If you’ve just started raising backyard hens, the big question will soon arise: “when will my chickens start laying eggs?”. It’s a great idea to have a realistic expectation of when this will occur, as well as the signs of laying behavior to look for. You’ll also benefit from knowing how to prepare for laying, as well as understanding how to encourage your feathery girls to lay.
At what Age will my Chicks Start Laying?
Hens will only begin laying when their body is ready. The exact timing of the first laying is breed-dependent, however, on average, most hens will lay their first egg at around 18 weeks of age. Some will begin at 16 weeks; others will be delayed until 24 weeks. Some may even take up to 6 months to be reliable layers.
Most laying hens will reach peak egg production at 30 weeks of age. The laying rate of your hens will dependent on breed, weather, nutrition, housing, and parasite load. Egg production declines after the first year, reducing a little by each year of age. At 2 years of age, a healthy hen’s egg production will be about 80% of what it was a year before.
The first eggs a chicken produces are small; these increase in size over time. (Note than bantams produce smaller eggs than their full counterparts).
What to Look for when Chickens are About to Start Laying?
Signs that laying is imminent include:
- Your hens will squat. If you reach towards them to give a gentle pat, they will squat onto the ground. This is a great sign!
- Before laying, a hen’s comb and wattle will be redder and slightly swollen.
- She may be louder as new instincts she does not yet understand kick in.
- She may be going in and out of the nesting boxes looking for a safe place to lay; she may also protectively chase other hens from the nesting box.
- A hen needs to be fully grown to begin laying. She will have her full body size and her feathers will be clean and shiny.
- A hen’s pelvic bones will have “separated” – but you need to know what you are feeling for. Your poultry vet can show you.
Do all Breeds Start Laying at the Same Age?
Not all breeds of chickens start laying at the same time.
- Leghorns, Australorps, Sex Links and Golden Comets, for example, will begin laying at around 16 weeks.
- Heavier, larger breeds like Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks and Wyandottes may not begin laying until 6 months!
- Hens that reach maturity in winter may not lay their first egg until spring.
How to Prepare for Chickens to Start laying
- Nesting Boxes – hens require a comfortable, private place to lay. You must have a coop with nesting boxes to maximize the number of eggs your hens give you.
- Type of feed – provide grower feed from day 1 to 18 weeks. When the first egg has been laid, transition them to complete layer feed and ensure this makes up no less than 90% of the hens’ diet. Don’t give too many treats!
- Supplements – supplemental calcium, especially in winter. Oyster shell is great for this. A hen with low calcium will lay eggs with weak, irregular, or non-existent shells. You can also save eggshells from your kitchen and add them to your chickens’ diet. Bake them for 10 minutes at 180C to kill bacteria, and crush them before giving them to your hens.
Reasons Why Chickens May Stop Laying
Chickens require 24-26 hours to produce an egg. Some will give you 6 eggs per week, others only 3 or 4 per week. They may not be laying because:
- The Chickens are not mature enough
- Hens are too old
- They are too cold
- The Chickens are molting
- Your hen is broody
- They are unwell or carrying parasites
- They’re stressed
- There is not enough calcium in your chickens diet
- Most hens will slow down their rate of laying in autumn and winter unless you provide supplemental protein and calcium in the form of eggshell, oyster shell, and treats like scrambled eggs.
- A lot of chicken breeds naturally reduce or stop egg production during their annual molt. This is because all their energy and protein reserves are used in growing new feathers.
- A sick chicken will not lay.
- Hens lay fewer eggs as they age. Most stop producing eggs by 6 or 7 years old, and then “retire”. A well-cared-for hen may live for several years after her retirement.
- No eggs? Your hens might be eating them! Never give raw egg as a treat! This gives them a taste for their own eggs. Alternatively, a predator (fox, cat, snake, lizard) may be stealing the eggs. Additionally, your hens may be laying somewhere other than their nesting boxes.
- Hens need 14 hours of light each day to produce eggs. Provide a light source in the coop during autumn and winter.
7 Tips to Get Hens to Lay in their Nesting Boxes
- Place nesting boxes in a quiet, dimly lit corner of the coop and off the ground by at least 10 cm
- Collect eggs every morning and, ideally, late every afternoon
- Block access to areas you do not want your hens to lay
- Provide enough nesting boxes for your flock size
- Ensure boxes are clean and comfortable
- Train your hens with a safe fake nest egg (a golf ball will do!)
- Keep your hens confined to the coop until mid-morning
Hens may be irritable when they first begin laying. They do get used to this new aspect of their lives and will settle down. With a little patience and lots of care, your hens will be providing you with beautifully fresh and nutritious eggs in no time.