Brown eggs

When we first considered raising livestock (nearly 25 years ago back in Indiana) we didn’t think one could get into too much trouble with layer hens … and, as displaced New Englanders, we missed brown eggs in a place where white eggs seemed, to most, to be an acceptable substitute. Raising layers was a success and our flock moved with us when we came to Pennsylvania in 1995. There isn’t much to raising layer birds but there are a few tricks to keeping your birds healthy, in good condition, and productive. It is important, especially if you intend to free-range your hens, to keep birds safe from predators, particularly at night. In our part of the world bobcats, foxes, coyotes, racoons, weasels, and dogs are potential threats. To mitigate this danger we train our hens to roost inside at night. We raise poults in one (fully enclosed) side of the hen house. When the birds are feathered they are moved to the other side of the house which communicates with a yard which has been fenced with poultry netting. Each night, at dusk, we go out and shoo the birds into the open door of the hen house and close them in until morning. After a very few days the birds will go into the house on their own – at the appropriate time. Once we are convinced they are used to the routine we remove the netting and the birds are free to roam where they will. Layers require approximately 16 hours of daylight to remain productive. In response to daylight the avian pituitary will produce hormones such as follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone which stimulate the ovary to produce eggs. As our days begin to shorten each year we augment day length by two or three hours in the evening. A 40 watt bulb in the layer house does nicely; it goes on an hour or so before sunset and stays on for three or fours more hours. Birds need constant access to fluid water. This can be a bit problematic during winter. A small bird bath de-icer solves this problem nicely. In all the years we have raised birds we have never had trouble with systemic contagents. [Knock on wood.] We have however had to treat for external parasites such as mites and lice. You have to keep an eye out for these with periodic vent checks. Our layer flock was getting on in years and a bit thin so we rejuvenated it with a number of pullets this past spring. We had raised Barred Rocks for a very long time and welcomed a change to a mixed flock. To that end we now have a production flock comprised of Silver Laced Wyandottes, Light Brahmas, Partridge Rocks, and Speckled Sussex. A breeding pair of Sumatras remains from our days raising 4H show stock. Poultry production on the farm continues to include pastured meat birds, geese, and turkeys.

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