Maine Farmcast Episode 07: Backyard Chickens with Ashley Wright

Ashley Wright, area assistant livestock agent with the University of Arizona
Ashley Wright

On this episode of the Maine Farmcast, Dr. Colt Knight interviews Ashley Wright, an area assistant livestock agent with the University of Arizona. Ashley joined us in Maine for a week to help deliver a series of in-person seminars on getting started with poultry. As a Livestock Area Agent with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, she provides leadership in extension programs focusing on livestock production and management across both large and small-scale operations in Cochise, Pima, and Santa Cruz Counties. Her programs cover a diverse array of topics crucial to the livestock industry, including herd health and management, nutrition, reproduction, genetics, and marketing. While much of her program focuses on cow-calf operations, she also work extensively with Arizona’s growing population of backyard chicken enthusiasts, especially those in areas who have recently relaxed zoning regulations to allow for urban chicken keeping. The educational content she produces covers an array of topics such as raising health chicks, poultry diseases, coop design, heat stress, nutrition, egg production, and egg safety. She lives in Vail, Arizona, just outside of Tucson and maintains a small backyard flock of laying hens.

Episode Resources


Colt Knight: 00:17

Welcome to the Maine Farmcast. My name is Dr. Colt Knight, associate extension professor and state livestock specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. And today, I am joined with miss Ashley Wright, an area livestock agent from the University of Arizona. Ashley traveled to Maine this week to help me deliver some, poultry educational talks and seminars throughout the state. And I thought we would sit down and talk a little bit about chickens and raising chickens. Ashley, it’s good to have you with us.

Ashley Wright: 00:49

Thanks for having me.

Colt Knight: 00:51

Let’s begin. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, Ashley?

Ashley Wright: 00:55

Sure. So as you said, I’m a livestock area agent with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. I’m based down in southern Arizona covering the 3 southeastern counties in the state. Mostly, I actually work with cow calf producers, but I do get to dabble a little bit in backyard poultry. We have quite a few backyard poultry producers in Arizona, especially since the city of Tucson, which is the major city in my area, relaxed its zoning code to allow more people to have chickens on smaller lots even in somewhat urban areas.

Colt Knight: 01:27

And as a livestock agent that deals with a lot of backyard poultry, what are some of the most frequently asked questions that you get concerning back yard chickens?

Ashley Wright: 01:38

I’d say the one of the most common questions, especially being in Southern Arizona, is what breeds of chicken are best for dealing with the heat? Kinda similar to you up here, I’m sure getting a lot of questions about which chickens deal best with the cold. I get a lot of questions on things like broody chickens in the springtime, especially, you know, why is my chicken not laying eggs, things like that. I got a lot of questions, especially this last year, about highly pathogenic avian influenza. Yeah.

Colt Knight: 02:09

We had quite a bit of that highly pathogenic a in influenza up here in Maine. They think that it originally came from Nova Scotia and crossed into the United States with migratory birds. But in total, I think since 2022, the United States has lost about 82,000,000 chickens due to avian influenza. And that’s the main reason that egg prices went through the roof is just supply went way down. Are there anything that people can do to reduce the possibilities of contracting avian influenza in their own personal backyard flock?

Ashley Wright: 02:49

Yeah. Absolutely. So as you mentioned, it was spread primarily by migratory birds, specifically mostly migratory water fowl, some of the best things that you can do to protect your backyard flock are to make sure that they have as little contact or no contact with with wild birds as is feasibly possible for you. So that means going through your coop and run and making sure that the little wild birds can’t come in to eat your chickens food, that you’re not feeding wild birds on their on your property. That’s a really common thing for for people in Arizona to do is to have a little stand set up to feed wild birds.

Ashley Wright: 03:22

If you have chickens on your property, I really discourage you from doing that. You don’t want to encourage those birds to come onto your property. If you have any sort of ponds or any features that would attract migratory waterfowl, try to get rid of those if you can. I know that’s not always possible, but anything you can do to reduce your birds’ contact with migratory waterfowl will go a long way towards protecting your flock. The other thing you can do is make sure that you are when there’s outbreak in your area, don’t attend other events with other birds and let your birds have contact with other people’s flocks. That’s a big biosecurity risk is is catching that from another person’s flock. They may not even know they have it yet. So making sure you stay away from shows, exhibitions, and other types of gatherings where there will be, other people’s birds there.

