How to choose the best egg-laying hens

Bringing chickens home

As I mentioned in my
last post, we had a lot of chickens to choose from at the
.  So how
did we narrow down the options and zoom in on our three Rhode Island

Our primary purpose was
to increase our egg production, so we were
looking for point-of-lay pullets.  These hens should be around six
months old but should definitely already be laying.  Be very leery
sellers who tell you their pullets will start laying “any day
now.”  If
they’re not already laying by September, chances are very good the
hens won’t churn out any eggs until spring.

On the other hand, you
don’t want to get saddled with old hens.  One
year old hens are okay since they probably just started laying this
spring, but two year olds are over the hill.

Chickens out of the box

Breed is also important,
of course.  It’s worth checking the variety you’re interested in
chicken breed chart

We chose our
their foraging prowess and broiler
characteristics and our
Cuckoo Marans for their (supposed)
abilities, but this time around we were looking for straight-up
egg-laying prowess.  Rhode Island Reds (aka RIR) and White
Leghorns (aka Whiteleggers) top the charts among heirloom
egg-layers, although you should also look for
Golden Comets and Red and
Black Sex-links among the hybrids.

First egg

We were very lucky to
find these seven month-old Rhode Island Reds who are so ambitious one
even laid an egg on the trip home!

Feeding chickens

After age and breed, the
last thing to consider is how healthy your new hens look.  The
feathers of young hens will shine a bit in the sun — scruffy-looking
chickens are probably older or malnourished.  If your hens are
missing feathers on their heads or backs, that could simply mean that
they’ve been kept in too close quarters with a rooster or with a mean
hen, but it’s better to leave those birds on the table if you have
another choice.

Egg yolk color

Our trio looked
top-notch and their previous owner told us that they were great
foragers, ranging quite a distance from the coop to hunt for
food.  When I cracked open their first egg the next morning,
though, it wasn’t nearly as orange as our ladies’ — but I don’t think
anyone else takes pasturing quite as seriously as we do.  I
suspect our new hens’ yolks will orange up within a week or two.

The final question you
might have about buying laying hens is cost.  Six years ago, we
got young hens for $5 apiece, but these girls were $9 a head.  I’d
be curious to hear from others who have bought laying hens
recently.  How much did you pay?

Our chicken waterer keeps hens laying with
copious clean water.

Latest Comments

  1. Errol October 19, 2012
  2. anna October 21, 2012

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