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When Will My Chickens Start Laying Eggs? 

Getting your first batch of hens is a time of great excitement. The anticipation while waiting for that first egg to be laid is palpable. But one big question is often present: when will my chickens actually start laying eggs? Female hens typically start to lay between 16 and 24 weeks of age. However, this can vary depending on factors such as breed, environment, and care, all of which we will focus on in detail in this article. Once they do start to lay, a healthy hen will typically produce an egg every 24 to 48 hours, depending on what she eats and how healthy she is.

Thinking back to when I first started keeping hens, I can vividly remember how excited I was and longing for that first egg. Then, one day, the utter delight of finding one! It continues to amaze and delight me whenever a young hen starts to lay. 

Factors that affect the egg-laying age of chickens

I find raising chickens for egg production incredibly fulfilling, but several factors influence the exact age at which they lay their first eggs

1. How the breed of your chickens affects egg production

Like other types of animals, different breeds of chicken have their own unique characteristics, including when they begin egg-laying

While breed plays a significant role in egg production and how quickly a young hen will start laying, it is not the only factor that should be considered. Commercial White Leghorns, for example, start laying from as young as 18 weeks. They are known for producing a high number of eggs, often exceeding 300 per year. However, they are no good for meat and tend to be nervous, flighty birds making them hard to handle, especially for novice chicken keepers. 

In contrast, heritage breeds such as Plymouth Rocks or Orpingtons start laying later, from around 22 to 24 weeks of age. They may also produce fewer eggs but offer a greater variety in egg color. Other factors, such as adaptability to local climates and temperament, should also influence your decision. Medium to large breeds such as the Australorp, Sussex, and Rhode Island Red are prized for their prolific egg production. 

2. Diet and nutrition

The diet you provide your hens will have a significant effect on the timing of their first egg-laying. Young hens transitioning to laying require different nutritional support than chicks or older hens. A balanced diet rich in protein and calcium can help stimulate hens to begin laying earlier. In addition, supplements may prove beneficial, but it’s wise to consult a veterinarian for personalized recommendations.

You can buy complete, age-appropriate feeds to help simplify feeding your hens at all stages of development. This will ensure they are getting the right nutritional balance of nutrients they require to stay healthy.

Proper nutrition is vital for laying hens as they must receive the right ratio of protein and calcium for healthy egg production. 

Inadequate nutrition can delay the onset of egg-laying or make eggs more prone to breakage, which can cause them to break inside of the hen before they are laid. This can promote a serious health condition and make hens egg-bound, which may cause an infection or peritonitis. 

If an egg breaks inside your hen, the shell will need to be removed manually, and she will need to be watched closely for signs of illness. Therefore, maintaining a nutritious diet for your flock is essential for optimizing the condition of the eggs, your hens’ health, and egg-laying potential.

3. Genetics

You may wonder why chickens lay so many eggs and if this is a natural thing for them to do. The answer is no, hens have been specifically bred by humans to increase the number of eggs they lay. 

Hens explicitly bred for commercial egg production start laying earlier than hens bred for other purposes, such as meat or for use as dual-purpose birds. A good example is the White Leghorn. These hens will lay between 280 and 320 eggs a year. The Australorp, which is a crossbreed between Black Orpingtons, White Leghorns, Langshans, and Rhode Island Reds, can lay 250 to 300 eggs a year but start laying later. However, a plus point for them is they are easy to handle and care for and can also be used for meat. This is not true of commercial White Leghorns, which, although they can start laying sooner, tend to be quite nervous and flighty around people. This is primarily because they have been bred solely to produce as many eggs as possible.

4. Stress

Chickens are remarkably sensitive to stress, which can disrupt or delay egg-laying. Events such as moving to a new barn, integrating new flock members, or encountering predator disturbances can all affect egg production in hens. Keeping a stress-free environment is paramount to maintaining optimum laying.

5. Lighting

The amount of daylight each day directly affects a hen’s internal clock and her ability to lay eggs. Generally, hens require approximately 14 to 16 hours of light per day to maintain high-level egg production. During seasons with shorter daylight hours, such as fall or winter, providing supplemental lighting in the barn can help regulate the laying schedule. Hens who mature to a suitable egg-laying age in late fall or winter often won’t start producing eggs until daylight hours become longer in spring. 

6. Health conditions

The health of a young hen plays a critical role in determining when she will begin laying eggs. Various health problems, including disease, parasites, or nutritional deficiencies, can all prevent the onset of laying. To ensure timely and healthy egg production, you must conduct regular checkups for your flock and address any problems you find quickly.

