Flock Rotation: Promoting Egg Production Year Round


Easter Egger Pullet

Unless you keep chickens yourself, you may not know that eggs are a seasonal food. Spring and summer produces abundant eggs while production tapers off in fall while chickens go though their annual molt and may even stop completely in winter. If you prefer to keep chickens as pets, meaning you want them to live their full 8-10 years of life with you, that’s great! There is nothing wrong with that, but this is an article about flock rotation and if your goal is eggs and not just pets, rotation and annual culling {selective slaughter or harvest} is necessary.

Pullets, also known as hens under 1 year of age, don’t typically molt their first winter. Their egg production may decrease, maybe by half or so, but they will likely keep you in eggs through winter. Hens over 1 year of age will molt their second winter {and each winter thereafter} and will possibly stop laying altogether from about November through January. Could be longer or it could be shorter, it depends on the breed and their environment as well. Of course there are ways to force laying such as artificial lights but we don’t believe in that so no need to go into detail there.

New chicks

With each subsequent molt, the hens production goes down. We have some layers who are still going pretty strong after their second molt, and some who are laying just here and there. Because our goal is eggs, there is a group of older hens who will be culled prior to their third molt next fall as their peak laying years are behind them. Each spring we bring in a batch of new chicks who will be laying well before winter and will keep us in eggs come the darker days of winter. This may seem harsh to some but the reality is if I keep my existing 34 hens, and add 12 new layers each year, I’m going to have 94 birds in 5 years {providing none die from disease or predators}. Do I need 94 chickens? Absolutely not. This also means that in 5 years I’m going to have 94 chickens and during that year’s winter I’ll maybe only get 3-4 eggs a day from the youngest chickens only. Financially that doesn’t make sense, but culling does.

Culling means that say, 12 hens are off to freezer camp, but that means we now have 12 whole chickens in the freezer for winter cooking. Once cooked, those bones will become bone broth. One chicken carcass generally yields me about a gallon of bone broth, which can become the base of so many dishes- soup, rice, beans, or even just for sipping. And if you haven’t had homemade bone broth you are missing out! The minerals, the collagen, the flavor- love the stuff!

2/20/2019 11:41:13 AM

There are number of good duel purpose birds. Layers that do well in cooler climates particularly, as the bigger body mass helps them stay warmer in winter. In my actual experience wyandottes, rocks, and buckeyes are just as nice on a plate as any, of a goodly size, and lay well often right through the winter. If you are less fussed about egg size, and can get by with a few less of them, brahmas lay just fine, though mediums rather than jumbo eggs. And Bramhas are well known for their size and eating quality. They are also good brooders, so a bit of forethought and perhaps a couple extra hens can save you buying chicks every year. Though there are numerous myths talking about how hard it is to get eggs out from under a hen if you let her hatch a brood, in actuality that very much depends upon the personality and temperament of the individual hen.

2/20/2019 9:46:03 AM

not sure how to tell which are my 'old' hens and my younger laying hens

2/20/2019 8:58:37 AM

I am getting into chickens this spring, and I'd like to know what kind of hens can be purchased for both their egg-laying AND tasty meat. I was under the impression that layers are not a good meat source.

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