What are the best Chicken Breeds for Egg Laying?
There are many chicken varieties, and all lay eggs, but only a handful are in the best egg-laying chicken breeds category. All female chickens will lay edible eggs with identical nutritional content, but some bird varieties have been bred especially for their egg-laying capabilities and thus are superior laying chickens. For example, Leghorn hens are excellent for consistent, nearly-daily laying and produce about 300 eggs per year.
Many modern laying breeds contain some Leghorn in them. Some of the best egg laying chicken breeds include:
If you're looking for a good setting hen, one that will “go broody,” that is, brood a clutch of eggs and care for the chicks that hatch, you'll do well to consider the Cuckoo Maran, Rhode Island Red (but not sex-linked or hybrid varieties), Light Sussex or Plymouth Rock. Heritage breeds are good setting hens in general; modern breeds intended for egg protection usually are not as they have had certain traits and characteristics bred out of them.
A mixed flock of the best egg laying chicken breeds as well as some rarer breeds is often a good way to accomplish your goals. You might have Leghorn chickens (photo at right) for egg production, some of which are for eating and some which are saved for hatching. You can then use broody hens, who are ready to set on their own clutch of eggs, to hatch other hens' eggs simply by adding them to the brood hens' nests. Some of the best egg laying chicken breeds will never sit on their own eggs, but others will go broody and set on eggs very quickly. A combination of the two can make an ideal flock.
Male offspring can be used for meat and for sale, while females can be used for further egg production or if there is no more room, for sale as young pullets. With a renewed interest in backyard chicken flocks, there is a strong market for hens and offering your excess for sale can produce a good side income. Ultimately, the best egg laying chicken breeds depend on your purpose, whether you want steady egg production or more chicks. Some small chicken breeds can actually be very fun to include in your flock, even though their egg production lags behind Leghorn and Barred rocks and Rhode Island Reds and Whites.
Winter egg producers
The winter is a challenging time for chicken keepers who are raising laying hens. The natural cycle of a hen’s laying season is such that they are at their most productive when the days are longer and slow down production when the days have grown shorter. However, there are some breeds of winter egg producers that are cold hardy and continue to produce eggs even throughout the winter. The top three winter egg producers are the Orpington, Plymouth Barred Rock and the Rhode Island Red.
Orpington Chicken Breed
Orpingtons were bred in England originally. They are a cross of Minorcas, Langshans and Plymouth Rocks and used to be bred for meat because of their large sizes. Gentle and calm, they are great to have around your kids although they can be bullied by other chickens because of their sweet nature. As dual purpose chickens, they are the preferred choice for small farms and homesteads.
Orpingtons are prolific egg producers capable of producing as much as 240 eggs per chicken annually. Their large size and profuse fluffy feathering make them very cold hardy chickens, such that they continue to lay even during the most frigid of winters. While very hardy in the cold, the fluff of their feathers allows rains to pass through so care should still be taken to keep them from getting wet.
Plymouth Barred Rock Chicken Breed
Once known as “America’s Favorite Breed,” the Plymouth Rocks or Barred Rocks as they are fondly called are large dual purpose chickens. They are long-lived, too, and are a favorite in backyards and small family farms because of their docile temperament.
The Barred Rocks average around 4 eggs per week and continue laying through winter even if the production does dip a little. The deep and full abdomens of the hens makes them very good laying hens. They are robust and very cold hardy chickens, thanks to their fluffy feathering and big body size.
Rhode Island Red Chicken Breed
Rhode Island Reds are prolific egg layers, averaging around 6 to 7 eggs per week. They are not prone to broodiness, which makes them valued as laying hens among many chicken keepers. They are also strong and resistant to illness and thus makes good breeds for beginners to start with.
Rhode Island Reds are your year-round birds. They are hardy in the heat and cold and can still lay eggs even during the winter season. Their combs are also vulnerable to frost bite if the temperature drops below freezing inside the coop. If you don’t want their egg production to suffer during extremely cold weather, you can close the door to give them warmth, leaving only a small opening for ventilation.
Even if your birds are winter hardy, food and water should always be left inside their feeders so that they will be able to consume what they need for their own body warmth and give them the energy they need for continued egg production.
Chickens in Winter
When you are keeping egg laying hens, one of the main concerns is the laying season. Starting from 6 months, most hens will be ready to lay, depending on the breed. A laying hen is capable of laying one egg a day. Daylight stimulates ovulation so the pituitary gland can induce the ovaries to lay eggs. So the longer the days are, the more ovulation occurs and egg production is at its peak. When the days grow shorter, ovulation is not as frequent and egg production also decreases.
The laying season peaks in the summer and spring when there are more more daylight hours and tapers down in the fall and winter as the days grow shorter. They will still lay an egg here and there but they won’t be as prolific as when the days are longer. Some will even stop laying completely during the winter.
There are only a handful of laying hen varieties that have long laying seasons. The Leghorns are especially prolific, giving anywhere from 280 to 300 eggs per chicken in a year even during the winter. Another breed well-suited for a longer laying season is the Plymouth Rock. The Ancona, Light Sussex and the Barred Rock varieties are also excellent egg-laying varieties.
The use of artificial light to extend the laying season is a concept that’s been practiced since the 1800s. It became common for commercial farmers to use artificial lighting to induce hens to continue laying even throughout the winter with the use of artificial lighting.
If you are raising hens for the purpose of selling eggs commercially, the use of artificial lighting to extend the laying season is viable. In doing this, the purpose is to give them 12 to 14 hours of light together with the natural daylight hours. Thus, you will need to calculate how many hours you need to supplement with artificial lighting. If you have a small coop, say around 100 square feet, a 40-watt bulb placed about 7 feet from the floor will be able to accomplish the job of simulating daylight. A larger space will need a bulb of higher wattage.
You can use an automatic timer to go off when natural daylight enters the coop. Of course, you can also turn the light on and off yourself. If you choose to do the latter, you have to ensure that you turn the lights on at the exact time each day. It would also be advantageous for your ladies if you can somehow dim the effect of the lights before they get turned off completely to simulate the setting of the sun. This way, they still have a little light to see their roosts. With natural lighting, you can expect to have eggs even during the winter.
There are some chicken keepers, however, who believe that following the natural laying cycles of birds is important. Others believe that following a hybrid approach works best: The hens are allowed to rest when they are molting in the fall or early winter and give the artificial light after the winter solstice. Doing things this way gives the laying hens their rest and chicken owners only have to go for a few months without eggs.