Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Laying Hens

One of the most exciting and enjoyable aspects of keeping chickens is collecting all those lovely eggs each morning! While you are waiting for your girls to start laying though it can be frustrating. It is normal to take anywhere from 4 months to a year for chicks to start laying. Egg laying depends on the breed and time of year (length of daylight hours etc.) - traditional egg production breeds such as leghorns and rhode island reds etc. usually start at around five months old. Breeds like silkies and bantam breeds tend to be closer to 8 months to a year old before they start. The first few eggs will probably be relatively small and random, but it won't be long before your hens get into their rhythm. A family with a flock of 8 hens of average production could soon expect to get 4 or 5 eggs a day (sometimes more).

For commercial purposes laying hens tend to be given around two years to produce as many eggs as quickly as possible and then get replaced. As it is becoming more normal for people to keep chickens as pets we are finding that many hens will continue to produce eggs through four, five, six years old and beyond. As they get older egg production does tend to slow and eventually stop, but it is not unheard of for an elderly hen to still be producing an egg or two a week. The natural life of a normal free range chicken can be into it's teens.

Reasons for egg laying to stop
--------------------
Molting - molting usually happens in the autumn/fall. Some lose nearly all their feathers and others lose hardly any at all. Once molting has finished (which can be a couple of months) they should start laying again. If you have several hens it is unlikely that they will all molt at exactly the same time.

The Hen has gone broody - usually indicated by staying in the nest boxes for hours on end (or you might find her sat in your flowerpot!). It normally takes at least two or three weeks for a hen to start to lay eggs again after she has been broody.

The Hen has recently had chicks - it can be around two months before egg laying starts again (her instincts will be to wait until her chicks are grown).

Stress - commonly from a change to routine or situation eg. a fright, new housing, new housemates etc.

Winter - excessive cold and reduction in daylight hours can cause chickens to slow down their egg production (a heat lamp in the coop can help minimise this).

Old age - egg production usually slows down (and eventually stops) as hens get older. Some will stop by about 5 years, others will carry on giving the occasional egg for the whole of their life (which can be into their teens).

If there is no obvious reason for laying to stop (and they are not sick) things to check for are a hidden nest and egg eating chicken(s)

20 comments:

Corina Delor said...

Thank you for your newsletters. They are fun and interesting to read. Good job!

We are the proud "parents" of 27 baby chicks (26 Rhode Island reds--and 1 surprise chicken named "Gonzo" like the Muppet--because we have no idea what he is yet--possibly a Brown Leghorn--the hatchery gave him to us as a surprise).

Wish us luck!

Corina

Mark said...

Gina,
I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your newsletter.

Mark

Amy Fletcher said...

Gina,
I wanted to thank you again for all this useful information. I love the new format and blog. This is terrific. Thanks again. Amy

Sarah Attard said...

Hi Gina

I just want to thank you for your lovely newsletter. We live in Brisbane, Australia and we added three chickens to our family about 2 months ago when my daughter was in a holiday program with her school. They watched the chicks hatch and grow over the two weeks and then they had to find homes for them.

I was a little scared about owning chickens as I really didnt know where to start. Well I put together a chicken coop, (its not very pretty so there will be no pictures) and now our three chickens - Buck (hopefully not a boy), Tiger and Pearl - are growing happily and I am more informed because of your great newsletter.

Thank you very much and I look forward to finding out more as time goes on.

Thanks
Sarah

Anonymous said...

we have had chickens for about 3 years now. Every spring/summer we get more babies and when they are big enough we put them in the coop with the big girls. So far NO problems. We did the same this summer and all was well, then suddenly about 3-4 weeks ago NO eggs, NONE at all for weeks. This has never happened to us before. We have about 22 hens from 1 1/2 to 3 yrs old and 1 rooster, then we added our 23 hens hatched this summer, still all was well. We brought home 3 little silkies from a place we looked at a horse and the kids had too many to keep. Seems about that time NO eggs at all. We have not checked for mites or lice thouroughly but I dont think that is the problem. Could they suddenly stop laying altogether when we added new hens? if so what can we do? we have people begging for our eggs and we have NONE. and let me tell you 48 hens can eat a lot and when they are not earning their keep, well lets just say I am not excited about feeding them for nothing.
HELP anyone!!!!!!!!!!!
Kim and family

Gina said...

Hi Kim, Assuming all are in good health, then there could be stress playing a part, but this is also a natural time of year for them to be slowing down and taking a rest which might explain the older ones not laying. Perhaps your young hens have not started laying yet (it seems for quite a few people that where you might expect them to start laying at around 20 weeks it has been more like 24 weeks this year). Another possibility is something like snakes or rats taking your eggs. Or if you free range them, perhaps your chickens have taken to laying somewhere outside. ..

Anyone else experienced a similar problem?

blackstar said...

hi kim somtimes when you put in new birds the old birds get stressed and stop laying till they get use to the change.

staci said...

Gina,
I have been enjoying your newsletters for a while. Thanks for the hard work!