7. Weather and Climate

Weather conditions, especially extreme temperatures in summer or winter, may also affect the commencement of egg-laying in hens. Excessive heat or cold can stress the birds and cause delays. This can be avoided by providing adequate shelter. Housing should be well insulated and correctly ventilated to ensure that it remains at a comfortable temperature year-round and that stale air is removed to prevent respiratory problems. 

Note that while certain averages exist for the onset of lay, each breed of hen has its own quirks and deviations from the norm. Always be on the lookout for signs that your hens are preparing to lay, such as squatting behavior, reddening combs, and increased interest in nest boxes.

Do any breeds of hens lay eggs all year round?

Some breeds of hens have unique tendencies that allow them to lay eggs throughout the year, influenced by their genetics and environmental conditions. While winter typically sees a drop in egg production due to shorter daylight hours, certain cold-resistant breeds may continue to lay eggs consistently.

To supplement egg production during colder months, providing additional light in the barn can mimic longer days and help maintain egg production. There is a downside to doing this, however, as by not enabling your hens to have a period where they decrease or stop laying for a short while, extra strain is put on their bodies, which can affect their longevity and overall health. Ensuring an adequate feed supply throughout the winter will also help maintain better egg production.

Several breeds of hens are known for their ability to lay eggs consistently throughout the year:

  • Rhode Island Reds: These hardy hens adapt well to varying climates, making them popular with backyard farmers.
  • White Leghorns: Known for their hardiness and large white eggs, White Leghorns can produce about 280 eggs a year under optimal conditions.
  • Plymouth Rocks: One of the oldest breeds in North America, Plymouth Rocks are reliable egg layers.
  • Orpingtons: These gentle, low-maintenance hens are consistent layers.

It’s worth noting that even the most prolific laying breeds will eventually stop producing. While some breeds will lay consistently for several years, others may slow down after their first year. Factors such as stress, care, and environmental conditions contribute to a hen’s longevity as a layer.

Which chicken breeds lay the best in winter?

When it comes to chicken breeds that excel at laying eggs during the cold winter months, several hardy options stand out. These breeds have adapted admirably to cold climates and will continue laying even as daylight hours dwindle. Let’s explore some of these winter-laying champions:

  • Brahma: Often referred to as “cold queens,” Brahmas are large, affectionate birds that thrive in winter environments. This is due to their large size, leg feathering, which helps keep them warm, and overall cold resistance. 
  • Ameraucana: Known for their striking blue or green eggs, these hens are adept at coping with winter conditions and continue to lay throughout the colder months.
  • Australorp: Known for their exceptional year-round laying ability, Australorps continue to produce eggs throughout the winter. They also boast a friendly and manageable demeanor.
  • Buckeye: Cold-hardy Buckeye hens continue to lay competently in plummeting temperatures. Their rich mahogany plumage adds to their attractiveness.
  • Chantecler: Bred specifically for frigid climates, Chantecler hens lay eggs reliably throughout the winter, reflecting their Canadian origins.
  • Cochin (Buff Cochin): Cochin hens’ fluffy, well-insulated plumage makes them well-suited for winter egg production, but they do need protection from the wet.

It’s important to provide all breeds of chickens with a clean, well-insulated coop, ample access to food and water, and protection from the elements, especially during the depths of winter and the heat of summer. Maintaining an adequate number of chickens in your flock allows them to huddle together, share body heat, and increase their comfort during the colder months.

All hens require periods of rest from laying eggs. For some, this may just be a reduction in the number of eggs they produce weekly, while for many, it will mean they stop laying completely over the winter months until spring. Continuous high egg production can lead to exhaustion and potential health problems. It’s natural and beneficial for hens to take breaks from laying during the winter.

Do all hens of the same breed start laying eggs at the same age?

Hens of the same breed won’t always begin laying at the same age. Even within a breed, individual hens may begin laying at different ages due to variations in growth rates, environmental conditions, and overall health.

For example, two Rhode Island Reds raised under identical conditions may begin laying at slightly different times due to individual growth rates and maturation. 

What happens when a hen starts to lay eggs?

When a hen begins to lay eggs, she undergoes several physical and behavioral changes. Physically, hens typically develop fuller and redder combs and wattles, while the vent area becomes moister and more pliable.

Behaviorally, hens may show increased exploration of their environment, particularly an interest in nesting areas. Some may engage in nesting behavior by rearranging bedding material and may adopt a squatting position with wings outstretched when approached by humans or roosters, signaling imminent egg-laying.

The first eggs a young hen (pullet) lays, are often quite small. This is completely normal, and the eggs will soon become larger as the hen gets into her laying cycle.

Can you encourage early laying in hens?

While it’s possible to create conditions that promote earlier egg-laying in hens, forcibly inducing early egg-laying is not recommended because it can jeopardize their health. It’s best to allow hens to begin laying eggs naturally when their bodies are mature and ready.