Colt Knight: 04:08

Yeah. And you mentioned biosecurity, and biosecurity is a way to keep a lot of different diseases out of your poultry flock. What would you say are some of the key components in biosecurity with backyard chicken flocks?

Ashley Wright: 04:21

Sure. So we think of biosecurity, we could think of kind of 2 things that we can do that biosecurity is really anything we do to prevent our birds from getting sick. So we can think of that in sort of 2 ways. The first thing we can do is we can increase their immunity to disease. We can do that through things like vaccination.

Ashley Wright: 04:36

So for example, when you order chicks from a hatchery, you can order them vaccinated for Marek’s or coccidiosis to help prevent those diseases. So that’s one part, but we can also make sure that they have good nutrition, good cleanliness, access to clean water, and all the things that basically make them nice healthy birds so that they have a nice healthy immune system to ward off any diseases they might be exposed to. The other half of biosecurity is preventing them from even being exposed to those diseases in the first place. So doing things like not bring not going to shows or exhibitions like I just talked about. Obviously, if you are a show person that you’re gonna have to do that.

Ashley Wright: 05:14

But the other thing you can do is when you do take birds to a show, or you bring new birds home onto your property, you need to quarantine those birds for at least 30 days before you reintroduce them house those birds who’ve been off your property or you can house where you can house those birds who’ve been off your property or you can house new birds that you’ve brought in temporarily. With no contact with your flock, you would feed your home flock first, and then you would feed your quarantined animals, and then you would wanna make sure that you change clothes, wash up, and change boots before going back to your home flock. And you wanna do that for 30 days to help, prevent any diseases that they might have brought home with them from spreading to your main flock. I always encourage everybody to have a pair of shoes that is specific to their chicken coop and does not go in the house and does not go anywhere else. It doesn’t go to anybody else’s chicken coop.

Ashley Wright: 06:08

It doesn’t go to bird shows. It doesn’t go to anything like that so that you are hopefully not tracking anything around on your feet and carrying it into your coop.

Colt Knight: 06:17

Yeah. And when you you’re washing your boots from place to place, especially if you’re reusing your boots from one area to the next, it’s a good idea to have a boot wash available. And there’s a lot of different things that we can use to wash our boots, but something that’s actually gonna kill pathogens is what we’re really after. So just spraying it off with a water hose doesn’t really do anything. Scrubbing it with, like, dish soap helps a little bit, but doesn’t really solve our problems.

Colt Knight: 06:46

We actually need to get in there with something on the cheap would be bleach mixed with water, iodine solutions. What’s problems with bleaches and iodine solutions is they’re corrosive, and they can stain your clothes or bleach your clothes. Right? So, we like to use more of our sterile or disinfecting solutions like Vercon or chlorhexidine. And then you can actually just kinda dip your foot in a boot wash and and give them a quick scrub, and that will eliminate a lot of those pathogens that if we just we could spray water on it for a half an hour and never eliminate those pathogens.

Colt Knight: 07:26

So pretending to have biosecurity doesn’t equal having that same biosecurity level. So it just takes that one time to get lax or or lazy, and and you can introduce some nasty stuff onto the farm.

Ashley Wright: 07:43

Yeah. And and, you know, while we’re talking about things like our boots being able to carry disease, not only is it us and our our shoes or our clothes that might carry a disease between one flock and another, but it’s also things like pests. For example, 2 years last year, Tucson, Arizona had, a pretty epic monsoon season. We get most of our annual rainfall in July, August, and September. It’s it’s called monsoon season.

Ashley Wright: 08:07

We get about half of our annual rainfall at that time. So things get quite wet, and we had quite a large number of flies and mosquitoes that year compared to normal, especially mosquitoes. And a lot of people’s flocks, I got a lot of calls with people getting foul pox in their flock because their birds had not really been exposed to it before. They didn’t have any natural immunity, and we had a bumper crop of mosquitoes that spread that foul pox around between neighboring flocks and just sort of spread it all over the state, really. So remember that things like flies, mosquitoes, or other pests like that can also be a source of disease and can transmit it from one flock to another or one bird to another.

