Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville
T ypes of L ayers ........ ................................................................... 3
Housing .-. --...... ...................................... ........- 3
Feeding --------------------------------------------------------. ..----------------------------------- 4
F eed in g ............................................................................................. ............. 4
N ests .... .......... ........ ........................... 5
Roosts ... ................................................... 5
Lights .....--... ...... ..............--....--- ..------.......... 5
Lights--- ...---..-. .---------------------..........................---------......-..----------..... 5
L hitter ..................... ........................................... 6
Diseases ....-.....-----.----.......-- ------------------- 6
Parasites ...................... .................. ....... .. 8
Cannibalism .................. ................... ....... 9
Culling ............................. .... ................ ............ ........... ......... 9
C are of E ggs ..................... ............................................................................... 10
This public document was promulgated at an annual cost of $405.86
or 14 cents per copy to assist in managing small poultry flocks.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION WORK IN AGRICULTURE AND HOME ECONOMICS
(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS, University of Florida
and United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
Joe N. Busby, Dean
Managing the Small Laying Flock
By L. W. KALCH
Associate Extension Poultryman
To be successful with small laying flocks, members of 4-H
Clubs and other owners of small flocks should know and practice
good management principles.
The 25 to 50 hens in a small laying flock require the same
proper management practices that are used in managing large
This circular describes the basic management practices and
requirements for a successful laying flock.
TYPES OF LAYERS
Well raised pullets of a good egg production strain are needed
to get a laying project off to a good start. How well the pullets
were managed during their first 6 months of life will to a large
degree determine livability and rate of lay.
For a laying flock, use only birds bred for production. This
will include Rhode Island Reds, some strains of New Hamp-
shires and Plymouth Rocks and White Leghorns and Leghorn-
type crosses. The Red-Rock (sex link) cross is also a good
layer. Never use pullets from broiler stock for a laying project.
For the most part, dual-purpose birds (meat and eggs) are
desirable for a small laying flock. Dual-purpose birds include
New Hampshires, Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks and the
Red-Rock cross. These birds are quiet and easier to handle
than the Leghorn types and their meat is of excellent quality.
It is a good idea to replace the laying flock every year. Layers
do their best when between 6 and 20 months of age.
The primary purpose of the poultry house is to protect the
birds against rain, sun and predatory animals and to provide
a dry, clean area for feeders, waterers and nests.
In most of Florida, poultry housing need only consist of an
area covered by a roof, to keep out sunshine and rain, and en-
closed by poultry wire, to confine birds and exclude predators.
Siding may be needed in some parts of the state for protection
against cold winds and blowing rains.
Your poultry house should be:
1. Adequate in size. Allow 3 to 4 square feet per bird. For
example, a house 10 feet wide and 12 feet long has 120 square
feet, or enough space to accommodate 30 to 40 laying hens. The
house should also be at least 7 feet high to provide for good
2. Kept clean and dry. Provide 4 to 6 inches of litter on
the sand floor. Wood shavings, sawdust, peanut hulls, straw,
etc. all are good litter material. If litter gets wet, remove it
and replace with dry litter. Floor litter that is wet can help
bring on diseases. Wet litter also results in dirty eggs.
If the poultry house is located in a well-drained area it is
not necessary to have a concrete or wood floor-a sand floor
Use a good commercial all-mash laying feed. Keep the mash
before the birds at all times. Home-grown shelled corn can be
ground and mixed with a concentrate to make a good laying mash.
Feeders should be sufficient in size. One 5-foot feed trough
will serve 25 laying hens.
Allow the birds to eat all the feed from the troughs on oc-
casion to prevent accumulation of dirty, dry and stale feed. Fill
feeders about one-third to one-half full. This will help prevent
feed wastage. Protect feeders from the hot sun and rain.
Each laying hen should consume about 11/ to 2 pounds of
laying mash per week. Guard against feed wastage. (Leghorns
use about 11/ pounds feed per week, dual-purpose breeds about
2 pounds feed per week.)
Plenty of cool, clean water is one of the most important re-
quirements of laying hens. Provide suitable watering equip-
ment to insure that the laying hens have water at all times.
Automatic watering founts are best. It is important, how-
ever, to check all automatic watering equipment periodically
to see that the equipment is in good working order. Automatic
waterers require that water be piped to the laying house.
A 3-gallon water fount will supply the water requirements
for 50 laying hens for 1 day and is a good investment when
automatic equipment can't be used. Extra waterers may be
needed during hot weather.
Clean all waterers, automatic or otherwise, daily as an aid
in preventing diseases.
