Many hens lay their first egg around 18 weeks of age and then lay up to an egg each day, subject to breed, environment and individual bird. At 18 weeks, switch to a complete chicken layer feed to provide the added calcium laying hens need to produce an egg each day.
If raising a backyard flock was a treasure hunt, the ultimate prize would be a hen’s first egg. You started your chicks strong, moved them to the chicken coop and enjoyed their antics as they explored the backyard. Now you might be feeling a bit of egg-ticipation and wondering when do chickens lay eggs? The first egg often arrives when hens are 18 weeks old, subject to breed, environment and nutrition.
A rooster is not necessary for egg production unless you want to have fertilized eggs for hatching. When pullets are nearing their first lay, their behavior changes. They may spend more time with the rooster, crouch for breeding or investigate the nesting area. At this time, keep hens in the coop for short periods of time. Place golf balls or decoy eggs in the nesting boxes to help hens understand the use of the nesting boxes.
The first few eggs a hen lays may be irregular – possibly small in size, with soft shells, no yolks or double yolks – but, after a week or so, egg production should become more consistent, with peak performance at about 30 weeks of age and egg goals changing each year. To help hens lay strong and stay strong, keep the following #FlockStrong tips in mind.
Prepare chicken nesting boxes in the chicken coop. Create several comfortable, clean and cozy chicken nesting boxes. We built the nesting boxes into the coops we are working on modifying the nesting boxes with outdoor access for egg collection. We keep the boxes closed until the hens are 16 weeks old and then open-access after that. A general rule for nesting box size is one 1-foot square nesting box for every four laying hens. The flock will take turns using the boxes.
Line each nest box with a thick layer of straw, pine shavings or other bedding to cushion the eggs. Keep the nesting boxes up off the floor in the darkest corner of the coop with privacy to the hen. Each nest area should have a uniform environment. After a hen lays her first egg, it’s her tendency to lay in the same spot moving forward. If the hens decide one nest is preferable to the others, they may all try to use that nesting box, causing themselves stress, which can lead to egg breakage or egg eating.
Sometimes hens all use the same nesting box even though they are all uniform. As long as the birds aren’t fighting or harming each other, this is probably not a big issue. If you are concerned about it, consider blocking access to the preferred nest box and guiding the hens to use one of the other available boxes. Once the hens have decided the other nest boxes work just as well, allow them access to the original nest box.
Consider chicken coop light.
Age is the first indicator of first lay, but daylight hours are also critical. An increase in day length is key driver to encouraging hens to lay eggs. To do their best work, laying hens prefer at least 16 hours of light and 8 hours of dark.
If your hen reaches 18 weeks of age during the fall or winter when daylight hours are getting shorter, then consider adding supplemental light to the coop. It only takes about 25-watts of incandescent light per 100 square feet to encourage hens to lay eggs. You can also use an equivalent wattage fluorescent or LED light for your flock. Without supplemental light, young hens may wait until days get longer in the spring to lay their first egg.
Complete layer feed. If hens are not laying at week 18, you can still transition from a chick starter feed to a layer feed. This change may even jumpstart egg production. The earliest you should transition to a layer feed would be around 16 weeks of age. Do this if you are combining a flock of new hens with an older flock in the same coop.
Congratulations on your first egg! Shell-ebrate with a first egg happy dance. Ready to see the difference a complete feed can make in your flock? Sign-up for the Feed Greatness® Ch