On our farm, the chickens come first, then the eggs.
In October, big trucks roll into our farm, carrying crates of white chickens. The crates are opened and the chickens are released into a freshly bedded barn, known by poultry growers as a chicken “house.”
This house is 400 feet long and 42 feet wide. There are “windows” (openings covered with screen) running the full length of the house. On a mild October day the windows are open, but as the weather turns cooler, a curtain will be rolled up to cover the open space, keeping the heat from the 8,000 chickens inside.
These chickens are hens that are 20 weeks old. They aren’t laying eggs yet, but will begin to do so in about 3-4 weeks. In the meantime, they’ll eat, drink, sleep, and grow. Their feed is delivered to feeder troughs automatically through augers controlled by a switch. Their water is piped into drip waterers, available whenever they want it.
About a week after the chickens arrive at our farm, the roosters are delivered. Yes, we have both roosters and hens in our chicken houses. You see, our hens are called “broiler-breeders.” Breeders because they lay fertilized eggs, broilers because the chicks that hatch from their eggs are raised for meat.
Chickens will lay eggs with or without roosters, they will just be unfertilized. They would never hatch into chicks. When you add roosters to the picture, however, you get fertilized eggs. The rooster and hen mate, the egg inside the chicken is fertilized, and then it is laid. For this reason our hens and roosters are allowed to “mingle” 🙂 and roam freely throughout the chicken house.
Once the hens are ready to lay, they will find a partially enclosed nesting box in which to lay their egg. Once the egg has been laid, it rolls down a slight slope to the back of the nest, and drops through a little opening on to a conveyor belt. There are two rows of nests with conveyor belts, and they run the full length of the house.
The belts take the eggs through another opening at the front of the chicken house into what’s called the gathering room. The gathering room is walled off completely from the chicken house but has a door through which to go back and forth from the chickens to the gathering room. The conveyor belts deposit the eggs on to a little counter where someone stands and collects them.
They are placed point down into a flat that holds 54 eggs. These flats are then stacked on to metal carts which hold 90 flats. When a cart is full, it is kept in a temperature-controlled, humidity-controlled room until they are picked up and taken to the hatchery. A truck from George’s Foods comes to our farm twice a week to pick up eggs. The whole cart is loaded on to the truck via a lift, and empty carts are dropped off in order to start the whole process over again.
We have three poultry houses with 8,000 chickens in each. That’s a lot of eggs that show up in those gathering rooms each day, folks! When the chickens are at their peak production, we will gather 20,000 eggs per day. A chicken usually lays one egg per day, but not all of them will. Then there are some eggs that get broken, some that are too large, too small, or deformed. Otherwise, if every hen laid a perfect egg every day, we’d get 24,000.
It takes two people to handle the work when the eggs are at peak production. Once the volume lets up a bit, one full-time person can manage it. We have one full-time employee. He not only gathers the eggs, but walks through the houses a couple of times a day to check on the chickens and make sure the feeders and waterers are working properly, and that the temperature is what it should be.
Thee volume of eggs gradually diminishes during the year. Hens naturally will go through a molt once a year. Ours are taken from our farm before this happens, however, and a new flock of chickens is brought in to pick up where the old hens left off. A flock stays on our farm for 10 months out of the year. This allows for two months between flocks to clean out the old bedding/manure from the houses.
We gather eggs on the weekends. The kids all help out. It’s not hard work, just time-consuming. When all of us gather, including Anthony’s parents, we can get thousands of eggs gathered in just a short time: usually 2-3 hours, depending on what time of year it is.
So now you know a little more about how eggs are collected on poultry farms. What questions do you have? I’ll be glad to try to answer them.