When your hens first start laying eggs, do not be alarmed if the eggs are small, soft, or irregular (no yolk, double yolk, bumpy shell, etc.). It takes hens around one week to start laying consistent, typical eggs. A healthy chicken should be laying a minimum of 1 egg per day. That number will decrease with age. Hens are in their prime egg laying until 3 years of age. It is important to keep the nesting area free of eggs, 1 or 2 eggs at a time is fine, but having several eggs in an area will discourage a hen from laying another egg in that location. It is best to collect eggs at least once a day. However during peak production, you might need to collect twice a day depending on how many hens you have and when they typically lay their eggs. Early morning is when most chickens will lay their eggs, so keep them in the coop until most of the egg laying is complete.
Chickens usually start laying eggs when daylight reaches 14-16 hours. In Alaska, our intense daylight can cause an excess in production during the summer months. On the flip side, chickens will naturally produce less or stop laying eggs entirely during the winter months. This occurs because their body recognizes it is too cold to hatch chicks. They also keep their strength to maintain their body temperature. Laying eggs takes away energy needed to maintain body temperature during the winter months. Some producers depending on their needs, will give hens a break during the winter months as the intense summer production can be hard on their body.
The only way to maintain winter production is to keep an artificial light in the chicken coop. They need around 14 hours of light per day to keep them laying eggs. A 40w bulb (avoid florescent) is enough for a 10×10 coop to keep hens in production. Just be sure to check the light source daily for issues such as pests chewing the wires. Fires are common in the winter time for chicken coops. Setting the light to run on a timer will keep the artificial light as natural to the chicken as possible. You want the light to be on during the daytime, not at night.
In addition to light, hens need adequate warmth, fresh water, and an increase in feed during the winter. This is especially important in the harsher climates of Alaska. Be careful not to keep the coop too warm and be sure to provide plenty of ventilation. Keep in mind egg production takes a lot of energy and you need to keep the hens very healthy and happy to keep the eggs coming. Another thing to be aware of during winter is that eggs can freeze and crack depending on the temperatures. You must collect the eggs soon after they are laid, usually early morning.
Never wash the eggs after collecting as this removes the bloom which is a natural protective layer. If you have dirty eggs, try to clean them with a dry cloth or paper towel. Unwashed fresh eggs can be stored in an air tight container for up to 3 months in a fridge. You should be introducing new chicks to your flock or buying new young hens every 2 to 3 years to keep yourself in constant supply. Healthy chickens live to be around 9 years, however most people will cull the chickens after egg production slows/stops.
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