The Seasonality of Eggs: Laying Hens

ACES Staff

March 7, 2024

The Seasonality of Eggs: Laying Hens

Often when we think of eating seasonally, vegetables come to mind first – the first spring greens, the tomatoes and sweet corn of late summer, hardy kale and sweet carrots in the fall and winter.  Lesser understood is the intrinsic seasonality of eggs and meat. At Rock Bottom Ranch, egg and meat production also follows a cyclical flow, influenced by the needs and lifespan of the animal species, as well as the farmers’ need for economic profitability and support from local and regional food systems (such as market demands and slaughterhouse or on-farm-slaughter access). Our laying hens are one of the more seasonally linked species we raise, but eggs often seem like one of the least seasonal products in the grocery aisle. A popular staple, eggs are also a product we seem to receive the most questions about year long!

What comes first, the chicken or the egg?  At Rock Bottom, it is the chicken, who first comes to the ranch as a chick in August to become a productive member of the flock for the following year. It takes around 4-5 months for a chicken to begin laying eggs, which start off as small “pullet eggs” in February, and gradually increase to a medium- or large-sized egg within a month or two. We choose one or two new breeds of chicks to introduce each year. This helps us keep track of how old each breed is in our flock, and to fill our cartons with eggs of different colors.  Different breeds produce different hues of egg shells, but the nutritional quality and taste will remain consistent between chicken breeds, as they all enjoy the same diet.

We keep each breed group in our flock for two years before retiring them to the community as backyard layers in order to maintain a high enough egg production to offset both labor and feed costs. During peak egg season, our hens lay on average, one egg every 36 hours. Chicken breed and age affect the rate of egg laying, but the biggest factor on production, by far, is how many hours of sunlight occur each day. 

Day length directly impacts the time between egg releases, or ovulation. Longer days mean less time is needed between ovulation cycles, and shorter days lead to more time between ovulation cycles. At the shortest amount of time between cycles, a hen will lay one egg every 25 hours. Many producers use supplemental lighting to trigger faster cycle turnaround, but at Rock Bottom Ranch we let the Colorado sunshine pace the rate of our hens’ egg production. A link to natural seasonality keeps our hens (and us!) healthy and happy.

Because of this, the rate of egg production looks like a bell curve, mirroring the curve of daylength through the year: as the days become longer than ten hours in February, we start seeing a rapid increase in how many eggs we collect each day. At the spring equinox, the rate of change flattens out a bit as we start approaching peak egg production, reaching peak and leveling off as we approach the summer solstice. July brings a slow and steady decline in egg production, with a more rapid decrease beginning as we near the fall equinox in September. 

This production does not perfectly line up with our June-October farmer’s market season and the peak of customer demand. This makes inventory management a dance as we are overloaded with eggs in the spring, and selling out at farmers markets starting in the summer. If you visit the ranch right now you will see baskets and baskets of eggs lined up to be washed. If you visit us at Aspen Saturday Market on a busy day in the end of August, you may notice the refrain, “you are sold out of eggs already?”

Traditionally eggs are a symbol of spring, so right now is the best time to try out a new frittata recipe, or visit a friend with a plate of deviled eggs in hand (bonus points if you make your own egg-based mayo too!). Egg season is a great season, and we look forward to celebrating with you!

This spring, the Rock Bottom Ranch store is open 9am-4pm on Wednesdays-Fridays, and the fridge is always stocked with eggs! We will also have eggs for purchase at Hallam Lake until Aspen Saturday Market starts up in June. To check Hallam Lake egg inventory, please call ahead.

Join us select Fridays at Rock Bottom Ranch to meet our colorful flock of laying hens, learn their breeds and role at Rock Bottom Ranch, and help collect our delicious multi-colored eggs. Register here for Egg Collection Fridays!

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