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Egg Layers vs Broilers
It is important when starting out to decide whether you what to raise hens for eggs or Roosters for Meat.
Keep in mind one is a relatively long term responsibility everyday, the other is and everyday responsibility but for a much shorter term. Plus in reality you must be able to handle the "Dirty Deed" (see the page regarding the Dirty Deed-butchering for a better idea of what you are in for) of butchering and all that goes along with it. I have many friends that raise chickens and just can't handle killing one, and others that don't think twice about it. I have attached a few sites that might help get you on the road to making that decision along with a couple of interesting articles from the University of Minnesota , you may even decide you want to raise both. Which is how I started and although I was able to handle the "deed" well enough, I decided I just didn't like doing it.
The Small Flock for Poultry Meat -University of Minnesota
The Small Laying Flock -University of Minnesota
From the age of approximately 5 months (depending on the time of Year, winter means less light and that may delay the starting of laying) a hen will lay eggs. Bantams lay smaller eggs.
The number of eggs in a week depends on the breed. Averaged a fowl lays good for 1 to 5 years and after that it will become less.
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Tenderness of Poultry Meat
Consumers rate tenderness as the most important characteristics when determining quality of poultry meat, and some consumers will refuse to be a repeat customer of brands previously found to have a tough texture. Thus, one experience with tough meat may cost a company a customer.
Tenderness of meat can be controlled by manipulating the factors which determine the rate of muscle rigor development. Normally, rigor develops in poultry 0.5 to 4 hours after death, and meat removed from the frame while it is in rigor will be tough. Electrical stunning of broilers slows down the development of rigor. This makes it necessary to age meat on the carcass at least 4 hours to have acceptable texture. A recent study was conducted to determine the relationship between breast fillet (Pectoralis major) tenderness, broiler age at slaughter, and carcass aging time before deboning. After 2 hours of aging, breast meat deboned from broilers 49 and 51 days of age had a "very tough" texture, while breast meat deboned from 42 and 44 day old broilers had a "slightly tender to slightly tough" texture.
These results show that processors forced to debone breast meat early without any additional treatment of the meat (i.e., marination or electrical stimulation) would obtain a more desirable texture if the meat came from younger broilers (42 to 44 days of age instead of 49 to 51 days of age).
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Keeping Birds Laying Through the Winter
At this time of year, many people begin to wonder why their birds quit laying eggs. Most people just accept the idea that their birds will not give them any eggs until next spring. However, the 'winter break' from laying doesn't necessarily have to occur.
There are several factors which can help to stimulate birds to begin laying, and these same factors can keep birds laying for a longer period during the year. One of these factors includes providing your birds with the proper nutrition from the time they hatch through their laying season. When chickens are fed a well-balanced starter and grower ration, they easily attain the necessary body weight to allow for proper development of their reproductive organs. Proper nutrition must then be carried into the laying season by feeding birds a layer or breeder ration which is specifically formulated to provide the essential ingredients for egg production.
In addition to good nutrition, (I highly recommend using Kelp and/or Nutri-balancer, as it helps to condition and add the appropriate nutrients in their diet) birds must be provided a suitable shelter which will protect them from winter winds and rain. Cold birds have a much lower egg production; however, most chickens will not have a problem handling Georgia winters if they are kept dry and out of excessive drafts. Birds which have been overly stressed by the elements will be in no mood to reproduce and will switch themselves into 'survival mode'.
Finally, if birds have attained the appropriate body weight for their breed, are being fed the correct diet, are properly housed and old enough (18-26 weeks of age depending upon the breed), you can either stimulate them into reproduction, or maintain their reproduction through the winter by providing artificially long days. Most birds' reproductive systems respond positively to increased day lengths because at least 14 hours of light daily is required to be reproductively active. As winter approaches, the daylight hours become shorter. This generally acts as a stimulus to the birds to switch out of the reproductive mode. The shortened day lengths cause hormonal charges in hens. These changes cause regression of the ovaries and oviduct as well as causing other changes. These changes result in birds ceasing to reproduce, but this can be avoided with proper management.
Commercially, hens are kept laying throughout the winter by providing the previously mentioned conditions. In backyard birds, artificial lights can also be used to supplement the day light hours. This will help keep your birds in production much longer. Because most backyard flocks are used to perching in the evenings, many people wish to add the additional hours of light in the early morning. By adding the extra hours in the morning rather than the evening, the birds can still find the perches as the sun begins to set without being exposed to immediate darkness. Adding an hour or two of light in the morning prior to sunrise and adding an hour or two in the evening after the sunsets will work equally well for improving egg laying.
To increase the day light hours, a small timer can be purchased from most local hardware stores that can be attached to the power source which feeds your lights to automatically turn the lights on and off at the appropriate times. It is important to use these timers to control the lights so that the birds are exposed to a set duration of light that doesn't vary from day to day. Lights should be set to provide a consistent light schedule from day to day of between 14-16 hours. Lights should be set to come on each morning before sunrise, and they may be set to turn off at least ˝ hour after sunrise. If you wish to use lights in the evenings also, they can be set to come on at least ˝ hour before sunset, then to turn back off at the proper time to obtain the desired total amount of light for each day. The minimum light intensity needed is not great. A small Christmas tree size white light bulb inside a chicken pen has been shown to be sufficient to stimulate the birds' reproductive system.
To keep birds in production through the winter months, follow these basic management steps, and you should be getting eggs from your birds through winter and on into spring.
R. Keith Bramwell
Extension County Agent
Extension Poultry Scientist Coordinator
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