Gardening

The Chickens at Point of Lay

Our chickens started laying a couple of weeks ago. In the video below, the ladies are pictured right before “point of lay,” and are darting around their run after we gave them kitchen scraps and chicken scratch. There is a loaf of old french bread hanging in the coop for some chicken enrichment activity (I don’t know, what is my life?) but they mostly ignored it. Apologies for bad video quality.

What does “point of lay” mean?

Point of lay” describes a young chicken — AKA a pullet, AKA a female chicken under one year old — at the time she is about ready to begin laying eggs. You’ll know your chickens are ready to lay when their combs and wattles get big and red and they do a submissive squat-and-dance when you approach them. When they do this, they basically think you’re the rooster and are giving you the okay to mate. However, please don’t mate with your chickens. My chickens also got cranky, hungry, and loud for a couple of weeks, like they were going through an accelerated chicken puberty.

Their combs and wattles got bigger and changed color from pink to red. Then the chickens started making moaning and croaking noises and spent a couple of days going to and from the nest box. Eventually they settled down and laid their first eggs.

Brown eggs er’ry day, er’ry day.

With seven chickens who *just* started laying, we’re averaging about four eggs a day. Some breeds begin laying earlier than others, but the average is about 22-24 weeks old depending on a variety of factors from the breed, to the amount of daylight they receive, to the foods they’re fed. Some of the eggs are teeny-tiny, about half the size of a normal grocery egg. This is both normal for first-time layers AND ADORABLE.

All of our chickens are brown egg layers. We thought for a minute that the red chicken might be an Easter Egger, a blue egg layer, but she’s a regular old heritage hen. She also happens to be the friendliest and most social chicken. She’s our only regular squatter-and-dancer, which means she’s the only one that tolerates being held and socializing with us outside of the coop, which ALSO means she happens to get more opportunities to scratch around the garden for bugs and sprouts while we work in the yard. This is a great opportunity for her, as the more variety and richness that chickens experience with their feed, the more rich and healthy and delicious their eggs will be.

Chickens need calcium, greens, fat, and fiber to stay healthy and lay healthy eggs. We feed them layer feed and supplement with scratch and oyster shell, along with giving them kitchen scraps nightly. They LOVE a wilted grape, tomato, or strawberry and will fight over small fruits. I’ve heard if you feed your chickens onions and garlic, their eggs will taste like it, so we try to avoid that.

What about a rooster?

One thing that people ask me all the time is how the chickens lay eggs without us having a rooster. It surprises me that folks don’t know this!

It’s biology, y’all. The ladies ovulate regularly (just like humans do) whether or not a rooster is around. With a rooster — with mating — you get fertile eggs and chicks for hatching. Without a rooster — without mating — you get infertile eggs for eating.

 

The Chickening

I wish I had before and after pictures of my yard. I moved into this house about eleven years ago, and at the time, most of the yard was dedicated to a massive garden. It was too big for me, so we eventually sodded it over and put in grass. There was a pond at one time too, the neighborhood watering hole for a family of cardinals and a place for moles and voles to drown while trying to get a drink. That was torn out too. Today this area is home to a greenhouse and chicken coop (still under construction).

Greens to the left, chickens to the right.
FREE LABOR.

Chickens love compost. Give them some yard and kitchen waste and they turn it into beautiful compost. Above, the ladies are working over a pile of straw and scraps. Our ladies are brown egg layers and exotics, a mix of Wyandottes and others, a Cochin, an Easter Egger, and a Fayoudi. 

Obviously to use this beautiful compost, I needed to turn an old flower bed into a vegetable garden. 

Baby squash.

We are growing squash, tomatoes, cukes, zukes, eggplant, peppers, cantaloupe, and pumpkin this year. We planted a patch of asparagus and another for strawberries as well. Some of this will feed the family, and some of this will make it back to the chickens. 

Eventually the ladies will lay eggs, and after we eat the eggs, the ladies will eat their eggshells. 

Lady in front is called Adventure Chicken. She is an Egyptian Fayoudi.

They use the nutrients in the eggshells to keep making strong, hard eggshells. 

Further compounding the system we have going here is the greenhouse, where we can extend the growing season a couple of months on either end. I plan to grow greens, arugula, lettuces, and more, and the greenhouse should help keep the chickens warm in the cold season. 

The veggies feed us, the scraps feed the chickens and/or are turned into compost which feeds the garden where we plant the veggies that feed us, and so forth. 

I never thought I’d get this excited about compost, but hey.