Keeping laying hens can be fulfilling and profitable, especially with the rising price of eggs in grocery stores. Through a mix of breeding and attentive care, certain chickens can be more profitable than others when it comes to egg production.
The Leghorn breed is well-known for producing around 300 eggs per year. These hens are rarely broody, resulting in more egg production. Hybrid breeds, such as the Goldline and Golden Comet, have been specifically bred for egg production and can potentially lay anywhere from 300 to 320 eggs per year.
There are several other breeds known for their egg production, but each has additional factors, such as personality, tolerance, and maintenance. The conditions you raise your chickens in will affect their laying as well.
Leghorns, made famous by cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn, are widely considered the perfect backyard chicken. This breed lays an average of 300 eggs in their first year, and an average of 250 eggs each year after. Their eggs are medium-sized, and have a white shell, much like the common eggs you’d find in a grocery store. Leghorn hens can be easily identified by their distinct coloring, white feathers with a thick red comb.
These chickens can endure most climates and are suitable for free-range feeding. Free-range means hens have been allowed to roam freely outdoors, rather than being kept in a coop all day. Many people who raise backyard chickens like to have their chickens roam in the garden to peck away pests. If you do this, you should be careful— many chicken breeds can easily destroy growing plants.
As I said, Leghorns are tough and durable, making them perfect candidates for free-range feeding. However, this independence can make them shy and hard to tame. Despite this, the Leghorn breed is a good choice for first-time chicken keepers.
Hybrid breeds, such as the Golden Comet or the Goldline, have been bred specifically to mass produce eggs. These hens have been bred to lay lots of eggs but only consume small amounts of food, making them cheaper to keep around. The Golden Comet is the most common hybrid, especially for new chicken keepers. They are gentle, quiet, and suited for colder temperatures. They can lay 300 eggs in their first year, and 250 for the rest of their laying years.
The second breed listed, Goldlines, can potentially lay 320 eggs in their first year, and an average of 300 eggs per year for the rest of their laying years. This breed is very friendly, and is a good breed for beginners to start with. Hybrids tend to be tough and resilient, perfect for free-range feeding, and are easy to look after.
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Reds are a dual breed, which means they can be raised for their eggs or their meat. They are perhaps the most popular backyard breed because they’re very tough and lay a lot of medium-sized eggs. They can even lay up to 250 eggs per year, so they’re quite productive! The name “red” is misleading because these birds are actually dark in color, with brown or black feathers. Rhode Island Red hens are perfectly capable of looking after themselves. They’re tough, but very friendly and often the first choice for first-time chicken keepers.
Sussex hens are another dual breed and are kept for their meat and/or eggs. They can lay up to 250 brown or white-colored eggs per year. They are a calm breed, perfect for gardens; they can free-range feed in the garden, pecking away bugs without destroying plants. Their calm demeanor makes them easy to tame, and they can be considered “pet” chickens. With this combination of characteristics, it’s easy to see why they have become popular chickens to keep around.
Also known as Burned Rock chickens, these birds lay about once every two days, for a total of around 200 eggs per year. These birds are grey with white stripes and are fairly large in size. Plymouth Rock hens are suited for a free-range lifestyle, but they can be easily tamed.
Anoca hens have similar coloring to Plymouth Rock hens but are much smaller being about half the size. These chickens lay around 200 small, white eggs per year. They are most definitely not a pet breed as they are very skittish and not particularly friendly or affectionate. These birds are also known to fly out of the coop, so you will need to clip their feathers often. They are best for egg-laying above anything else.
Barnevelder, a hybrid breed from the Netherlands, lays around 200 small-to-medium-sized, speckled brown eggs per year. They are a great bird to keep in the garden, and there is no need to clip their feathers. Their feathers are brown with black edges, creating a layered effect. They are quite relaxed and friendly as well, so you can spend time with them without any problems.
Hamburgs are perhaps the most visually striking hens, with two variations of feather coloring. The first variation is a lot like a Dalmation, white with speckles of black feathers. The second variation is much more glamorous with dark, glossy feathers with gold tips. These hens lay 200 eggs per year, but their eggs are small in size. Although beautiful, this breed is anything but a beginner’s bird. They don’t do well in a pen and are known to be quite aggressive if they are kept in small spaces. They need to roam, so the ability to free-range feed is a requirement.
Marans are another dual breed, raised for meat and eggs. They are a smaller breed and lay only 200 small eggs per year. This breed doesn’t require nearly as much space as Hamburg hens, and they are very gentle. But don’t let their size and calm demeanor fool you, they are not tame, and do not make good pets.
