Do you have young spring chickens at home? If so, I bet you’re eagerly waiting for those fresh eggs to arrive…. and I don’t blame you! Home-raised backyard chicken eggs can’t be beat. If you’re wondering when your chickens will start laying eggs, read along to learn the signs that signal eggs are on the way. We’ll talk about the average age that chickens start to lay eggs, how breed plays a role, and a few tell-tale signs that eggs are on the way. Keep in mind that every chicken is different, and there is nothing you can do to rush them to grow up – so just be patient and enjoy the teenage years while they last.
What age do chickens usually start laying eggs?
On average, young female chickens start laying eggs or “come into lay” around 6 months of age. Some chickens may start laying eggs as early as 16 to 18 weeks old, while others may take upwards of 28 to 32 weeks (closer to 8 months old)! Over the years, we have had some extra-early overachievers along with our fair share of late bloomers, but found that around 20 to 22 weeks was the most common age for our chickens to start laying eggs.
Chicken breeds and egg-laying
In addition to age, the particular breed of your chickens will also influence when eggs start to arrive. Certain breeds of chickens are known to start laying eggs earlier than others, and each breed has their own average age range for egg development.
Chickens that have historically been bred for the purpose of egg production often start laying eggs sooner (as early as 17 or 18 weeks old), including Leghorns, Golden Comets, Sex Links, Rhode Island Reds, and Australorps. On the other hand, heavier breeds like Wyandottes, Orpingtons, and Barred Rocks are known to take a bit longer. Our Easter Egger ladies are always last to add their colorful eggs to the basket, which is a known trait for their breed.
See our “Top 18 Backyard Chicken Breeds” article to learn more about different breeds, including heat and cold-hardiness, general demeanor, egg color and laying frequency.
Time of year and egg-laying
The majority of young chickens will start laying eggs the first year that you have them. Yet if you happen to get your chicks later in the year (summer or fall) and they come into maturity during darker, colder days of fall or winter, they may wait until the following spring to start laying eggs! Reduced daylight hours in the wintertime usually signals mature hens to take a natural break from laying eggs, conserving their energy and nutrients to brace for the cold winter ahead. During a winter cessation of laying, you’ll also notice the chicken’s combs and wattles become smaller and pale again, swinging with their hormones. However, it isn’t uncommon for young chickens to continue laying eggs right through their first winter! Then, they’ll probably take a break the following winter after that.
Curious to learn more about caring for chickens in cold weather, including tips for winterizing their coop? Check out this article all about winter chicken care. Please note that we don’t suggest lighting the coop to “force” chickens to continue to lay eggs through winter. Their bodies know best, and need a natural break.
5 SIGNS A CHICKEN WILL START LAYING EGGS SOON
1) Enlarged Reddening Combs and Wattles
As a young chicken matures, their combs and/or wattles become increasingly large. If this happens very early on (under 8 weeks old) it could be a sign that the chicken is a young rooster! On the other hand, young female chickens develop their combs and wattles more slowly. As her hormones shift and she gets ready to start laying eggs, her combs, wattles, and face will change from light pink to brighter red in color. They will also swell and become larger.
2) Start Exploring the Nesting Box Area
In the weeks leading up to the first egg, a young hen will usually start to show more interest in the nesting box area than ever before. She may even begin to test it out and sit inside, even if she isn’t quite ready to lay yet. One great way to encourage young chickens to lay eggs in their designated nesting boxes (as opposed to on the coop floor, or hiding them in the yard!) is to place false eggs inside the nest box. Chickens tend to like laying eggs in a clutch, where other eggs are. You could use specialty fake wood eggs, or what we’ve done in the past, golf balls!
3) She May Get Louder
Have you heard a chicken “egg song” yet? I find it funny that crowing roosters are banned in many urban areas, because hens can be damn vocal too! (Though I’ve read there is something more jarring and irritating about the tone of a rooster crow than hen songs to most people). Our chickens sing and squawk for hours before and after they lay an egg. So, before your young chickens start laying eggs, they may become increasingly talkative too.
4) Increased Appetite
As a young hen gears up to start laying eggs, her body will go through numerous changes – inside and out. The process of forming and laying eggs takes a lot of energy! So, you may notice your maturing chickens begin to eat more than usual. Laying hens have different nutritional needs than younger pullets or chicks. Younger birds eat “starter” and “grower” feeds that contain higher levels of protein to support their rapid growth. Layer feeds have slightly less protein, and a little extra calcium for proper eggshell formation. Therefore, gradually transition your chickens to a layer feed when they reach 18 weeks of age – or when the first egg arrives, whichever occurs first.
I also suggest putting out a source of free-choice calcium (such as crushed oyster shells or eggshells) either as soon as one hen starts laying eggs, or when you begin to notice the other tell-tale signs that eggs are coming soon. Check out this article to learn more about providing essential calcium for laying hens.
5) The Submissive Squat
Of all the signs that a chicken will start laying eggs soon, squatting behavior is the most telling in my opinion! As you walk by your young hen or reach out a hand to pet her, she may stop, squat, and put her wings out slightly to her sides. We lovingly call this “the submissive squat”.
Give the girl a good pet on the back, but keep in mind the biological reason for her squatting behavior isn’t about cuddling with humans! She is signaling that she is ready and willing to be mounted by a rooster to fertilize her forthcoming eggs. If there is no rooster around, she’ll submit to her human instead. Now, not every chicken will undoubtedly squat, but all of the girls in our flock did – and started laying eggs within a week or two thereafter!
The moment you’ve been waiting for: the first eggs have arrived!
When chickens start laying eggs, their first eggs will be significantly smaller than what they’ll regularly lay as fully mature hens. Before you know it, you’ll have baskets full of beautiful large fresh eggs – right from your backyard.
In all, I hope this article helped to clue you in on the signs to watch for as your chickens get ready to lay. Be sure to thank your ladies for their hard work! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for an article about how to store or wash fresh eggs – coming soon. Please feel free to ask any questions, or spread the love by sharing or pinning this article!
You may also enjoy these related articles:
- Backyard Chickens 101: What to Expect When You’re Expecting
- 10 Ways to Keep Chickens Cool During Hot Summer Weather (or Heat Waves)
- Feeding Chickens Crushed Eggshells (or Oyster Shells) for Essential Calcium
- The Top 18 Chicken Breeds for Your Backyard Flock
- Baby Chick Care 101: Brooders, Health, Heat & More
- Caring for Chickens in Cold Winter Weather
- Sprouted Seeds: a Healthy Treat for Your Backyard Chickens