Colt Knight: 08:48

Yeah. It’s good to know. Let’s switch subjects a little bit. Ashley and I have been traveling around the state over the last week talking to to folks in in in the counties about getting started with chickens, how to raise chickens from chicks, what their housing should look like, collecting eggs, selling eggs, selling meat, raising meat, chickens. And so if someone wanted to get started in poultry, what do you think the most important question is to think about before they get chickens?

Ashley Wright: 09:26

Oh, that’s a really good one. I think one of the most important questions that you need to ask yourself is what is your goal with your chicken flock? You need to figure out is it is it for meat? Is it for eggs? Is it just for fun?

Ashley Wright: 09:39

Is it some combination of those things? Because that’s going to ultimately drive what breeds of chicken you want to select and how you’re gonna set up your brooder and your coop situation to accommodate that. The needs of, let’s say we’re gonna raise a batch of broiler chickens. It’s gonna be a little bit different than the needs if we’re gonna set up to raise some laying hens and maintain a flock of poultry, a flock of laying hens to have eggs for our family. So think about what your ultimate goals are first and then decide what breeds of chicken you want based on that and based on your local climate and what is available.

Ashley Wright: 10:12

Don’t just go to the feed store and buy whatever because you might end up with something that wasn’t what you intended. It isn’t gonna work out for what you’re trying to do.

Colt Knight: 10:23

So one of the things that that folks think about is egg production. In in most backyard or home chicken producers are in it for laying hens and not so much the meat production birds, but some people like the meat birds as well. You gotta think about the cost you have invested in your chickens and the cost you have invested in egg production. And when we look at the actual 40 pound bag of organic grain. And those a 40 pound bag of organic grain.

Colt Knight: 10:59

And those eggs that we produce at home when we calculate in all the feed and everything else that we have to do buying the chick, home raised eggs cost anywhere from 2 to almost $5 a dozen. And, historically, that price far outweighed what we could buy eggs for in the grocery store. But last year, during the peak of the avian influenza outbreak and all the the chicken numbers were low and egg prices went 6, 8, $10 a dozen, that was really the first time in history where it was cheaper or not I shouldn’t say history, but the first time in in recent memory where it’s actually cheaper to raise your own eggs at home. Now those egg prices in the grocery store have come down, but they’re still a lot higher than they were. And they’re still it’s almost about the same price these days to raise your own eggs as it is to buy them at the store.

Colt Knight: 11:56

And so knowing where your food comes from and and having that sense of pride of raising your own food, I think it it’s an excellent way to be more self reliant is is raising your own chickens.

Ashley Wright: 12:11

Yeah. Absolutely. And you have some added benefits as well. Right? You get your own like like Cole just said, you get your own kind of enjoyment out of raising your own hens.

Ashley Wright: 12:21

Chickens are just fun to have around. Also, if you have kids or grandkids, it’s a great way to introduce them to the concept of where their food comes from and and how animals are raised for food, and and a little bit of responsibility, right, of caring for that animal, and making sure that it has a good life and has everything that it needs to be a happy healthy hen and produce eggs for your family.

Colt Knight: 12:42

Yeah. So if someone was gonna get started with chickens, we you know, this time of year in April, we see chickens at all the hardware stores and feed supply stores. But where is a good place for someone to get chickens?

Ashley Wright: 13:00

We’ve got a couple of really good options. Those local stores are are an okay option. They’re ordering from national, hatcheries that all participate in the national poultry improvement plan, meaning those chicks should be healthy. They should be free from salmonella or other things that might cause us problems, in our egg production and things like that. So they are good options, but when you show up to the feed store to purchase those those birds, just make sure that all the birds look active, that they all look alert and healthy, that they’re they’re walking around, they look bright eyed, all those sorts of things, that they have appropriate food, housing, and water, and that there are no sick looking birds on-site.

