If you invested in some baby chicks this past fall, you may be wondering where that first egg is. Finding the first egg from a group of new pullets is one of the most exciting parts of raising chickens for eggs. Whether this is your first flock or your 100th flock, finding that first egg is so exciting EVERY SINGLE TIME. We will go over how breed, season, brooding, diet, and illness can affect production. We also offer a few signs to look out for that let you know when your chicken is about to lay an egg. While we eagerly watch for the first egg, it’s important to know that the age in which a newly-matured hen will lay can vary greatly based on its breed. Some hens will begin laying eggs as early as 4 months of age, while others may not reach maturity (i.e., laying eggs) until closer to 6 or 8 months of age.
How Does Breed Affect Laying Age?Many types of chicken breeds are prolific layers and have a strong genetic predisposition to maturing early. Under ideal conditions, you can anticipate your first egg from these breeds as early as 4 months. Examples of early-maturing layers include, but are not limited to, Single Comb White Leghorns, New Hampshires, Red Island Reds, and many of our egg-type hybrids (ISA Browns, Red Sex Links, Golden Comets, etc.). However, don’t be alarmed if your new girls aren’t laying at 4 months. Many of our slower-growing breeds and most of our colorful egg-laying types won’t reach maturity until 5 to 6 months of age. Examples of these layers include, but are not limited to, Polish, Buff Orpingtons, Olive Eggers, and Ameraucanas.
How Does Season Affect Laying?Oftentimes, your chickens will begin laying the first year you get them. However, if you get your chickens during the fall or winter months when the hours of light decrease, there is a chance that the process may take a little longer than expected. Colder temperatures and a reduction in daylight hours usually tell the chicken that it's time to take a break. Just like how other animals “hibernate” in the wintertime, chickens will reduce or stop laying to help save their energy and conserve nutrients. This process can be the same for chickens of all ages. However, younger chickens are less likely to take a winter break. It is very normal for young chickens to lay well their first winter and then decrease production each winter after that.
How Does Diet Affect Laying?Making an egg takes a lot of effort and a lot of nutrients for a hen. Having an unbalanced diet with improper nutrition can cause either a complete halt to production or a severe drop in production. It is incredibly important to feed a balanced layer feed with extra calcium and protein. Improper diets can also lead directly to an overweight hen, which puts her at risk of prolapse during laying which is, in most cases, fatal. There is a wide range of times in which you can anticipate your first egg. Continue to feed a well-balanced chick feed, like Kalmbach 18% All-Natural Start Right Chick, until your birds are 16 weeks of age. Once your hens reach 16 weeks OR you see the first egg, it’s time to make the switch to a complete layer feed.
How Does Illness Affect Laying?When chickens are sick, it is common for egg production to come to a halt. When a chicken is fighting an illness, she may need to reserve energy and stop laying. You can expect egg production will return as soon as the hen has recovered. However, if you notice your hen has not recovered or production is still not happening, it is important to check for parasites. Internal parasites can cause a decline in nutrient absorption which directly affects production.”
How Does Being Broody Affect Laying?When a female chicken enters her broody state, it is common for her to stop laying eggs and sit on her eggs instead. This is a hormonal reaction and typically, even if eggs are removed from underneath her, it won’t change her choice to sit. Don’t worry, though. She will resume laying after her eggs have hatched or the hormones have run their course. Most hens wait until their chicks are about 6 weeks old before laying again.
How Does Stress Affect Laying?Stress plays a huge factor in the egg-laying process. There are quite a few factors that cause stress in hens, such as weather, illness, injury, broodiness, and predators. Chickens are very hardy birds that handle change fairly well so weather change is generally not the issue. However, excessive temperatures can lead to stress which can result in poor egg production. For example, during extremely hot summers, it is incredibly important to ensure that the chicken has plenty of access to shade and water. When chickens lay eggs, they are put in a vulnerable position to predators, as the egg-laying process does take time. If chickens do not have a safe place to lay, they may reduce their egg production rate.
How Does Old Age Affect Laying?As a hen ages, her egg production decreases, as well as the thickness of her shell. It is important to recognize that reduced production is not always due to stress, illness, or other factors, but can simply be old age. While most hens will stop production, a few will continue to produce, but it will be at a slower rate and usually larger-sized eggs.
What to Do When Your Chicken Stops Laying Due to Age?Even though your hen has stopped laying eggs, she will still be good at a few things. Some older, non-producing hens may still become broody and make wonderful mothers. Other hens do well at grazing to remove pests and keep your garden weed-free, while also increasing compost!
What Signs Do Chickens Give That They Are About To Start Laying?
- Excessive Noise: It is common for a hen to become increasingly talkative in the hours before laying and even more so during the actual act of laying.
- Wattle and Comb is Redder: Due to the hormonal changes that a hen goes through during maturing, it’s easy to notice that the wattle and comb change to a darker red and become larger in size.
- Searching for Nest: Often in the time leading up to when the hen will begin laying, she will start to have an interest in the chicken coop nesting boxes or any other sheltered area. (tip: placing an egg or a fake egg in the nesting box will help guide your chicken to her “designated area”)
- Increased Appetite: Prior to laying, you may notice your hen’s increased appetite. This is common as hens need extra nutrients to produce a whole egg!
- Squatting: Also known as the “submissive squat”, squatting down when you reach to pet your hen is a simple sign to show you that she is ready to begin laying or already has.