we grow year-round and not everyone does. But you could grow greens in a cold frame or negotiate rights to restaurant or school kitchen scraps. Greens help produce bright orange yolks. Bright orange yolks help produce standing order customers. Having regular customers will help you regain personal time.
- Treats. I take kitchen scraps and/or garden clippings to the hens at least three times a day, all year long. Certainly you could offer tidbits once per day, and that would save you time, but putting out more treats than a flock will consume in a few minutes is ultimately wasteful. The hens will eat a portion, then go off to lay an egg or gossip in the corner and your lovely carrot peels will sit unappreciated, wasted.
- Lights. Our hen house is attached to the north exterior wall of the main house. This is both good and bad. Good because the arrangement helps insulate both the hen house and main house from bitter winter winds. And it allows me to train an ear toward the hen house while working in my office, which saves me a number of icy trips out there in the winter. The design is bad because here in Colorado we get 300 days of sunshine per year. Hens love sunshine. Our hen house faces north. I mitigate this with a low wattage fluorescent light in the coop to extend the ‘daylight’ for up to 14 hours a day during winter months. The small wattage light gives me a dependable winter egg harvest and keeps customers happy all year long.
- Diet. I reserve water from boiled and steamed foods, the cut up skins from fish and poultry and add these to the chickens’ feed granules to form a mash. Putting nutrient rich waste materials to good use is cost effective. And it helps produce marvelous eggs year-round.
One more thing: You may have read about my herbal chicken booster. I began that program last fall as a number of our layers were three years old or older. We’ve a flock of pullets about ready to take over for these older hens. We’ll see how it goes, but my guess is that I’ll not need the herbal booster again before next spring. Learn more about our egg operation here.