So you have a brooder full of cute little fuzzy chicks racing around.
They are so lovable at this age, it is hard to believe they are going to turn into hard working egg laying hens in a few short weeks.
But you are probably wondering just when do chickens start laying eggs?
There are a few factors that will influence when a chicken will start to lay eggs.
In this article we will explain these factors and also give you tips on how to spot when they are about to start laying eggs.
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How Old Are Chickens When They Start Laying Eggs
The large majority of chickens will all start to lay eggs sometime between 16-20 weeks old.
This includes breeds such as Red Comets, Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, Leghorns and Easter Eggers.
However there is not a magic date at which point they will produce that first egg. You may find that one will start laying at 17 weeks old while another from the same clutch won’t start until the 20th week.
Some breeds will start laying eggs much later.
It can be up to six months (24 weeks) before breeds like Orpingtons, Jersey Giants and Brahmas are ready to lay their first egg.
There are a few breeds that take even longer such as the much loved Silkie. They can take up to nine months (40 weeks) before they decide to lay.
Overall it is an individual thing that is beyond the hen’s control and they will start laying eggs when they are good and ready. It is unwise to try and push your hens to lay sooner than they are ready for. This can lead to some serious health problems for them further down the road like egg bound chickens.
Factors That Impact When They Start Laying
The specific breed of your chicken will impact how long it takes for them to start laying.
Some breeds lay relatively quickly whereas others seem to wait forever, why is that?
Many of the more popular breeds (especially the sex links) have been specifically bred to be young and productive layers. This is what they have been made for and they do it very well. These breeds will start to lay at around 16-20 weeks of age.
Others, such as Orpingtons and the Brahma, have been bred to be dual purpose heritage breeds.
This means they will develop slower because they are a natural bird. They are also much bigger chickens and need time to fully develop before spending energy on egg laying. Expect them to start to lay at around 24 weeks of age.
As heritage breeds they will not lay as many eggs per year but they will lay for more years to come.
Chicks are susceptible to illnesses such as coccidiosis, infectious bronchitis and many others.
These two specific illnesses can cause infected hens to not lay well in future months.
Both of these diseases leave scarring on the reproductive system to some extent and can impact the number of eggs and the quality of those eggs laid. As an example if you have a hen that lays wrinkly eggs then she most likely has been exposed to infectious bronchitis at some point.
Hens get stressed at some of the seemingly strangest things.
However stress can interrupt or delay a laying cycle until she settles down back into a routine.
Try to avoid things like adding new hens to the flock, changing feeds or moving coops. They also get stressed when they are startled on the nest by loud, unusual noises or strangers.
You cannot eliminate all stressors but if you can keep them in a daily routine, they will have a better chance of tolerating outside stressors better.
Time of Year
The time of year you get your chickens can impact when they first start to lay.
During their first winter chickens tends to lay lots of eggs. However, this stops once your hen has her first molt and wintertime will now be a period of egg famine.
If you want to keep your girls laying over winter, see our article here.
Signs A Chicken Is About To Start Laying Eggs
There are certain key signs to watch out for when a chicken is about to start laying eggs. Some are obvious whereas others are more subtle.
Here are some key signs that your chicken is about to lay their first egg:
Reddening of comb and wattles: You will notice that her comb and wattles are starting to turn a more vibrant red color and getting bigger out. This is a sign to the rooster that the hen will be ready to mate soon.
Squatting: Most hens develop a submissive squat when they are ready to start laying eggs. You will see her squat down when you go to pet her. This is to assist the rooster in balancing when he mates with her.
Odd behavior: She may start pacing the coop, clucking and returning to one or two spots repeatedly. She may even start carrying pieces of straw or bedding on her back. These behaviors are all signs that she is looking for the perfect spot to lay her first egg.
Checking out nest boxes: This sign overlaps with the odd behaviors sign mentioned above. She will become interested in the nesting boxes and other dark places where she can sit and hide. She will likely inspect every area in the coop and run looking for that perfect spot. Some hens become very protective of a certain box or area and may try to guard it.
Eating more: This is a tough behavior to spot but as she is ready to start laying her appetite will increase. Her body is telling her that she needs to eat more for the energy she is about to expend.
