Raising backyard chickens is a great way to raise your own source of food, but waiting for eggs feels like torture. Do you know when your chickens will start laying eggs?
Raising chicks is fun and adorable, but you have chickens to get fresh eggs. So, you might start wondering when do chickens starting laying eggs.
I know the wait feels endless. Chickens are in no rush to lay their first egg, and it’s not something they control. Making your backyard flock your friends won’t encourage the hens to lay faster. Instead, various reasons, including biological and environmental, determine when your hens start laying eggs.
Waiting for your first backyard chicken eggs is hard, so you need patience. It’s important to remember that all chickens are different, and you cannot force a chicken to lay eggs. Instead, learn about the signs that your chicken will start to lay eggs, how their breeds play a factor, and how to prepare for egg laying.
What Age Do Chickens Usually Start Laying Eggs?
In general, most chickens start to lay eggs between 16 to 24 weeks old, but that’s a wide range of weeks. You won’t find a magic date when they produce their first eggs. Some may start laying at 17 weeks, while others hold out until 22 weeks.
In fact, some breeds take even longer to start laying eggs. The much-loved silkie breed of chickens takes up to 40 weeks to lay eggs for the first time.
I’ve raised chickens for several years, and while we often have some late bloomers in the group, I find 20-23 weeks to be the most common time for chickens to start laying eggs.
6 Factors That Determine When Chickens Start Laying Eggs
One of the largest determining factors for when chickens start laying eggs is their breed. Different breeds lay at different times, so if you have a mixed flock, it may take several months for everyone to lay eggs.
Some breeds start to lay eggs between 16 to 20 weeks. It’s impossible to give an exact week; there is always a range since other factors also play into it. These breeds include:
- Red Comets
- Rhode Island Reds
- Easter Eggers
- Plymouth Rocks
Many popular breeds are bred to produce eggs younger. They are made to do so, and it works well for those who want plenty of eggs. For example, sex links and golden comets are young, productive layers who lay closer to 16-17 weeks of age.
Other breeds start laying eggs later. Some take up to 24 weeks (six months of age) before they lay eggs. Examples of these breeds include:
- Buff Orpingtons
- Jersey Giants
Many of these heavier breeds that take longer to lay eggs are bred to be dual purpose birds. Heritage breeds are slower to develop because they are natural breeds and tend to be larger. They need more time to physically develop before sending energy into laying eggs. That’s why they lay eggs around 24 weeks of age rather than 16-20 weeks.
Also, heritage breeds tend not to lay as many eggs per year but will lay for more years than the average chicken.
The Time of Year
Another major factor is the time of year your chickens start to lay. Chickens lay fewer eggs in the winter. New hens lay eggs in the winter, but once they enter their first molting period, the egg slump in the winter begins.
Egg production decreases in the winter months because there are fewer daylight hours. Chickens need 12-14 daylight hours, and we know that winter decreases the day length. Some say chickens need more like 16-18 hours of light each day.
Some chicken keepers add supplemental light to their chicken coops to keep egg production up throughout the winter months. Adding artificial light to your coop is a personal choice; I never add it because I feel their bodies deserve a break – as do our bodies! – but many farmers prefer to add a chicken coop light.
Their Diet & Nutrition
The quality of a chicken’s nutritional diet has long-lasting impact on her total egg production throughout her life. Chicks with ideal growing conditions, including a great diet, in the early weeks will often “out perform” those who receive less than stellar nutrition.
Formative weeks are essential. So, make sure you give your flock the right diet from the start. Hens need enough protein in their early weeks of life
Chicken Pecking Order
Chickens follow a pecking order in a flock, no matter the size of the flock. You’ll always have a queen bee hen, especially if you don’t have a rooster. Flock dynamics play a part in their eg cycle.
That’s one reason why adding or removing chickens will disrupt their egg cycle.
Hens, like humans, experience various stressors in their lives. You may not realize that some events or situations cause stress for chickens. However, stress interrupts or delays a laying cycle, and hens wait until the stress is gone to settle down and start laying eggs again.
Some things that may induce stress include:
- Adding new hens to the flock
- Changing feeds
- Moving chicken coops
- Loudness or unusual strangers
Sometimes, stressors happen, and you cannot do anything about them. However, keeping a daily routine reduces the risk of stress.
Chicks are vulnerable, and that’s why they are susceptible to various illnesses, such as coccidiosis, infectious bronchitis, and other sicknesses.
If your chicks end up sick and make it through the illness, it may cause the hens to not lay as well in the future. Many chicken diseases leave scarring on a hen’s reproductive system and impact the number and quality of eggs laid in the future.
An example is that hens infected or exposed to infectious bronchitis in the past may lay wrinkly eggs.
6 Signs Your Chickens Will Start Laying Eggs Soon
If you watch your chickens, hens give off tell-tale signs that they are about to start laying eggs. Here are some of those signs; some are more obvious, while others are subtle.
Enlarged Reddening Combs & Wattles
As your hens age, their comb and wattles become more vibrant red and get bigger. If this happens early, under 8 weeks old, it is often a sign that your chick is a young rooster. Young pullets develop combs and wattles slower than males. The reddening happens as hormones shift, and egg production gets closer.
You may notice her face changes from light pink to brighter red. Facial swelling is also normal.
Reddening lets the roosters in the flock know that your mate is nearing time to mate.
