Laying season is coming: Are your hens ready?

Preparation is key to help your flock lay nutritious eggs.

Your chicks have grown up under your watchful eye and now it’s time to help them become productive members of the flock. Whether you’re a first-time flock owner or a seasoned expert, finding the first freshly laid egg in your coop brings excitement.

“Before chickens can begin to lay eggs at 18-22 weeks of age, you need to help them transition into this new life phase,” says Julian (Skip) Olson, DVM, technical services manager for Milk Products. “With a little preparation, your flock will be ready to start laying eggs.”

Use these five tips to help your chickens prepare for the laying season:

1. Feed for performance

Eggs are nutrition powerhouses – they contain many vitamins and minerals that are needed for regular functioning of cells, including the brain, nervous system, memory and metabolism. Before you can start to enjoy fresh, nutritious eggs from your chickens, their own nutrition requirements must be met.

“Your laying hens need a balanced diet with 16 percent protein and at least 3.25 percent calcium – laying hens require large amounts of calcium to produce eggs with strong shells. In addition, your chickens also need a balanced level of phosphorus, vitamin D and fat to meet their nutritional needs,” says Olson.

2. Hydration is key

Hydration is equally important as nutrition is for your hens. During the laying season, chickens will consume three times as much water as food. Keeping your chickens hydrated, will help them perform their best and keep hens laying eggs.

“In hot weather or times of stress, it is important to add an electrolyte supplement to your chicken’s water to support hydration and overall bird health,” says Olson. “Electrolytes contain energy, helping beneficial bacteria grow in the digestive tract.”

3. Environment matters

Your chicken coop should be clean, provide protection from the elements and have plenty of space for your birds. A clean coop helps keep your chickens healthy and happy, and provides you with healthy eggs.

Whether your hens are free range or spend their day in a run, it is important to provide a predator-proof coop that is enclosed and well-ventilated. Plan to add bedding to the coop, scrape the floor and clean waters often to promote healthy hens. Your flock needs protection from the elements and predators so they can put energy into making eggs, instead of protecting themselves.

“To persuade your hens to lay their eggs inside of their coop, add nesting boxes. Your coop should include one nesting box for every four hens to ensure they don’t feel crowded,” says Olson.

4. More sun, please

Daylight plays a big role in your hens’ ability to lay eggs. Chickens are known as long-day breeders, meaning they come into production when there is more daylight.

“Ideally, your hens should have about 16-17 hours of light each day. At a minimum, they should get 14 hours of light daily before they can begin to lay eggs,” says Olson.

If you want to increase day length to keep your hens laying, you can install artificial lights in the coop to encourage the laying season. A 60-watt incandescent light bulb can provide a 12-by-12-foot space with enough light in absence of natural daylight.

5. Keep stress at bay

New flock dynamics and the natural pecking order can cause stress for your chickens. While it’s not possible to avoid stress entirely, you can help support your bird’s health as they begin to lay.

“To help keep your chickens happy and healthy, you can offer them electrolytes and probiotics in addition to a diet that emphasizes calcium for laying hens,” says Olson. “Combination packs are available and make them easy to incorporate into your regular routine. We recommended adding electrolytes and probiotics in drinking water for three days monthly to reduce pathogens in the birds’ environment and to assist with digestive health.”

The combination of feed, water, housing, light and reducing stressors will help keep your birds healthy and producing eggs all year long.

“Preparing your flock to begin laying can take careful attention to detail and time,” says Olson. “Once the first egg arrives, it will all be worth it!”

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