It's the beginning of July, and for those new to the joy of keeping backyard chickens, one question starts to pop up: When are my chickens going to start laying eggs?
If you bought you chicks in the early spring, the short answer is, soon.
Most hens start laying between 16-24 weeks of age.
The more precise answer is a little more complicated, and involves some important variables. It's entirely possible for two friends to bring home day-old chicks at the same time, but for those two flocks to start laying their first eggs weeks apart.
There are a few factors that influence how long it takes a pullet to start laying her first eggs.
One of the biggest factors that determines when a chicken starts laying eggs, is breed. Chickens that are bred primarily for high levels of egg production tend to start laying earlier than than their dual-purpose counterparts.
These "layers" include breeds and hybrids like Golden Comets, "sex links", Leghorns, and Ameraucanas.
Buff Orpingtons, Wyandottes, Australorps, and Rhode Island Reds are chicken breeds that are generally considered "dual purpose", that is, bred for both meat and eggs. These heavier chickens can take a little longer to fully mature and may start laying just a bit later than their layer counterparts.
The quality of a chicken's nutrition over the early weeks and months of her life can have a long-lasting impact on her total egg production over her lifespan. Chickens that have ideal growing conditions and diet in their earliest weeks tend to "out-perform" those that start with less adequate nutrition--even if their housing and food are eventually the same. Those formative weeks are important!
For the first several weeks after hatching, your young pullets should be on a high quality starter crumble. After this, you'll want to switch to a grower feed.
Making sure the chicken feed you're offering has enough protein, and the nutrients she needs in those earliest weeks of life, is an investment that will reward you well for years.
When your girls are old enough to start laying, you can go ahead and transition to a good complete layer feed. Of course, if you're able to let your girls forage for bugs and worms, that's wonderful for their health, and actually improves the nutrient profile of their eggs, once they do start laying!
What time of year a chicken hatched
Unless you live near the equator, where day length remains quite steady, the seasonal timing of your chicken's hatch can affect when she lays her first eggs.
Over the winter months, the hours of daylight decrease. If she comes of laying age during the wintertime, and if you don't have supplemental light in the coop to artificially lengthen the amount of light she receives each day, she'll most likely wait to start laying until there are more daylight hours, in the spring.
In a case like this, she might even be 7 or 8 months old before beginning to lay.
Oh the other hand, if a chick is hatched in March, and comes of laying age during the late summer when days are still long, she'll likely start laying as soon as her body is mature enough.
Another thing that can delay the arrival of your first chicken eggs, is stress in the flock.
If your chickens are old enough to start laying, and have enough light, but you're not seeing any eggs, it's worth assessing whether their might be sources of stress that are keeping your girls from feeling happy and peaceful.
Are there too many roosters in the flock? Does there often seem to be "angst" in the coop? Are there dogs that come chase the chickens, or predators that frequently raid the flock?
While these factors aren't probably enough to keep your girls from laying forever, they can certainly be cause for delaying the start of lay, past what you'd likely see if all was peaceful and well. Reducing sources of stress definitely increases both the number of eggs you'll likely receive from your chicken over her lifetime, and can also help her to live a longer life.
One more factor to keep in mind as you're wondering when those first eggs will start to come, is the health of your chicken. If she's ever had an illness or injury, this can also delay the age at which she starts laying eggs.
Parasites can be another potential detriment to a chicken's egg-laying potential, and if you have cause to believe your flock might have a parasite problem, it's not a bad idea to go ahead and treat them with a wormer.
I prefer a natural wormer like Molly's Herbals, but if you're using any wormer with your chickens, do be sure to read the directions thoroughly before eating eggs laid by chickens receiving treatment.
Some commercial worming formulas require that the eggs and/or meat of chickens being treated not be consumed for a certain amount of time after the treatment ends. It's always best to be on the safe side.
While there are quite a few factors that can influence when your hen lays her first egg, chances are, if she's healthy and well-fed, once you get to 4 months of age, there's not long to wait!
Here are some clues your hen will start laying soon:
If you observe your girls closely, you might start to notice some behavior changes as they get closer to laying those first eggs. If you notice any of the activities on this list, get the straw ready in those nesting boxes, because eggs probably aren't too far away now!
She'll start to do the "submissive squat"
If you surprise your chicken by waving your hand over her back, you may notice her squat down with her wings slightly spread. This is the position that a hen assumes when being mated by a rooster. Generally, once you see this mating behavior, a chicken is nearing maturity and eggs will soon be on the way.
If you have a rooster in the flock, you might even notice that she becomes suddenly responsive to his advances, where she probably ran away from any attention he may have paid her before.
Roosters start to notice her
Likewise, up until maturity (sometimes called "point of lay"), any roosters in the flock may have been fairly oblivious to the charms of young pullets. Suddenly, a rooster may start circling her with a wing dragging the ground, cluck persistently to her, or invite her to eat all the tastiest morsels that he discovers while foraging.
If you have more than one rooster in a flock, you may find that suddenly the fellas are competing for her company.
These are all good clues that she's reaching a level of maturity that means eggs are on the horizon.
Her comb and wattles will turn brighter red
If you really observe your pullets closely, you'll almost certainly be able to see a subtle but definite change in the color of their combs and wattles, in the days leading up to laying their first eggs.
You may have already enjoying watching those wattles and combs turn red as your chicks grew into pullets, but quite suddenly as they get ready to start laying, those wattles and combs will turn an even more vivid red.
This can also be a good clue in older chickens. It's not uncommon for hens who stop laying due to molting or broodiness, to lose a bit of color in their wattles and combs. When you see that bright red starting to color up again, it's a good possibility that they'll start laying again soon.
She may start to show an interest in the nesting boxes
Very young pullets don't usually pay much attention to the nesting boxes until they're about ready to use them. If you see your young hen starting to "try out" the nesting boxes, keep your eyes open for that first little pullet egg...it almost certainly won't be long now!
She may start showing an interest in the crushed oyster shell if it's available.
Sometimes young hens don't start altering their eating behavior until after they've started laying, but it's not uncommon for them to show an interest in extra calcium about the time they start laying their first eggs.
I hope this has been a little bit helpful, as you eagerly await the first eggs from your new chickens! Still have questions about when chickens start laying eggs, or about chickens in general? Ask away in the comments below!