With a little knowledge and planning, the number of eggs produced by chickens can be controlled to be somewhat consistent throughout the year. Although the number of eggs a chicken produces each week depends on many things; it’s most dependent upon day length.
Increasing day length in the springtime signals a chicken to start producing more eggs. And, if she has the natural instinct for it, to go broody and raise chicks. Conversely, shortening day length in the fall signals the chicken to slow down on egg laying, molt, renew nutritional stores (depleted by egg-laying, setting, and chick raising), and grow new feathers.
This natural cycle favors the survival of offspring; but negatively impacts egg production during periods when hens aren’t producing because they’ve gone broody, are raising chicks, molting, or growing new feathers. Over the years, humans have devised many methods for controlling chicken egg production.
The most popular methods include changing natural day length and selectively breeding to maximize egg production, minimize broodiness, and speed molting. However, each chicken is born with the capacity to lay a specified number of eggs in its life. So, keeping a hen in continual production means that she’ll quit laying eggs altogether at a younger age. Depending on priorities, a few or all of these methods can be used to control egg production to meet the owner’s needs.
Changing Natural Day Length
One method of preserving egg production is to use artificial lighting to maintain day length so a chicken isn’t triggered into molting as days shorten in the fall. If artificial light is supplied such that chickens receive 14 – 16 hours of light every day, molting will typically be delayed and most chickens will produce throughout the winter.
If artificial light is used, natural lighting should be supplemented when day lengths fall to 14 hours. Chickens are creatures of habit, so if even one day of artificially extended lighting is missed, chickens may begin to molt and cease egg production. For this reason, automatic timers are frequently used when extending day length. It’s also best to extend lighting in the morning hours, so chickens don’t suddenly get caught in the dark (off the roost) when lights go out in the evening. A 60 watt incandescent bulb placed 7 feet above the coop floor is usually adequate for 200 square feet (a 10’ x 20’ coop).
Breeds for Egg Production
Another method of controlling egg production is to choose breeds that are bred specifically for eggs (as opposed to meat, or meat and eggs). Traditional chicken breeds for meat or dual purposes tend to follow the natural egg-laying pattern outlined above, whereas modern hens bred specifically for commercial egg laying (such as Leghorns, Golden Buffs, Red Comets, Black Star, etc.) don’t. These breeds start laying at 5-6 months old; skip the broody – chick raising – molt cycle, and lay pretty continuously for 12 – 14 months (provided they get sufficient lighting). Then, they stop or at least slow down and go through a major molt which usually takes 3 – 4 months. Each successive season after molting, chickens produce fewer eggs. So, in a chicken’s first season (before molting); she might produce 250 eggs, 2nd season 200, 3rd 150, and so on.
Planning for Egg Production
So, knowing the basics about chicken egg production identified above, plans can be made for any model of egg production desired. If continuous production of the maximum number of eggs possible is desired, then an egg breed chicken would be chosen, artificial lighting used, and the chickens would be culled and replaced each year as molting began.
Choosing dual purpose breeds, using natural lighting, allowing the birds to follow natural cycles, and culling less aggressively will all reduce egg production as compared to the model above; however, breeds and techniques can be mixed to achieve whatever model of egg production is desired.