Becoming louder: Even the quietest hen becomes noisier around laying time. They will start clucking with the older hens and can become amazingly loud.
All of these behaviors are signs of her changing body status.
Interestingly the attitude of the older hens towards the new girls becomes a bit more accepting, like she has become a member of the Layer Club.
What To Expect When They Start Laying
When your hens first start to lay it is an exciting moment.
However once she has laid her first egg she may go for a few days or a week without laying another egg.
It takes a bit of time for the egg laying machinery to get into production mode, so you can expect a few hiccups along the way.
Egg laying will be erratic for a while before your hens settle into a routine. Occasionally you will have a hen that will start laying and then stop for a really long time like a month or more. Usually she will start laying eggs again, but watch her and try to make sure she is not sick.
Her first few eggs will be small and puny.
They are often called fairy or rooster eggs.
Odd shaped eggs are common in young layers and in older layers that are coming to the end of their careers.
This will sort itself out in time, so do not panic just wait it out. Once everything is running smoothly their eggs will gradually get bigger over the next few months.
It should probably be noted here for the uninitiated that the color of your hen’s first egg will be the color of all of her eggs. Some people are under the impression that Easter Eggers lay all sorts of colored eggs. As a breed they do, but the individual hen will lay only one color in her lifetime.
What To Prepare Before They Lay Eggs
Before your hens start to pop out those eggs, there are a couple of things you will need to make their lives easier.
Technically chickens do not need nesting boxes.
This is more for your convenience than theirs.
In the wild chickens are happy to lay eggs just about anywhere: dust bath, under the rose bush and other interesting places.
A nesting box makes finding and collecting eggs much easier for you.
You should plan on having one nest box for every three hens.
Standard sized chickens need a 12×12 inch box, bantams need 10×10 inch and large breeds require 14×14 inch.
The boxes should be placed in the quietest and darkest part of the coop because chickens like privacy to lay and do not appreciate being disturbed while sitting. If you are talented you can provide them with curtains for extra privacy.
Make sure to place the nesting box off the ground because in general chickens prefer boxes that are elevated from the ground for protection against predators such as rats and snakes. The nest box should have a lip so that bedding stays put (unless the hen kicks it out), it also prevents the egg from rolling out too.
Once your chickens are 16 weeks old you should start to transition them from their higher protein feed to a traditional 16% layer feed. Whether it is crumble or pellet does not matter, although crumble is easier for bantams and smaller breeds to eat.
The transition should be done gradually.
You can mix the two feeds together for a few weeks gradually phasing out the higher protein feed altogether. There really is not a set time limit for this but the transition between feed should be finished by week 20.
Resist the temptation to prolong the amount of time that you keep them on high protein ration. Hens that are given high protein for lengthy periods of time can get sick.
Your chicks are soon going to be using a large amount of calcium daily.
Each egg will demand a hefty dose of calcium to manufacture the shell of the egg. The process of egg laying will leach calcium from the hen’s body causing brittle bones. If the amount of calcium in the hen is extremely low then she will stop laying egg altogether.
Although layer feed does contain calcium, some hens require more than is provided by the feed. This is where oyster shell comes in. Oyster shell is a roughly ground source of calcium that is an important supplement for hens.
Providing her with extra calcium in the form of oyster shell helps to make sure she has a continual source of calcium if she needs it. Oyster shell should be provided as a free choice supplement, it should not be mixed in with their regular food.
Hens will self-regulate their intake as they instinctively know when they need it.
It is probably not as stressful as raising a houseful of kids, but raising small chicks can be a bit intense. They rely on you for their every need when they are chicks and yet will grow into confident and personable chickens.
Once you have guided them through chick hood, they will slowly become more independent in their ways.
After they have managed to lay that first egg they will start to settle into the daily routine and won’t be much bothered by laying an egg. Once up and running your ladies are likely to be trouble free for a good long while, enjoy their eggs and their personalities!
Caring for chickens is not really hard work.
It is more about being in tune with their needs and learning about their lifestyle. By observing them closely you will come to know all of their little idiosyncrasies. Watching them turn into beautiful, industrious ladies is a joy that never gets old.
How old were your chickens when they started laying eggs? Let us know in the comments below…