We have added to the chicken flock! I only have around 70 hens right now and that is hopelessly inadequate to supply all my customers with eggs. To make matters worse my hens have just gone through a molt so there has really been an egg shortage at the farm. So 6 weeks ago I had some Rhode Island Red chicks shipped to me through the mail. I have never raised this breed before but I figured many of the hybrid laying hens come from RIR foundation stock so they must be really good birds. So far the chicks are proving to be very hearty, fast growing little birds. They are already almost all feathered out. They soon will be outgrowing their brooder (a.k.a old stock tank) and will have to be moved to their own special room in the chicken coop. I always take joy in watching little baby chicks. They have very comical antics. From what I have read RIR's start laying when they are 5 months old. So that would put the first eggs coming from this group sometime in March.
I'm also seriously considering starting another batch of chicks once this group is moved out of the brooder. It is much easier for me to raise chicks in the winter. Every spring I try to hatch out as many of my own chicks as I can but it is always a challenge. You see, the snakes come out in full force right about the same time that all my hens decide to go broody. The snakes are very smart about their dining practices as well. They leave a nest of eggs alone until they are just about to hatch. It's very frustrating to check on a clutch of eggs, get excited because the chicks are peeping in the eggs, and then come back the next morning to find them all gone! Right now all the snakes are hibernating so I don't have to worry about my chicks getting eaten.
Another thing that I have figured out is that hybrid laying hens just don't work in our particular situation. When we moved down here I bought a huge batch of chicks. Half were Black Australorps and half were a hybrid called Golden Stars. After a year and half I only have a handful of the Golden Stars left. It seems like all the sense was bred out of them. They were all picked off by predators. The Black Australorps had sense enough to keep themselves safe. So I will continue to try the different heritage breeds of chickens to find what works best on our farm and stick with those. These birds take a bit longer to mature and may not lay as many eggs but a live bird will give me a lot more eggs than a dead bird. Not to mention, the heritage breeds make for nice stewing birds when their egg laying careers are done.