Wednesday 26 February 2014

How to lay an egg

You learn a lot by leaning on a gate watching animals. When one of the hens is about to settle in its nest and lay an egg it gives a little," I'm about to lay an egg" call. Sometimes the cockerel will rush over and  escort her to he nest which needs to be dark, secluded and ideally about 1m off the ground. There wasn't much of this going on around Christmas, on Christmas Day I got two eggs from twenty hens because they shut down as day length decreases.That was ten weeks ago, since mid January egg production has been gradually increasing with day length, yesterday I got 14.

February sunrise, start of the hen's working day
Dusk is a cue for ovulation and egg laying, Ovulation (when the egg leaves the ovary) starts about nine hours after the start of darkness and lasts for about five hours. Laying follows about 24hrs later, early in the day. Subsequent eggs are laid at intervals of 24 - 28 hours until early afternoon is reached. Then a day is missed.  this is known as an egg laying "sequence" . After the missed day laying starts again so that in 10 days a hen will lay about 7 eggs in two sequences in Spring.

The number of eggs laid will increase between now and the end of March then gradually decline after midsummer. I could over ride this natural system by putting lighting in the hen house to ensure a 14 hour working day in winter. This would give us a winter supply of eggs, its what happens in commercial poultry keeping but I want most eggs in Spring for sale as hatching eggs and in Summer to sell at the farm gate to visitors.

A dark comfortable nest in the hay
Finding and using a nest is a powerful drive. Left to their own devices my hens prefer a dark niche in a stack of hay bales. In cage the birds cannot, dust bath, perch, stretch or nest, these natural activities are frustrated.

It isn't enough to keep animals free of harm, hunger, pain and thirst; they need a high quality environment where they can express their natural behaviours.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic picture of the chickens starting their day!