How to Start a Laying Flock in Your Hen House or Chicken Coop
What is the best way to start a laying flock that can be raised in your hen houses? There are many ways to start a laying flock including buying live birds or hatching your own, but which way is best? If you want to buy chickens for your hen house there are a few valuable tips that can help you determine the best way to start your laying flock.
So you have decided that you would like to build your own hen house and start producing eggs for the family. Watching your hens meander around in your hen houses can be a very fun and rewarding hobby and can also give you peace of mind that you are raising organically grown food without any additives. Once you have built your chicken coop and have all the other necessary supplies you are ready to get your birds. But where do you get them? What is the best way to start your flock of laying hens?
What way is best for starting a laying flock of hens?
With all the many ways to start your flock it can be a little confusing trying to decide where you want to get your birds. You can buy live birds at any age, but they are usually purchased as day old chicks, started pullets (nineteen or twenty weeks old), or second-year layers. You can also hatch your own eggs by setting a few eggs under a mother hen or using an incubator. The fertile eggs you hatch can be bought from a commercial grower or taken from one of your own pullets.
Starting with live birds is ideal for the beginner...
If you are a beginner at raising chickens it is usually smart to start with live birds. Hatching eggs can be a bit difficult if you have never had any experience raising chickens. To hatch eggs beneath one of your own broody hens means that you must already own a broody hen. However, since you are looking to start a laying flock from scratch you will not have a hen that can serve this purpose.
Should you start your flock by hatching eggs in an incubator?
Your other choice for hatching eggs is with an incubator. Again, as a beginner you should probably not attempt to start your first laying flock this way. Incubator temperatures need to be exact and many things can go wrong, frustrating you in your new hobby. To feel success in your hobby you should initially start by purchasing live birds.
Are second-year birds a good approach?
You would imagine that the easiest way to start a flock would be to buy hens that have already laid eggs for a year. After all, they are proven egg layers. However, second-year birds are usually not a good idea for several reasons. Layers will generally lay more eggs their first year and they will be higher in quality. Their productivity will decrease each year as will the quality of their eggs. In other words, second-year birds will lay fewer eggs which may also be slightly lower in quality.
As a beginner you want to start your new endeavor by producing the most eggs at the highest quality, and this will not be accomplished using older birds. Another reason not to buy second-year hens is because when chickens are moved from one location to another it can distress them enough to cause them to molt. This will delay their egg laying. You can end up with birds that are supposed to start laying eggs, but decide to molt instead.
Day-old chicks or started pullets...which is best?
The other two choices are starting with day-old chicks or started pullets which are about nineteen or twenty weeks of age. Day old chicks are a very cheap and popular option, but they require a little special care. Once chickens are a few weeks old they can remain outdoors in colder weather, but day-old chicks need extra warmth. You will need to provide a brooder where they can be kept warm for the first several weeks and you will have to watch them very carefully.
If you want to raise chickens and have never done so before, started pullets are ideal. They have reached an age where they will not require any special care or a brooder. They can be kept outdoors in a hen house and are at an age where they will begin laying eggs soon. All of the hatching, brooding, or raising worries are eliminated when buying older birds. This makes it easy for the beginner to start successfully producing eggs right away. There will be no hatching egg problems, no day-old chicks dying, and no special care necessary.
Cannibalism can cause death to your birds...
There is one other important issue that you need to be aware of before buying your pullets. If hens are kept in a hen house and are overcrowded they will usually end up pecking each other. This is called cannibalism. An overly crowded hen house can lead to cannibalism and the death of some of your chickens. For this reason, you should buy birds, whether day-old or started, that have already been debeaked by the supplier. This will eliminate cannibalism in your hen house. Some birds may try to peck others, but they won't be able to cause any harm.
In summary, the easiest way for a beginner to start a flock of laying hens is to buy started pullets that are about nineteen or twenty weeks old and these can be purchased from most commercial growers. You won't have to buy extra equipment to hatch eggs or spend extra time raising and caring for small birds. And you will be able to receive the fruits of your labor very soon after buying your hens.