Flock Rotation: Promoting Egg Production Year Round

Reader Contribution by Nicole Wilkey
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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.

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!

So with respect and gratitude, we will cull our older hens this year and we will honor them with delicious from-scratch meals. We will bring in new chicks who become part of the rotation, part of the cycle that is practicing flock rotation.

Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then she has run California based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs, pasture based poultry and sells goats milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.

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