Ashley Wright: 13:41

Another good place to purchase is you can actually order directly from those those national hatcheries yourself. There is a window where they can, send those chicks through the mail. They will have minimums as far as how many minimum chicks you need to order and when they can ship to you, kinda depending on your location around the country. There are certain times we cannot order chicks because it’s too hot. Just like here in Maine, there are certain times where you probably can’t order chicks because it is just too cold to be sending them.

Ashley Wright: 14:06

But that way, you can ensure you’re getting exactly the chicks you want from that hatchery. You have probably have a little bit better selection and availability, and you know that those birds haven’t had any chance to mix with any other birds. It’s very a very bio secure way do to do that and to get some birds, that should be free from any diseases and very healthy.

Colt Knight: 14:28

When someone is ready to make the commitment, order the chicks or go to the hardware store to get the chicks, what kind of setup do they need at home to raise those chicks? And it’s really important that that setup we we get before we get the chicks. Right?

Ashley Wright: 14:47

Yeah. Absolutely. We wanna make sure we have our brooder. Those chicks are gonna need to stay in a brooder for about the first 6 6 to 8 weeks or so of of life, they’re gonna need to be in some sort of container that safely contains them, that protects them from predators and the elements and things like that. We’re gonna need to provide them with a heat source of some kind, whether that’s a heat lamp or a brooder plate, and also, free access to food and clean water.

Ashley Wright: 15:17

And so we can use any number of things to fit that bill. There are actually brooder kits available that you can just buy, and they’re already sort of set up. You can do it in a dog crate. You’ll see the livestock water troughs are a very popular option. Just make sure that whatever you pick, keeps those chicks contained, keeps them protected from things like dogs, cats, outside predators, and things like that, and allows you to provide that heat, clean water, and food, and kinda keeps them out of drafts and out of the weather.

Ashley Wright: 15:46

So oftentimes, people will brood chicks indoors either in the house or in a shop or garage, so that they’re a little bit more protected from the elements until they have all of their new adult feathers, which it happens at about 6 to 8 weeks of age. Now during that time, while they’re in the brooder, you should definitely be thinking about what you’re gonna set them up with for their full time coop because that 6 to 8 weeks is gonna go by faster than you think. So while you don’t need to have the coop ready when you bring the chicks home, you should definitely be thinking about that coop and make sure you have a plan so that when they’re ready to go out, it’s ready for them.

Colt Knight: 16:20

When we keep the chicks warm, as Ashley mentioned, there’s a lot of folks will use heat lamps. Some people will use brooder plates. There’s a lot of options available but temperature is really a crucial aspect of brooding chicks. So the 1st week the chicks are alive, so from day 1 to day 7, that brooder should have an ambient temperature of about 95 degrees. And in the 2nd week, you drop it 5 degrees to 90, and then the next week, you drop it to 85, and then the next week, you drop it to 80 until they’re around that 6 to 7 week mark, and then 60, 70 degrees is fine.

Colt Knight: 16:59

So just ambient room temperature, and they don’t really need the heat source anymore. And that’s about the same time that those laying hens get feathers. When they create their own feathers, they can keep themselves warm, and they don’t need that that extra heat source. Meatbirds grow a lot quicker than the land hens, so you’ll see those starting to get feathers at 2 or 3 weeks. And so they don’t need to stay in the brooder quite as long as land hens, but, the same principles still apply.

Colt Knight: 17:28

They still need that heat source until they get their feathers. And that heat source is very crucial because it can be a source of danger. You know, heat lamps are are prone to catch on fire and and burn structures down. You know, every year, the Poultry Veterinary Association warns the general public about how dangerous heat lamps are. You know, a 250 watt bulb in a metal fixture generates a tremendous amount of heat.

Colt Knight: 17:58

And if it touches dry sawdust, cardboard, wood, it can ignite. And one of the main causes of those things igniting is the little metal clamp that comes with a heat lamp. I always recommend folks just take that clamp off when they buy the heat lamp and throw it in the trash and hang the heat lamp from the ceiling or from a structure so that it’s not touching anything and it doesn’t have any possibility for the clamp to slip off and then it can touch down and and set things on fire. I for that reason, I really like those brooder plates. They use less electricity, and they keep the chicks happy and warm.