Spending Time in the Nesting Box Area
At this time, you should have nesting box areas in your chicken coop. Your hen may become interested in the nesting boxes throughout your coop and other dark places. She may inspect areas in the coop, looking for the best place to lay eggs.
Because chickens so often don’t want to use the nesting boxes we so graciously provide for them.
You may also notice she is acting protective or defensive over a nesting box or an area.
It may be hard to spot this behavior unless you closely monitor your hens’ diet. However, when chickens start to lay eggs, their appetite increases. Her body tells her she needs to eat more since laying eggs requires more energy.
Laying hens have different nutritional needs than young pullets or chicks. In the beginning, you feed young birds starter feeds or grower feeds that contain higher levels of protein. Extra protein supports their rapid growth, which is why meat bird feed contains so much protein.
As your hen gets closer to laying eggs, you switch to a complete layer feed. Layer chicken feed contains less protein and extra calcium to support proper eggshell formation.
The Hens Become Louder
Everyone assumes that roosters are the only loud part of a chicken flock, but hens become noisier when laying. They start clucking, and their sounds become quite loud.
Hens are vocal, and if you listen, you may hear a chicken’s “egg song.” My chickens squak and sing before and after laying an egg. I have no idea who started the rumor that only roosters are noisy, but my hens make just as much sound. However, their egg songs are far more appealing than crowing.
The Submissive Squat
Hens develop a submissive squat when they are close to laying eggs. When you go to pet her, she may squat down. It’s one of the most obvious signs that your chickens will start laying eggs soon.
The submissive squat assists roosters in balancing when mating her. It’s a signal that she is ready and willing to be mounted by a rooster. If your flock doesn’t have a rooster, she submits to humans instead.
You may notice your chickens acting different and odd when they start laying eggs. They pace the coop, start to cluck loudly, or return to the same spot repeatedly. She may carry pieces of straw or bedding on her back or act strange compared to her normal behavior.
These behavior changes typically come in the weeks before she lays her first egg. It may not happen right beforehand since these are hormonal driven, and hormones gradually increase as their time comes.
What to Prepare Before Your Hens Start Laying Eggs
Before your eggs start to lay eggs, here are a few things you need to know to make your lives easier.
Give Your Hens the Proper Feed
When your chickens are 16 weeks old, transition them to a traditional 16% protein layer feed. You can use layer crumbles or layer pellets; bantams and smaller breeds prefer crumbles. Be sure to transition them slowly.
Ideally, their transition to a complete layer feed should be finished by week 20. Don’t delay putting your young female chickens onto a proper layer feed because too much protein for an extended period of time could make your flock sick.
Add Nesting Boxes to Your Chicken Coop
First, let’s start by saying your chickens don’t NEED nesting boxes. My hens have nesting boxes, and these fiesty ladies think they are evil. They never lay eggs in their boxes, but it is convenient for you to know where to collect them. It makes egg collection easier for humans.
Chickens really lay eggs wherever they want. My chickens lay eggs in their dust bath, under a roosting bar, inside the open chicken brooder box when emptied, and under many bushes.
That’s a downside to free-ranging.
If you decide to try nest boxes, you should have one nest box for every three hens. Make sure you have the right size based on the size of your chickens. A standard 12×12-inch box works for most breeds, but if you have larger breeds, make sure the box is 14×14 inches.
Try to put the boxes in a quiet and dark part of the coop. Some add curtains to their nesting boxes because many chickens prefer privacy when laying eggs and don’t want to be disturbed. The nesting boxes should also be off the ground to protect your chickens from predators.
Try putting a porcelain egg or a golf ball inside the nesting boxes to encourage your hens to use them. A thick layer of straw is preferred, and keep it clean. Hens often have a preferred nest box, but if it gets dirty, they may decide to lay elsewhere.
Make Sure Your Hens Have Proper Calcium
Hens need a large amount of calcium daily. Egg laying requires a dose of calcium to create the eggshell. If your hens don’t receive enough calcium, it leeches calcium from the hen’s body, leading to brittle bones. If they have lower calcium amounts, they stop laying eggs entirely, or you may find eggs with soft shells.
Traditional layer feed contains calcium, but some hens need extra calcium than provided by the feed. That’s when you need to provide your flock with oyster shell, a ground source of calcium that acts as a supplement for hens.
Provide oyster shells as a free-choice supplement in a separate dish. Don’t mix it with their current food. Hens self-regulate and know when they need it and when they don’t.
What to Expect When Your Hens Start Laying Eggs
Finding your hen’s first egg is exciting. You may wonder what to expect since egg production isn’t regulated yet when they begin laying.
- Don’t Expect Daily Eggs. Once your hen lays her first egg, it may take a few more days or weeks for another egg to appear in the nesting boxes. It takes time for your chickens to go into production mode; hormones and everything have to settle into the proper order.
- The First Eggs Are Small. At first, the few eggs will be small. Some people call them fairy eggs or rooster eggs.
- Odd Shapes Are Common. It’s also common for young layers to lay strangely shaped eggs, and it’s also common in older layers at the end of their egg-laying months.
Young hens typically lay their first egg between 16 to 24 weeks old. When they lay their first eggs depends on many factors, but raising healthy chickens is the best way to ensure they’ll start and continue laying regularly for years to come.