When people get chickens one of the first questions they ask is how long do chickens lay eggs?
Some people expect chickens to keep on laying well into their old age.
While others expect only a few years of egg laying.
There is no magic number for any given breed or individual hen, however you can have a fairly good idea of how long your chickens will lay eggs by understanding a few basic facts.
In this article we will share these facts with you and also explain how to keep your hens laying eggs for as long as possible.
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How Long Do Chickens Lay Eggs?
How long a chicken will lay eggs for depends on a few key things.
Perhaps the most important thing is whether your hen is a heritage or production breed.
A production bird is exactly what it sounds like, they are made for production.
These hens have been selectively bred to lay eggs. They generally do not exhibit natural behaviors (such as being broody) and do not make good dual purpose chickens. As a rule these chickens will lay lots of eggs but only for around 2-3 years.
Heritage birds on the other hand are breeds that have been around for a long time and can be considered a base breed for the production industry. Heritage breeds are not always dual purpose but many are – for example the Delaware and Orpington. Others such as the Leghorn are an egg only breed.
Heritage breeds will lay eggs for a much longer time – sometimes up to six years.
As an example we will use a Leghorn (heritage) and a hybrid (production) to compare:
- A hybrid chicken will lay for 2-3 years and will lay about 300 eggs per year.
- A Leghorn chicken will lay for about 4-6 years and lay 280 eggs per year.
You must bear in mind that a chickens first year of egg laying is their best. After this each year their egg output will diminish over time.
So the bottom line?
Production hens lay fast and plentiful for a couple of years. Heritage hens will lay a bit less yearly but will likely equal or better the production hen over time because the heritage should lay eggs much longer.
When Do Chickens Start Laying Eggs?
So when do chickens start laying eggs?
This will depend on her breed.
The vast majority of breeds will start laying eggs at around 16-18 weeks however some will not be ready to lay until 24-28 weeks.
If you want lots of eggs sooner rather than later then you need to pick your breeds carefully. As a quick tip, if you want quick layers choose some of the hybrid breeds such as Golden Comets or Black Stars.
The most common breeds such as Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns and hybrids will all start up around the 16-18 week period. Heavier breeds such as the Orpington may not start until the 24 week mark or even later. Occasionally one will start a bit earlier but this is the exception not the rule.
Some of the older heritage breeds that are slow growers such as the Breda or Jersey Giant make take up to 7 months to start laying! These birds are naturally slow growers and take time to reach their full potential.
If you are waiting for your hen to start laying then there are certain signs to watch for.
Her comb and wattles will become a bright red (especially the comb). When you go to touch her she may start squatting for you. You may notice her behavior is rather distracted and she may be running around from nest to nest and checking out dark places – she is looking for somewhere to lay.
How Many Eggs Does A Chicken Lay?
The average chicken will lay quite a few eggs over her lifetime.
We have taken the Rhode Island Red and have broken it down into how many eggs they will lay a day, week, month, year and lifetime.
How many eggs does a chicken lay per…
- Day: 1 egg
- Week: 5-6 eggs
- Month: 20-30 egg
- Year: ~260 eggs
- Lifetime: 750-1000 eggs
We have estimated her laying life at three years although some chickens will lay much longer than three full years.
A favorite question that we often get is can a chicken lay more than one egg a day?
Whilst this is not impossible it is extremely unlikely.
If you have a hen that has done this do not expect it again in her lifetime, their bodies are just not built that way. You can find the yearly output of some of the most popular chicken breeds in the table below.
|Breed Name||Eggs Per Year||Beginner Friendly|
|Rhode Island Red||260||Yes|
|Barred Plymouth Rock||280||Yes|
|New Hampshire Red||200||Yes|
*Hybrids include varieties such as Golden Comets, Lohmann brown, ISA Browns and other hybrid varieties.
Why Do Some Chickens Lay More Eggs Than Others?
The first and most important factor is the breed of chicken.
If you want good egg layers then you will need to choose your breed carefully. Lots of the most popular breeds today are excellent layers.
Many breeds will lay more than 200 eggs a year which is around one egg every two days. Which breed you choose depends to some extent on how many eggs you want or expect of your hens. Even if you adopt some ex-battery hens you can still expect them to lay a fair amount of eggs for you.
See our article of top laying hens for the ladies that are the superstars of laying.
The old adage of garbage in garbage out applies to hens too.
If you do not feed your hen the correct diet then their egg laying ability will suffer.