This breed lays the least out of all the chickens on this list, producing an average of only 180 eggs per year. They also have a tendency to become broody in the summer months, which further reduces their laying potential. However, these birds are very tame, perhaps the tamest breed of all the chickens on this list. They’re also very sociable. They can be taught to eat from your hand, and are more than happy to be held or wander alongside you.
The age of a hen will affect how much she can lay. Chickens lay the most in their first year. That number will remain mostly consistent for the next two or three years, called their “productive years.” Productive hens will lay about one egg every twenty-two hours. After their productive years, you can expect a 20% decrease in egg production for every year of life.
Chickens don’t usually stop laying eggs, even in old age, but can go into what is considered “retirement”, where they lay little if not at all. Retirement starts after six or seven years of life. The average life expectancy of a chicken is between eight to ten years, meaning most hens can live several years after their retirement.
A clean coop is also very important. If the nesting material in the coop isn’t clean, chickens will not want to lay eggs in it. Instead, they will more likely lay their eggs on the ground, where eggs can be broken and will be susceptible to pests like rats, or other chickens. It’s suggested to clean the nesting box at least once or twice a week, or bi-monthly at the very least.
Nesting boxes are important because they make the hen feel safe enough to lay, and they keep the egg protected from hard surfaces and other potential dangers.
Nutrition and health will also affect how much and how well a hen lays. The average hen needs 20 grams of protein each day. Because feathers are 85% protein, brittle, curling, or missing feathers are all signs of a lack of protein. Other signs are weight loss, smaller than usual eggs, or a decrease in the laying rate of eggs. However, too much protein can kill your chicken, so don’t overdo it either.
Laying hens also need 4 grams of calcium each day. A lack of calcium in a laying hen can cause her to lay weak or oddly-shaped eggs, and these eggs will have incredibly fragile shells—or even no shell at all, in extreme cases. A hen lacking in calcium will take more time to lay an egg, and may even start to eat their own eggs out of desperation for calcium. They could easily crush them as well, even if they lay them in the protection of a nesting box.
It is vital that your hens get enough water. Because eggs are 70% water, chickens require a lot of water and can quickly become dehydrated when they consistently lay eggs. Hens that don’t get enough water will lay fewer eggs, so your laying hens must get enough to drink.
The opportunity to free-range is also vital for chickens. Hens need an average of about 12 hours of daylight to lay eggs, but 14 to 16 hours will keep them laying to their full potential. By allowing your chickens to roam free and forage, you will save money on chicken feed and insecticides; your chickens will be less likely to become overweight, and the eggs they lay will be much more nutrient-dense. It is widely accepted that free-range eggs taste better as well. It’s really a win-win for everyone.
The tendency to “go broody” can also impede a hen’s laying. Broody is the term given when a hen decides to sit on, incubate, and hatch eggs. Broodiness is caused by a mix of genetics, hormones, instinct, weather, and lighting conditions. It doesn’t matter if you have a rooster or not: a broody hen will sit on top of unfertilized eggs, or even on an empty nest.
If your hen is likely to go broody, it goes without saying that she will produce fewer eggs for you to use. A broody hen will even steal other hens’ eggs to make a clutch, reducing the other chickens’ egg production as well. Broodiness is ‘contagious’, and can easily spread through a flock. If you don’t break your broody hen of her habit, you run the risk of your whole flock stopping their laying.
Luckily, most broody hens will only stay broody for 21 days, which is as long it takes for fertile eggs to hatch. However, some hens won’t leave their nest until something hatches. This is incredibly unhealthy, as brooding hens will only get up to drink and eat a few times a day. In extreme cases, a brooding hen will starve herself to death. So, for the sake of your hen and your egg production, it’s best to break her brooding habit before it gets too serious.
No matter your hens’ health and conditions, you can expect a decline in egg production each fall, when your hens molt. Molting usually happens when sunlight hours begin to decrease, signaling the change from fall to winter. During a molt, hens lose old feathers and grow new ones, in preparation for colder weather. Molting hens will focus most of their energy and nutrients on growing new feathers, which results in a decrease in egg-laying.
Some hens may stop laying eggs completely during a molt. If your hens are able to lay eggs during a molt, the shell may be thin because feathers are made mostly of protein, whatever protein your hen has consumed will be used for creating more feathers.
Most molts can last anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, but most will last between 7 to 8 weeks. Chickens will need a recovery period afterward and will start laying about 2 weeks after their molt. In some cases, it may take them even longer to get back to it, depending on how long the molt is. The best thing you can do to help your flock during their molt is to give them a high-quality feed with a high protein value.
No matter which breed you choose, keeping chickens can be a fulfilling hobby, with a great reward– fresh eggs, and lots of them!