Place waterers in the shade so the water will remain cool.
Keep the area around the water founts as dry as possible.
Avoid leaks and spilled water. A platform with a hardware
cloth bottom placed under the water fount will help keep the
water clean and the floor litter dry.
It is a good practice to remove any litter that becomes wet
and replace it with dry litter.
Provide 1 nest for every 5 laying hens. Therefore, 25 laying
hens will require at least 5 nests, 30 laying hens 6 nests, etc.
Each nest should be about 14 inches wide, 14 inches long
and 15 inches high and should be located in a cool, dry and
shaded area of the poultry house.
Provide clean and dry nesting material, such as shavings,
excelsior, peanut hulls, straw, etc.
Place the nests at a height from the ground so that gather-
ing eggs will be made easy. The bottom of the nest about 3
feet from the ground is about right for most people.
Good nests reduce the number of broken and dirty eggs.
Apple boxes, orange crates, etc. can be made into usable nests.
Small poles 1 to 2 inches in diameter or lengths of 2" x 2"
make ideal roosts. Roost poles should be placed 12 to 14 inches
apart and about 2 feet above the ground.
Six to 8 inches of roost space is needed for each layer. Thus
25 hens would require 12 to 16 feet of roost space. (Two poles
8 feet long, placed 14 inches apart and 2 feet above the ground,
will serve 25 laying hens.)
The use of lights in the laying house during the long nights
of the fall and winter months will do much to maintain high
When an automatic time clock is used, a 40-watt light bulb
is sufficient for 25 to 50 laying hens. Set the time clock to turn
on the lights early in the morning and turn them off at dawn.
Turn on lights at a time to provide the birds with a total of 14
hours of light per day. (Example: If sun sets at 6:00 P.M.,
hours of light.) Adjust the time clock about every 15 days to
compensate for the changing times that the sun sets.
If an automatic time clock is not available, production can
be increased by use of all-night lights. When using all-night
lights, one 25-watt bulb is sufficient for 25 to 50 laying hens.
The bulb and reflector should be situated to allow the light to
concentrate on the feeders and waterers, leaving the roosts rela-
Place all lights 6 to 7 feet above the floor, fit them with a
reflector (aluminum pie pans will suffice) and keep them free
Once started, lights should be used every night. Sporadic
use of lights can result in lowered production.
The condition of the litter in a poultry house is closely related
to good sanitation. The floor litter, composed of shavings, straw,
peanut hulls, etc., should be about 4 to 6 inches deep and kept
dry but not dusty.
Remove any litter that becomes wet or caked and replace
it with dry litter material.
Stirring the litter occasionally may aid in keeping it dry.
All the litter can be removed from the laying house once
each year or as often as is found necessary.
The best defenses against diseases are good management and
sanitation. These include such things as purchasing chicks and
pullets from reliable sources, feeding a good feed, providing
clean water and washing water founts daily, keeping floor litter
dry but not dusty, keeping poultry house cool and well ventilated
and providing birds with ample space. Keep poultry house and
area free of old trash, boards, dead birds, manure piles, etc.
Some of the more common poultry diseases occurring in
Fowlpox, also called chickenpox and sorehead.-This disease
is contagious and can be spread from bird to bird and farm to
farm by infected birds and also by mosquitoes. This disease
can be prevented by vaccinating the chicks before they are 8
weeks of age.
Chickens having fowlpox will have a number of wart-like
scabs appear on their comb, face and wattles.
Once the disease occurs in a laying flock, little can be done
except wait for the disease to run its course. Few if any laying
birds will die of fowlpox. However, the birds will quit laying
for a period of 2 to 4 weeks. The drop in egg production will
be the heaviest loss.
Birds with fowlpox can be fed a high level antibiotic feed to
help keep down other infections and thus allow the birds to re-
cover more quickly.*
Respiratory Diseases.-There are a number of respiratory
diseases that have similar symptoms such as sneezing, cough-
ing, gasping for air, and discharges from the nose and eyes.
Feeding the birds a high level antibiotic feed will help them
Enteritis.-This is an inflammation of the intestines caused
by a number of different organisms. Affected birds usually ap-
pear weak, sluggish and have poor appetite. There may be
cases of diarrhea. Egg production slows down.
Failure to keep waterers clean and allowing birds to gather
in wet, muddy areas will contribute toward the disease.
Feeding the birds a high level antibiotic feed tends to rid
them of enteritis.*
Pullet Disease.-The cause of pullet disease is not known.
