I have learned that most farms get a new batch of chicks in every year to “freshen” their flocks. Here is why. Depending on the breed of chicken, a hen will begin to lay anywhere between 5-8 months old. A first year hen will start out slowly with smaller eggs. She will work her way up to 3-6 full sized eggs per week. Again the amount, and the size of the eggs are determined by the breed. The hybrid birds will generally lay more than the heritage breeds.
A second year hen is in full production with her larger eggs. A third year hen will give jumbo eggs but not as often.
So, keeping this in mind a farmer who gets a new batch of hens every year should have some 1st year, some second year, and some third year hens. After a hen is past that age, the farmer watches the older hen’s productivity to determine whether to keep them, or do something else with them. Though a hen can live up to 10 years, most do not lay alot of eggs past 3 years old.
So, how does a backyard farmer (like me) determine how many laying hens are enough. Well every family is different. But this is how I have done it.
You cannot just have one chick. It will cry itself to death, out of loneliness. unless you want to become a full tme chicken nanny. You need to get at least two.
I have brought home two new babies every year. Keeping egg color in mind, my pair includes one chick that lays one color, and a chick that lays a different color egg. That way I can keep track easier of who is laying what egg.
So-I have found that 6 chickens who are laying, and two young ones coming up are perfect for me. Most of the year I get 2-3 dozen of eggs per week. I always have eggs on hand, and I have a couple of friends who will barter for all the eggs that I do not use.
So far, because I have lost some hens to the heat, I have not had to do “something else” with my older birds. As a matter of fact, I have 5 girls not 6 with two younger ones coming up. Rockie is one of my 3 plus year old birds. Her partner was lost to the heat this year. Rockie is still laying eggs in full production mode (when she is not broody). On occasion, I get 2 eggs in one day from her, or a double yolker. She is an over achiever and will stay. But she is not your typical hen either.
The 3 year rotation is key though . If you want more eggs, and have room for more hens, then try bringing in 3, 4 or 12 chicks every year. Just keep in mind that on year number 4, you need to decide what you are going to do with your older-non productive birds. Please be a responsible flock keeper. Do not send them to a rescue shelter. That gives backyard chicken owners a bad name in the public eye. If you are going to keep them during their golden years; you would need to factor in room for 30-40 hens.