I have 9 hens and 1 lucky rooster, all hatched early March. A few started laying about three weeks ago (I feel fortunate). One of the breeds we have is Ameracauna. They all look different and lay different color eggs. Very cool! I do have a problem though.

Shirley, the Ameracauna that is laying, is actually standing! I couldn't figure out why all her eggs were cracked until she layed while I was in the coop. I heard a "thunk", and looked in. There she was, standing up with a broken egg under her. Since then I have put extra straw in the boxes, but she scratches it all away to bare wood.

If anyone has some advice, I would love it! Thanks!

Staci

Gina said...

It may be something she will grow out of. Perhaps changing the straw in the nest for a different bedding such as pine shavings will make a difference - who knows, might be worth a try.

Anyone else got any ideas for this ?

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have recently started raising all types of chickens,could someone tell me when the Black Ostralops begin to lay.

Gina said...

Australorp's can start laying at around 5-6 months old.

brittany said...

I have been raising chickens for 3 years now and have been blessed with good luck. This spring I purchased 25 Black Jersey Giants and a month later (April and the May) 25 Black Australorps. I kept them separate from my 2 year old Golden Comets until the Blacks all turned about 5 months old. I then moved them together. I didn't have any problems and everyone settled in fine. Well, my older hens are not keeping up with my customers ( I think they are molting), but my Blacks are hardly laying. Out of the 50 only about 8 are laying. Could it just be taking this long for them to begin production? They are now about 7 months old and I have never had hens that took this long. I have again separated the old ones out, because they will be butchered and also to find out how which ones are laying. I have not used any different feed and I don't think I have a predator problem (though we might have a rat or two). Does anyone have any suggestions? Sorry this is so long. :) Thank you for providing a way to contact other chicken hobbyists!! :)

Gina said...

Thanks :-) I don't have any direct experience with them but I believe that because of their size they generally take a longer time to fully mature (I think from chick to full adult size takes about a year to 18 months). As far as I know Jersey Giants don't normally start laying until around 6-8 months old so I think that what you are experiencing is probably pretty normal (especially at this time of year). They'll be nice big eggs when they do get going :-)

montanachicken said...

I want some CHICKENS badly. I live in Northwestern Montana where it gets cold and have an an area that was an old coral with a feed shelter I hope to turn it into a coop. It will not be able to have any power to the area 9will they freeze at -10 below) Can I let them run free or will the coyotes chomp them down. We have a ton of Wild Turkeys here too. Will they mess with them. I'm thinking Barred Rocks & Rhode Island reds. I like brown eggs is why! Thx and wish me luck. DB
Trout Creek Montana

Gina said...

Sadly, they would be unlikely to survive long if they were out in the open with coyotes. Chickens are pretty hardy and -10 should not be too cold for those breeds. With a nice cosy coop, the temperatures they experience should not be as low as the 'actual' outside ones.
Good luck :-)

Anonymous said...

I live in northern vermont where it gets to 40 below, I keep my Rhode island reds, all ten of them in as little of space as needed, I dont clean the coop, so heat from their poop heats the coop, I do throw down new bedding as needed,keep water from freezing with a heater and have a light on a timer, I also have a small vent to let out moisture, the biggist thing is too keep out drafts as they will chill the chickens, hope this helps.

Mary Wright said...

Gina,
thanks for all the helpful information. I am new to raising chickens - got 30 laying hens from a friend. Yesterday we found one dead at the bush they love to sit under. I also found a "rubber" egg. It has a very thin, rubbery shell.
Do you know what could cause this and are the two incidents related?
Thanks,
Mary

Gina said...

I don't know if the two incidents are related. There are a few possible reasons for thin-shelled or shell-less eggs including an immature or defective shell gland, inadequate nutrition, salt in the water and disturbances around the laying area. If not already, being on a layers feed should help with the shells. Offering crushed oyster shell and grit in seperate bowls may also be beneficial. In the normal course of things the ocassional 'odd' egg would not be anything to worry about - particularly if you have newly laying pullets which do tend to be a bit haphazard with their egg production (oddly shaped,small, funny shells etc).

Anonymous said...

My first time here and I need all the information provide here. I'm a new Mother Hen of one rooster and two hens. I got them at the suppy store little chicks. Now they are teenagers lol and laying eggs. Bigboy,snowwhite and littlemoma. Now I won't more chicks I have marked the eggs I want them to sit on. Most of the time I let them out to roam the yard. My question is do I let them stay in the cage to sit. And now that my fall garden is coming up. Will them become stress because I won't let them out?

Gina Read said...

You really need one to go broody of her own accord to have them sit on eggs - leaving an egg or two in the nest can help encourage broodiness but it will depend on their own natural inclination if they actually do go broody or not. Once one has gone broody she will actively want to stay on the nest pretty much 24 hours a day (only getting off briefly for food and water and to stretch her legs - some don't even do that and can be in danger of starving themselves if you don't force them off or put food and water close to them). Brooding is a very strong urge once they have it.