Colt Knight: 18:43

You just set those brooder plates to the height of the chicken’s back and they can just get under there and lay down and and go to town.

Ashley Wright: 18:51

Yeah. I can’t recommend those brooder plates highly enough. They really do a great job sort of mimicking the way that a hen would naturally raise some chicks where they would tend to stay underneath her wings to get warm, and then as they get older, start slowly venturing out more and more to get food and water, but going back underneath there to be warm. They’re far less of a fire danger. While they may be a little bit more expensive in the upfront, I think they pay for themselves in the long run with safety.

Ashley Wright: 19:15

As a general rule, they’re they are sold by the size, the number of chicks that they can safely brood. So the small sizes can generally brood about 25 chicks, and that’s what they’ll be labeled for. And they go all the way up to 50, a 100, and there might even be a 200 chick size. But it’ll say right on that box how many chicks it’s appropriately sized for when you purchase it. And I think those 25 five chick ones run about $40 right now.

Colt Knight: 19:38

Yeah. And in the state of Maine where electricity costs are real high, they actually will pay for themselves in electricity use because a 250 watt bulb on that heat lamp compared to the 80 watts on the chicken rooter. Over the 6 weeks you’re gonna use it will save you quite a bit in electricity cost. And the other thing to keep in mind is the light aspect of it. The 1st week that we have chicks, we like them to have about 23 hours of light in the brooder so that they can get up throughout the entire day and go find the food and water.

Colt Knight: 20:16

And then once they get acclimated to where that food and water is located, we can reduce that amount of light per day. I mean, all they really need is about 8 hours of daylight. But more critically, they need that 8 hours of dark. They will be more stress free and happy chicks if we can provide them with about at least 8 to 12 hours of darkness per day. And if you’ve got those heat lamps going 24 hours a day, they don’t get that rest from the daylight.

Colt Knight: 20:48

So they they don’t get to sleep as much. It adds a little bit of stress. They don’t grow quite as well, and so that’s important. And with those brooder plates that don’t generate any light, just the regular daylight and turning the late lights on during the day gives them plenty of light. And then when you go to bed, there’s no light, and they can sleep too, which is handy if you’re brooding them in the house or something, because they won’t be peeping all night long.

Colt Knight: 21:15

They’ll just go to sleep, and it gives them a nice long rest instead of them just catching little short naps throughout the day if that light’s on full time. What’s the what’s the best thing to feed those chicks while they’re still in the brooder?

Ashley Wright: 21:32

Yeah. So chicks should be fed a a a specific a chick a chick start ration, which is a specific ration that’s been formulated to provide everything that that chick needs during its growing stages of life. So it’ll be a 20% crude protein feed. It will be, crumbled or mashed down into a small size form that a chick is capable of eating rather than the big, laying pellets we’re kinda typical typically used to seeing for our hens. And that ration they should be on that ration from day 0 all the way through until they lay their first eggs.

Ashley Wright: 22:04

Most of those start rations nowadays are labeled as a chick start and grow ration, meaning they can just stay on them that whole 1st period of life through 18 to 20 weeks or until you kind of start seeing the first eggs out of that batch of hens. And the reason that that’s important they be on that specific feed and not a laying hen feed is laying hen feed is designed to supply a lot of extra calcium to our hens. That helps them to lay eggs every day that have good strong eggshells without depleting their own stores of calcium to do that. But if we feed that much calcium to our young growing chicks who don’t need it yet because they’re not yet laying eggs, it can be very detrimental to their skeletal growth. It can be really hard on their kidneys and cause some other developmental problems that we want to avoid.

Ashley Wright: 22:47

So we want to make sure that we do specifically get that chick start or chick start and grow ration, that that’s 20% protein and feed them that throughout their first 18 to 20 weeks of life.

Colt Knight: 23:00

Yeah. And most chickens are gonna start laying eggs between 18 22 weeks of age. And when they start or right before they start laying eggs, it’s a really good idea to switch them over to that laying hen diet. It’s gonna have a little less protein, but it’s gonna have about 10 times the amount of calcium in there for those good strong eggs. And that kind of begs the question is what do we do with those laying hens when they are ready to to start laying eggs and move them out to the chicken coop, and how should we design our chicken coop?

