What Is a Laying Hen and How Do You Feed It?

Learn What a Laying Hen Is

A laying hen dust bathing.
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What is the definition of a laying hen? How does it differ from a regular hen? Learn about the terminology that comes with raising pullets and hens.

"Laying hen" is a common term for a female, grown chicken that is kept primarily for laying eggs. Some chickens are raised for meat, while others are primarily for eggs, and some are dual-purpose - people may use older laying hens for food, or raise roosters alongside hens but dispatch the roosters as young, plump birds for the table.

Raising laying hens is a different process than raising chickens for meat. Most laying hens will live five to seven years, laying eggs nearly daily for about three of those years. You'll need to consider whether you want to feed hens that no longer lay well or whether this is an egg-selling business where you really can't afford to have "grain burners" living in your coop, getting a free ride.

If you want to raise laying hens, decide what kind of chicken coop you will need for them. There are many elements to take into consideration: the laws in your city, county, and state; whether you want to buy baby chicks or older, already-grown hens; and whether you will keep a rooster or not. If you live in a cold climate, you'll need to make sure that your laying hens are set up to be comfortable through the winter.

Feeding Laying Hens

What do you need to feed a laying hen to sustain it properly? For those older than 16 to 20 weeks,  it is time to switch them to a layer feed since the eggs will be eaten by humans.

This differs from a broiler feed, which is made for those breeding other chickens. The layer feed it should have a balanced diet with 16 percent to 18 percent of protein and approximately 3-1/2 percent of calcium to promote strong eggshells. Calcium deficiencies can result in eggs with thin shells and leg issues, so you may want to offer them free-choice oyster shell for extra calcium.

Some farmers feed the chickens higher-protein feed when they are in peak egg production or when they're eating less during warmer weather. 

If you allow your chickens free-range privileges, they can eat anything from insects and grains to berries, seeds, and plants. Some farmers feed them bread and extra cow's milk, though others advise against it. 

Resources for Laying Hens on Small Farms

Learn more about laying hens, keeping chickens for eggs, and how to be a small farmer with a flock of chickens.