The disease usually attacks the healthiest pullets just as they
are coming into production. The disease occurs more often dur-
ing hot weather.
Pullets having the disease are listless, have poor appetite,
suffer a severe drop in egg production, and the comb usually
becomes dark in color (blue comb).
Pullet disease will run its course in about 2 weeks but egg
production may remain low for several weeks. Some birds may
When using any feed containing antibiotics, follow feeding directions
of the manufacturer.
To control pullet disease, feed birds a high level antibiotic
feed and/or add molasses to the feed or drinking water.* One
cup of blackstrap molasses per 100 hens fed 3 times a week is
the correct dosage. The molasses may be spread on top of the
mash or mixed with the drinking water.
Leucosis.-The cause of leucosis is not known and little can
be done for the infected birds. The best known prevention is
to obtain leucosis-resistant chicks and to raise the chicks away
from older birds.
There are several types of leucosis.
1. Visceral (big liver).-You can note upon cutting the bird
open that the liver is very large, often filling the entire body
2. Neural (fowl paralysis).-Legs, wing or neck of the bird
will be paralyzed.
3. Ocular (blindness).-Outline of pupil of 1 or both eyes
becomes irregular or jagged in appearance.
4. Osteopetrosis (big bone).-Shanks of birds become en-
larged and excessively hard.
Kill and bury birds having leucosis.
There are 2 types of parasites, external .(lice, mites, fleas, etc.)
and internal (worms).
Lice.-The body louse is the most common and is usually
found on the skin just below the vent. Body lice spend their entire
life on the birds. Presence of lice can cause lowered production
and even death of chickens.
Mites.-The red mite is most common. It is very small in size
and is usually first seen crawling on eggs in the nest. This mite
spends its nights feeding on the bird and its days hiding in the
cracks of roosts and between boards of the poultry house.
When using any feed containing antibiotics, follow feeding directions
of the manufacturer.
The northern fowl mite is also common and usually stays on
the bird all, the time but may be found on eggs and in litter.
These mites congregate near the vent, tail and neck where they
Fleas.-Fleas usually attach themselves to the area of the
face of the chickens. They are commonly found around the eyes
and under the wattles.
Control.-for the latest approved method of control of external
parasites refer to Circular 305 C External Parasites of Poultry.
Large Roundworms.-These worms are commonly found in
the intestines of chickens. Chickens obtain the worms from
wet or moist areas where chickens have been kept before.
To rid chickens of roundworms, add piperazine to the drink-
ing water. Follow directions on the bottle. Piperazine can be
purchased from your local feed dealer.
Cannibalism occurs when birds start picking one another
until blood is showing. It is a bad habit birds develop when
they are overcrowded, overheated or left without feed for lengthy
Once started, cannibalism is difficult to control, especially in
white-feathered birds on which blood is more noticeable. Birds
can be easily killed by cannibalism.
As an aid in controlling cannibalism, treat pecked areas of
birds with red salve (called stop' pick, anti-pick, no-pick, etc.).
Upper beak of all chickens can be cut back 4 to 1/2 inch with
electric debeaker or fingernail clippers. Give hens more room
and plenty of feed.
Remove birds that are out of production from the flock and
sell them or use them for home consumption.
Hens that are out of production usually have small, pale
and dried up combs and wattles. The beak and shanks will be
yellow in color rather than white, as in a good layer.
Hens not laying will have a narrow space (width of 2 fingers
or less) between the 2 pubic bones, and a narrow distance (width
of 3 fingers or less) between the 2 pubic bones and the keel bone.
CARE OF EGGS
Gathering.-Gather eggs a minimum of once each day and
place them in a wire basket to cool.
Cleaning.-Clean all dirty eggs with a piece of sandpaper,
emery cloth or steel wool. Many dirty eggs can be prevented
by keeping plenty of clean nesting material in the nests and keep-
ing floor litter dry.
Holding.-Store eggs in refrigerator until used.
Selling.-If eggs are to be sold, weigh and candle them and
place them in egg carton (large end up) according to weight,
and store them in refrigerator until sold. Sell eggs before they
reach 4 days of age.
By following recommended management practices, you should
have good results with your laying flock. How well the flock
performs will depend on you as its manager.
To know how well your flock performs, keep a complete and
accurate record on your flock. Ask your County Agent or Home
Economics Agent for a 4-H Poultry Record Book.
Single copies free to residents of Florida. Bulk rates available upon request.
Please submit details on request to Chairman, Editorial Department,
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida,
Gainesville, Florida 32611.
I University of Florida