Laying hens

Laying hens are hens that lay eggs... eggs which we humans then eat. These are eggs that haven’t been fertilized. But what does that mean exactly? Anna & Dean are happy to explain!

Chicken or egg

Only female chickens lay eggs. That’s why newborn chicks are sorted according to whether they are male or female. This means that we look at what sex they are (known as sexing). There are three ways of doing this:

  1. By looking at the cloaca, which is very difficult.
  2. By looking at the length of their feathers, which is called feather-sexing.
  3. By looking at their colours, also known as colour-sexing.

Where it’s always spring...

In nature, a chicken only lays eggs in spring. That’s why a poultry farmer will create conditions in the chicken shed that resemble springtime. The lamps will be on for 10 hours initially. This is slowly increased to 16 hours a day, so the chickens think it’s spring. When the lamps go out, the chickens go to roost so they can rest.

A flock of chickens

On a poultry farm – a farm for laying hens – a chicken shed can house anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000 chickens. All young hens enter the shed at the same time. A group of chickens is called a flock. Chickens are social animals and love to sit together. But they don’t all sit together. It might get a little cramped otherwise! That’s why a shed is divided into compartments of 6,000 to 25,000 chickens.

After 20 weeks, a young hen lays her first egg. This is just a small egg, because she is still in puberty and hasn’t fully grown up yet. The older a hen gets, the bigger the eggs she lays.

From laying hen to boiling fowl

A hen lays up to as many as 350 to 370 eggs in her lifetime – that’s about four eggs every five days. Every time a chicken skips a day, the egg she lays the following day is a bit bigger. After about 80 weeks, the chickens are more and more likely to skip a day, and it costs more to feed them than to sell their eggs. That’s when the farmer decides that it’s time for the laying hen to become a boiling fowl. This means the chicken goes to slaughter and her meat is used partly for broth, hence the name boiling fowl. The rest is often exported to other countries.

Did you know that laying hens usually lay an egg every day? We have to trick the hens slightly. They sit on a nest and lay an egg, but the egg rolls onto a conveyor belt, so the hen doesn’t have to hatch the egg. That’s why she can lay another egg the next day!

Read more about eggs
Anna and Dean visit the laying hens

Take a look at the farm of Gerben

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