How long will layers live and produce?
How long will layers live and produce?Answer
This is a question with many answers; almost as many as there are breeds and types of chicken, and circumstances and environments in which they live.
Genetics play the primary role and genetics vary within each breed. The term “production bred” refers to genetic design, by selective breeding, for maximum egg and meat production in the shortest amount of time.
Many breeds are considered “dual purpose”. In the history of domesticated chickens, they are used primarily for egg and meat production.
Usually hens are kept for egg laying during their most productive years and extra roosters used for food. As egg production declines in hens they would be used to bring on the next generation, then used for food.
Old chickens don’t have the tender meat quality of younger birds. Keeping old chickens around is not economical, so breeding for long life has not been a factor in most breeding.
Chickens have been selectively bred through the ages to reach sexual maturity and full body size within the first few months of life, some as early as 3 months. About 5 months is average “breeding age”, meaning fertile roosters and hens able to lay eggs.
Some breeds mature as late as 7 months of age. These slower growing blood lines would be the best choice for the longest egg producing hens, but not necessarily highest producing.
These can live reasonably healthy
and productive lives for 5 – 7 years. Factors in egg production are basically: genetics, health of the hen, lack of stress, diet and hours of light each day.
The longest lived hen on record was 16 when she died, but she never laid an egg in her life (due to errors in her anatomy). She was a pampered house pet, a cross bred bantam.
Egg production draws on all the resources of a hen, just as pregnancy, birth and rearing of mammals. Chicken egg and meat factories generally “force” production with artificial lighting.
Extended hours of light encourage eating round the clock for body growth and speed up egg production while depleting a hen’s potential “eggs” quickly.
This kind of chicken life is short and breeds designed for this can have life threatening issues within 8 months to 2 years of life.
The most natural environment for a chicken will encourage long healthy life (if genetics will cooperate). This includes:
free ranging for exercise, stimulation, and variety in diet. Healthy environment:
not over crowded, kept clean, fresh air and sunshine, safety from extreme weather conditions and predators, especially at night. Balanced diet:
best possible proteins, fats, fiber, vegetation, vitamins, minerals and good water.Breed selection:
I would recommend looking into Heritage Breeds. These are well established blood lines that focus on quality genetics that seem to promote the longest and healthiest productive lives. Return to Raising Chickens Home Page