When you ask the age-old question—which came first, the chicken or the egg—in your journey as a chicken owner, the chicken definitely comes first. In fact, the chicken comes a long time before the egg…four months, at least.
If you’ve been raising your flock from chicks, and they’ve gone from cute little fluffballs to moody teenagers, you’re probably getting a little antsy to see the girls grow up and start earning their keep. When your pullets (young female chickens) actually start laying, though, has a lot of variables. Read on to find out when to expect eggs from your flock.
The breed of your chickens has a huge impact on when they start laying. Smaller or newer breeds will lay earlier (starting at 16-18 weeks) while larger or heritage breeds will take longer to reach maturity (24 weeks or more). The downside is, generally, early to lay hybrid breeds will decrease egg production after about 2 years. Slower to mature breeds will produce longer, but will eventually slow down as well.
For earlier laying, try:
- Golden Comets
- Sex Links
- Isa Brown
For later laying, try:
- Plymoth Rocks
No matter the breed, if your bird reaches laying age in the fall or winter (shorter days with less light slows down laying), they may not produce their first eggs until the following spring.
What your chicken eats has a big impact on their ability to lay. If you cut corners on their feed, not only will they not lay as quickly, but they’ll also develop other health problems, especially with growth. Check your feed to make sure it’s fresh and follows these general protein guidelines:
- Birth-6 weeks: 20-22% protein
- 6-20 weeks: 14-16% protein
- 20 and older: 15-18% protein
On the other side of the spectrum, make sure you limit the number of treats you give your chickens. Overweight hens also don’t produce eggs to their full capacity.
As your birds mature, you’ll be able to see some indicators that they are getting ready to lay. Just like teenagers, they might be a little more irritable and loud as they develop new feelings and instincts that they aren’t used to yet. Don’t worry—they’ll calm down once they figure everything out. Look for some of these signs:
- A larger, redder comb
- Squatting when you pet them
- 3 separated pelvic bones (you’ll have to feel their rear ends to check)
- Looking for safe, quiet places to lay
If you’ve noticed these signs but haven’t seen any eggs, especially if your birds are free-range, try looking around your yard. Young layers may not always get the idea of nesting boxes right away. They may have started laying in a safe place—long grass, a quiet corner, etc. Try putting a golf ball or ceramic egg in the nesting box to point them in the right direction.
Want a head start?
If you’re not sure you can handle the four to six months of waiting, you can always purchase point-of-lay chickens (sometimes called started pullets). These are chickens that a breeder has raised and are nearing the time when they will start laying. Nothing is a sure bet, though, so don’t expect a point-of-lay bird to start producing eggs on the first day in your chicken coop. It may take a few weeks (around 3-6) before they start laying. But if three weeks sounds better than twenty, this might be the route for you!
You can buy mail-order pullets that will ship to you through the US mail when they’ve reached maturity. To save on potentially high shipping costs, look for a breeder near you. Started pullets will be more expensive than chicks, but considering what you would have spent on the supplies to raise them, you’d likely come up even, if not a little less.
Don’t worry—it will happen
Even though the waiting seems long, your chickens will start to lay. Pullet eggs are smaller than normal eggs, so don't be surprised if you get some cute mini eggs at first. It's important to let the birds mature at their own pace so they'll be healthy, strong, and egg-celent layers. Your patience will pay off in delicious dividends!