Successfully Raising a Small Flock of Laying Chickens

Raising a small chicken flock for egg production in the backyard has increased in popularity over the past few years. It can be a relaxing activity, teach youth responsibility, and provide you with eggs to supplement the family food supply.

General Considerations

  • Check all local ordinances, zoning laws, and property association rules to see if you can raise chickens in your area.
  • Follow laws and apply for permits if required.
  • Roosters are not necessary in a flock for hens to lay eggs.
  • Producing eggs in small flocks will always cost more.
  • Chickens require daily care and monitoring. Develop a plan for who will care for the birds when you are away.
  • Chickens must be fenced in for their own security.
  • Manure/litter is a great soil amendment if composted properly.

Type of Birds

  • All chickens will lay eggs.
  • Chickens in most small flocks live 8 years, but they can live up to 12 to 15 years.
    • Common heritage type breeds will lay 50 to 100 eggs a year. There is also great variability between strains.
    • Commercial sex-linked hybrids will lay 240 to 280 eggs a year. They are a hardy yet docile bird, great for a small-flock setting.
  • Egg shell color is determined by the breed and makes no difference in nutritional value or taste of the egg.

Feed and Water

  • Provide a constant supply of fresh water. Clean out water daily.
  • Feed free choice (feed available at all times).
  • Store feed in a dry, dark metal container for up to 4 weeks.
  • Proper feeder size, settings, and height saves feed.
    • Keep feeder lip at back height.
    • Provide a 3-inch feed space per bird.
    • Only fill feed tray 2/3 full.
  • Feed a complete ration specific to the bird’s age, body type, and state of production.
    • Feed a chick starter diet for the first 0 to 6 weeks.
    • Feed a chicken grower diet from 6 to 18 weeks.
    • Feed a layer ration from 18 weeks on.
    • Supplement oyster shells to older birds.
    • Crack corn and scratch grain should not be fed to chickens. Avoid feeding high levels of human food or scraps.
    • Only chicks under 4 weeks of age should be fed medicated feeds to prevent coccidiosis.

Proper Cooping

  • Build a coop that provides 2 square feet per bird of indoor space.
  • Limit drafts and moisture in the coop.
  • Make sure predators cannot access the coop. Close birds in securely at night.
  • Coop should be easy to access, clean, and maintain; designed to prevent injury to the birds; and provide natural lighting.
  • Slippery surfaces will cause leg injuries.
  • Use pine shavings or straw for bedding.
  • Clean out any wet or compacted litter.
  • Maintain the coop.

Chicken coop with Pen

Chicken coop

Lighting

  • Layers require 14 to 16 hours of light daily.
  • Add artificial light in the morning, and allow the birds to roost with sunset.
  • One foot candle is full light for birds. Use a 25- to 40-watt bulb.
  • Do not light adult birds for more than 16 hours daily.

nesting boxes

Nesting Boxes

  • Nests should be at least 12 by 12 inches.
  • Provide two nests for the first four hens. Then add a nest for every four additional hens.
  • Have a 3- to 4-inch lip in the front of the nests to keep nesting material in the box.
  • Keep 3 inches of clean pine shavings in the nests.
  • Place nests in a darker, secluded area off the floor and away from roosts.

Roosts

  • Provide 6 inches per bird.
  • Place roosts 18 to 24 inches above the floor, spaced 1 foot apart, and away from nests.

Egg Sale Laws

  • Sell within 5 days of lay.
  • Keep refrigerated at 45°F or lower.
  • Do not use cartons from another business.
  • Each carton must be labeled: name and address, date of packaging, statement of identity (eggs), net contents (in 3/16-inch letters), “Keep Refrigerated,” and “Unclassified” (unless you weigh the eggs).

Best Health Care Practices

  • Never introduce adult birds into an established flock.
  • Never mix different species in the same flock.
  • Limit visitors from accessing your pens.
  • Practice good sanitation of equipment.
  • Practice “all in, all out” when changing flocks.
  • Confine birds to a fenced area and limit contact with wild birds and predators.
  • Keep rodents, flies & other animals out of the chicken coop and feed.
  • Check for parasites monthly and treat if necessary. A dusting area can help prevent external parasites.
Prepared by Phillip J. Clauer, Penn State Extension and Department of Animal Science. Photos provided by the Penn State Department of Animal Science.

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