A hen lacking calcium will lay thin shelled eggs or even shell-less eggs. She needs calcium to lay the perfect egg. Commercial feed has the calcium added in to it as a specific amount but some hens require a bit more. The easiest and best way to do this is to place a bowl of oyster shell near the feed so that hens that require extra can help themselves.
Just like calcium a lack of protein will cause her to stop or slow down egg laying. A laying hen requires around 20 gram of protein daily. Feeding less than this over a period of time will cause health problems for the hen.
Water too is vitally important.
A dehydrated hen will stop laying – your job is to provide them with fresh and clean water at all times.
Hens like routine and even small changes can throw them into a tizzy.
Any event such as adding new chickens to the flock, changing coops, loud machinery or other disruptive things has the potential to slow or stop some hens laying. Some chickens however are completely bomb-proof and will lay through anything.
You should keep their routine as constant as you can.
Also make sure there are enough nest boxes for all the hens.
If you find more than the occasional egg outside the coop then you should provide another one or two nesting boxes for them.
10 Reasons Why Hens Stop Laying
There are several reasons why a hen might stop laying.
Below we will list the most common reasons and what can be done to alleviate the problem. However if you are looking for a more in-depth answer then read our article 11 common reasons why chickens stop laying eggs.
This is one of the most common reasons why chickens stop laying.
Poor nutrition impacts the body’s ability to function in the way it should.
A diet that is low in protein or calcium will dramatically reduce the egg laying ability of the hen. Calcium is used for bone health and egg shells, so if there is not enough then the laying will stop in order to protect the hen’s health.
Obese chickens will have problems laying too. They are much more prone to egg laying problems so keep them trim and healthy.
It does not take long for dehydration to stop your chickens laying eggs.
Once your chickens stop laying eggs because of dehydration it can take some time to start up again. You should make sure your girls always have access to clean and fresh water. Read our completing guide to watering chickens for more help.
Illness and Parasites
Parasites can overload your hens’ system and cause all sorts of problems.
During this time your hens will stop laying eggs.
Whether or not you choose to worm and medicate your chickens on a regular schedule or as needed is a personal decision with no right or wrong answer.
If you notice your entire flock’s egg laying is down then it is likely to be parasites or a generalized infection. However if it is only one or two hens then it is more likely to be an individual thing with those particular chickens.
When hens have the urge to sit and incubate eggs they will stop laying once they have enough eggs. They will sit for twenty one days and then raise the chicks and perhaps have a quick molt before they go back to work and lay eggs.
This period of time can stretch into months depending upon the hen. While it is a temporary halt to egg laying it can be annoying if you have a hen that wants to be broody constantly.
The molt is an annual event.
Hens that are good egg layers usually go through the molt fairly quickly. Whereas those that molt slowly are not your best producers of eggs. Hens that are in their first year will not molt until the following year so it may fifteen months before she has her first molt.
During the molt they will not lay eggs.
A veterinarian once told me that chickens get stressed if you look at them funny.
That is a bit of an exaggeration but they do get stressed fairly easily by all sorts of things. Change in feed, new flock members, stranger in the chicken yard, heat stress or any number of odd incidents around them. Try to keep their stress levels minimal but be aware there are some things you cannot control such as the weather.
Heat stress can cause the ladies to go off lay.
Most chickens really do not do well in high temperatures.
You can help them out by setting out pans of cold water for them to stand in, adding a sprinkler in the yard, giving them cool areas to sit in add adding ice to the water.
To lay eggs hens need at least fourteen hours of daylight.
This will happen during the winter and this egg shutdown is a natural process. It lets the hens take a break for their health and prepare for the spring. If you do not want your chickens to rest you are going to need to add daylight in the form of a light bulb.
Unfortunately this is something that you cannot do anything about.
Once a hen has come to the end of her laying cycle then that is it. She may lay the occasional egg here and there but do not expect much from her in the way of produce. Three to four years is the average end of steady egg laying activities.
The final reason we will discuss here is over breeding.
An overly amorous or aggressive rooster can cause all sorts of problems for your hens and this includes no egg laying. If your hens are feeling stressed by him they will stop laying eggs until the source of the stress is removed. Also if hens are being constantly bred they can get injured or debilitated much more easily.
After reading this article you now know how to select the best laying breeds.
You also know how long you can expect your hens to keep on laying those delicious little eggs.
Hens can only lay for a certain number of years before their bodies cannot produce eggs any more. However if you keep them happy and healthy they will lay their best for you.
It is really not that hard to keep your hens happy. They just needs the basics like shelter, food, water and nesting boxes.
Apart from eggs I have found that chickens can supply a great deal of relaxation therapy and smiles. I hope you find the same, let us know in the comments below…