It is thought that wild fowl were first domesticated for their eggs in Egypt, nearly 5,000 years ago. Today, many people have their own home flocks, and why not? Chickens make a great hobby that anyone in the family can enjoy. The rise of lifestyle blocks has led to more backyard egg production, and a few farm fresh eggs complete a great breakfast picture on many dairy farms along with farm fresh milk. With a few simple principles, it is possible to enjoy a good production ample enough to supply the family and a few neighbours as well.
Birds can be bought as pullets at 17- 18 weeks of age, and start laying soon after. They are often advertised in classified sections of rural newspapers. Farming outdoors, the best results are gained by purchasing in September. Alternatively, older birds can be purchased already in lay from commercial operations when they have finished their "economic" laying life. Although they may be picked up quite cheaply, the rate of lay may be quite disappointing. Ideally, home flocks should be replaced annually.
Feed is the most important factor in determining how many eggs are returned, and what size eggs are produced. Simply feeding vegetable scraps, fruit peels, bread etc, will not result in the best egg production. The nutritional value of such scraps is usually too low to sustain good levels of egg production, or production of large eggs. Green feeds such silverbeet leaves and lucerne, even grass clippings, will however provide the pigments that help give the yolk its rich, golden colour. Birds left to range will pick up grubs, beetles, worms, grass seed and the like all day, but should be supplemented with a compound feed, either mash or pellets, and should be fed ad lib. Birds will eat approximately 130 grams per head per day of the compound feed.
When choosing a feed for the birds, consider supplementing them with shell grit, such as oyster shell or mussel shell. The grit sits in the bird's crop for a sustained length of time, aiding in crop digestion, as well as giving "slow release" calcium thus aiding in the production of good quality shells. NRM Peck and Lay is available in all leading rural merchant stores, and has a sachet of oyster grit in every bag. The grit needs to be placed close to the Peck and Lay, and the birds will self-regulate their own grit intake, as they require it.
Perhaps the forgotten nutrient, water needs to be provided cool and clean, fresh every day. If water consumption suffers, so will the egg production. Outdoor birds in lay may take up to half a litre each per day. Lack of water will not only decrease egg production, but can prove fatal.
Back yard egg production can be rewarding and interesting. Great satisfaction can be found in eating your own produce for breakfast.
We wish to acknowledge NRM for this article