Colt Knight: 23:31

Well, chicken coops for laying hens, if they have access to the outdoors, you need about 2 and a half square foot per bird to keep them healthy and happy. And if if you don’t have access to outdoors, they need at least 4 and a half square foot per bird. And the perches the perches should be about 18 inches apart, both vertically and horizontally, and that keeps the birds from stacking on top of each other, pooping on one another, fighting with one another. And we wanna keep those about 3 foot or less. And the perch size and shape is really critical here in Maine because the way that that chickens keep their feet warm is they they ruffle their feathers around their feet.

Colt Knight: 24:19

And so if we’ve got a skinny perch and their their toes stick out on the bottom, the cold can get to the bottom of that perch and they’ll get frostbite and their feet will toes will actually fall off. So the ideal solution is to lay a 2 by 4 on the flat side, and that will give them plenty. You know, a lot of folks think that because their feet form a nice circle when they grab things that they would prefer a round surface. But, no, they actually really like that flat 2 by 4. If you do use a tree or something, use something that’s at least 3 or 4 inches in diameter and and keep those perches set up to where you can clean underneath of them.

Colt Knight: 25:01

You know? Whenever you design your chicken coop, think, can can I easily access the inside to clean it, gather eggs, so on and so forth? And, again, talking about eggs, how should we set up our nesting boxes? Nesting boxes should be lower than our perches. So we want those about 18 inches off the floor because when they roost, they naturally go to the highest spot in the chicken coop.

Colt Knight: 25:28

And we don’t want them to roost in the nesting boxes because they’ll make a mess out of our nesting boxes. And if they get to fighting in there, they might actually start breaking eggs, which makes us an even bigger mess. And so, you know, historically, most people would build, like, a wooden box as a nesting box, and those are actually pretty hard to clean. I I much prefer building a shelf and then putting, like, a plastic Tupperware type container in there. And then when you need to clean it, you can just pick it up and and empty it out.

Ashley Wright: 26:00

Yeah. I find those, dish pans from the dollar store or the small plastic baskets. They’re about 12 inch by 12 inch, in size to work quite well as a as a nesting box insert, either on a shelf as as Colt just talked about, or mine are actually set on the outside of my coop so that I can open the the hatch from the outside and access the eggs without going inside. But they are lined with that dish pan for ease of cleaning. It’s easy if somebody gets in there and breaks an egg or has an accident in the box that I can just pull the whole dish pan out, dump out the bedding, wash the box if I need to, and then put everything back and it stays really clean rather than having to try to scrape out the bottom of a wooden box that’s not movable and is affixed into place.

Ashley Wright: 26:43

Not to mention, plastic is just much easier to disinfect and clean more thoroughly than wood.

Colt Knight: 26:49

And how many of those nesting boxes do you need for your chickens?

Ashley Wright: 26:52

Well, the general recommendation is one box for every 4 or 5 hens. Odds are they’re gonna pick a favorite box and many of them are gonna try to stack up and lay their eggs in the same box. That just seems to be a chicken thing to do. You can encourage them to try to use all of the boxes by putting some fake eggs, into all of them so that they they will naturally try to lay their eggs where other chickens have already laid eggs. That can help kind of encourage them to utilize all of the boxes available to them.

Colt Knight: 27:21

And that fake egg trick is a good way to get chickens to actually use the nesting boxes. You know, every once in a while, I’ll get chickens that wanna lay eggs in the floor or outside or on the tractor seat or, you know, anywhere that they just decide they wanna lay eggs. But when you put those fake eggs in the nesting boxes, they think, hey. Everybody else is doing it. I should do that too.

Colt Knight: 27:46

So that works really well. And while we’re talking about eggs, what are some strategies to keep chickens laying the most eggs, and and how long can chickens lay eggs for?

Ashley Wright: 28:02

Yeah. So that’s a good question. So as far as keeping chickens laying eggs, sort of daily, so there’s kind of a natural season based on daylight length that’s going to encourage chickens to have kind of peak production. So as our daylight day starts getting longer it actually triggers that chicken to lay eggs, to lay more eggs and go into egg production every single day. So about 14 to 16 hours of daylight length is kind of the sweet spot for peak production, which is what most places tend to get in the summertime.

