For some people, keeping laying hens is a profitable business. For others, it is an expensive hobby. What makes the difference?
Simply put, management.
Through skilled management of your laying flock, you can cut down on the feed bill. Here are four ways to make it happen:
- Put them on pasture. If chickens have free access to bugs and green, growing things, spring through fall, they don’t crave packaged feed nearly as much. Unfortunately, it may not be safe to let your chickens just roam at large if coyotes are threat. So if you have to keep them confined in a portable pen, rotate early and rotate often. Always try to move them before they have used up all of the fresh forage available to them.
- Feed kitchen and garden scraps. Just about anything from these two sources is fair game as supplemental feed—vegetable peels, apple cores, melon rinds, leftover oatmeal, etc. However, the absolute best kitchen scraps to feed your chickens are high-protein, high-fat treats, such as ham bones, beef liver, and fat trimmed from steaks. Chickens love this kind of a feast, and may reward you in three or four days with a boost in egg production.
- Keep a mix of light and dual-purpose breeds. Light breeds, such as Leghorns, are egg-laying machines. Dual-purpose breeds, such as Plymouth Rocks and Rhode Island Reds, are not made to reach the same level of production. Their strength is in laying fairly steadily throughout the winter, as long as they are provided with shelter and scratch grains (which are cheaper than layer ration). Keeping both types of hens can help even out egg production somewhat over the year.
- Keep young hens. There is a reason commercial producers cull old hens—they are not as efficient. Of course, if your flock is simply for home production, you may not want to butcher your old faithfuls. Still, it’s not a bad idea to let an obliging broody hen hatch you a few new layers every once in a while. (On a side note, your old hens will stay efficient longer if they are kept in peak health.)
For the most part, these are simple solutions. Just keep an eye on your management practices, and you should be able to significantly reduce the amount of feed you have to buy.