Ashley Wright: 28:33

So you’ll see egg production start in the spring and sort of peak in the early summer, but then as our days begin to shorten that egg production might drop off again. So we will see fewer eggs laid in the wintertime, and that’s simply due to that daylight length. So we can actually fix that by providing them with light artificial light source to make the days artificially longer. And we do wanna make sure we add that daylight in the morning, not in the afternoon. Chickens will naturally want to go to bed and roost and will spend the last couple hours of the day before dusk as the sun is setting getting some food, getting some last water, and making their way into their roost to go to bed for the night.

Ashley Wright: 29:08

If you just abruptly shut the lights off on them, they’ll kind of be stranded without having gone through that cycle. It can actually stress them out pretty well. So the the better solution is if you need to add hours of daylight, figure out how many hours you need to add and set those lights on a timer to come on early in the morning. It might be they need to come on at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, and then just remain on until the natural daylight comes up on its own. That’ll extend your daylight and still give them a natural dusk period to kinda go to bed.

Colt Knight: 29:39

And so your average commercial style leghorn chicken, the most the most common laying hen in the United States, they’re gonna lay 3 100, 320 eggs per year. Really, that 1st year they’re laying eggs. Some of the the sex linked brown chickens, like the isa browns and whatnot, they’re about 200 and 50 eggs a year. But most of our dual purpose chickens that that most of us are are keeping at the house lay around 200 eggs for that 1st year. But chickens are born with all the eggs they’re ever gonna have.

Colt Knight: 30:14

They’re just the chicken’s reproductive organ, like, the ovas in there. And and so that 1st year is peak production. And then how does that go throughout their lifetime, actually?

Ashley Wright: 30:27

Yeah. So the 1st year, like like you just said, the the 1st year is kind of their peak production year. And then every year after that, we’re gonna see production start to drop off a little bit. You know, maybe 10% and then a little bit more after that. And by year, about 4, they’re really probably only gonna be laying about 40 or 50 eggs a year, which is quite quite few compared to what they were laying their 1st year at 200 eggs a year.

Ashley Wright: 30:50

If you think about that as how many eggs that is per day or per week. And and at that point, they’re pretty much in what we call retirement. They’re not gonna they’re not ever gonna go back to laying like that. And that’s something else to consider when you’re getting your first chickens. Let’s say you size your coop and you decide 20 chickens is the right number of chickens for you.

Ashley Wright: 31:08

If you get 20 chicks your 1st year, that 1st year of production, you’re gonna have 20 chickens worth of a of a lot of eggs, but it’s gonna continue to drop off every year. And by the time those chickens are 4 or 5 years old, you’re gonna be getting very few eggs. A better strategy would be to get only maybe 5 or 6 chicks that 1st year, and then the next year or 2 years later, add another 5 or 6 so that you have this constant influx of new high producing hens coming into your system and older ones retiring out on the other side to maintain a a sort of mid high level of production rather than this cycle of getting more eggs than you have anything you could possibly do with them and then having a year where you’re getting almost no eggs because all your hens are old. Good.

Colt Knight: 31:53

Yeah. And if you really have any more questions about raising chickens, in Maine or just chicken questions in general, feel free to to contact Ashley or I, and we will be happy to answer any questions that we can. Ashley, it was great to have you here with us in Maine, and we hope you come back sometime.

Ashley Wright: 32:14

I’d love to come back anytime. I really enjoyed eating lobster and talking about chickens this week.

Colt Knight: 32:19

Alright. Well, we will see you all next week on the next Maine Farmcast.

In complying with the letter and spirit of applicable laws and pursuing its own goals of diversity, the University of Maine System does not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, transgender status, gender, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship status, familial status, ancestry, age, disability physical or mental, genetic information, or veterans or military status in employment, education, and all other programs and activities. The University provides reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities upon request. The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies: Director of Equal Opportunity, 5713 Chadbourne Hall, Room 412, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5713, 207.581.1226, TTY 711 (Maine Relay System).