Exposing young hens to prolonged periods of light to stimulate egg-laying can place undue stress on their developing reproductive systems. Rather than rushing egg-laying, prioritize providing your flock with a well-rounded diet, a comfortable living environment, and plenty of fresh water.

Can chickens stop laying eggs?

Yes, chickens can stop laying eggs for various reasons, including stress, seasonal changes such as winter, molting, disease, or age. Factors such as sudden environmental changes, the introduction of new flock members, or predator attacks can cause stress that leads to a cessation of egg production.

In winter, reduced daylight hours usually cause temporary cessation of egg-laying. As I previously mentioned, these intermittent breaks in laying are normal and beneficial to the overall health of the hens. 

What is the life expectancy of laying hens?

Laying hens typically live for 5-10 years, with peak laying occurring within the first two to three years of life. After the second year, it is normal for egg production to gradually decrease with age.

The duration of egg-laying however, can vary significantly depending on breed, nutrition and overall care. For example, commercial layers such as the White Leghorn often have a more concentrated but shorter laying period than heritage breeds such as the Plymouth Rock. Despite reduced egg production, older hens bring valuable skills to the flock, including nurturing skills and pest control expertise.

How do I raise healthy egg-laying hens from chicks?

If you have purchased young chicks or perhaps hatched some eggs in an incubator, you will need to take good care of them in order to get them safely to egg production age. Providing a balanced diet is paramount to raising healthy egg-laying hens from chicks. Start with a ready-made chick starter diet for the first 6-8 weeks and gradually transition to a grower diet until they are 20 weeks old; at this point, you can switch to a layer diet that will provide higher calcium levels to ensure strong shells. You should also offer crushed oyster shells for them to take when they want for additional calcium.

Good nutrition, clean, fresh water, and warmth while they are small are essential. Secure housing to protect chicks from predators and extreme weather is also important. If a young chick gets wet, it will quickly die from cold. Regular health checks for common diseases and parasites are vital.

Growing chicks into robust egg layers is a gradual process that requires patience, careful observation, and immediate attention to the smallest sign of problems. By providing this, you’ll soon enjoy a coop teeming with healthy, productive hens. 


The anticipation and final witnessing of your young hens starting to lay is filled with excitement and fulfilment. Understanding when chickens start laying eggs involves various factors, including breed, nutrition, environment, and overall care.

From the moment of eagerly waiting for that first egg to the ongoing process of managing a flock, each careful step goes toward ensuring optimal egg production and your hens’ welfare. Factors such as genetics play a significant role, with some breeds naturally predisposed to start laying earlier than others.

The importance of providing a balanced diet rich in protein and calcium cannot be overstated, as it directly impacts a hen’s ability to lay healthy eggs. Furthermore, maintaining a stress-free environment, adequate lighting, and proper health care are essential elements in promoting consistent egg-laying throughout your hens’ lives.

While certain breeds may lay eggs year-round, and others can excel in winter egg production, it is necessary to respect the natural rhythms and needs of your birds. Attempts to force early egg-laying or to disregard their rest periods can have adverse effects on their health and longevity.

Raising healthy egg-laying hens from chicks requires diligent care, including providing appropriate nutrition, shelter, and regular health checks. With patience, observation, and experience, you can cultivate a thriving flock of productive hens, bringing joy and fresh eggs to your home for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why do heritage breeds lay eggs later than commercial breeds?

A: It has to do with breeding. Heritage breeds typically take longer to mature than commercial breeds. While commercial breeds such as Leghorns may begin laying as early as 18 weeks, heritage breeds such as Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and Plymouth Rocks typically begin laying around 22-24 weeks.

Q: Why does my hen lay fewer eggs in the winter?

A: Most hens lay fewer eggs in the winter due to reduced daylight hours and colder temperatures. However, providing supplemental lighting and a consistent food supply can encourage year-round laying, although I do not personally advise this as it causes excess strain on the birds.

Q: What causes a hen to stop laying eggs?

A: There are several factors that can cause a hen to stop laying eggs, including stress, disease, molting, reduced daylight in winter, or simply a natural decline in productivity as she ages.

Q: Can you make a hen lay eggs faster?

A: While artificial lighting can stimulate egg production, it’s not advisable to force hens to lay eggs prematurely. This practice can lead to health complications due to the stress it places on their developing reproductive systems.

Q: What happens when a hen starts to lay eggs?

A: When a pullet reaches laying age, you may notice physical changes such as a fuller, redder comb and wattles. Behavioral changes may include increased exploration, interest in nesting areas, and nesting behavior.

A: How can I ensure that my chicks grow into healthy egg layers?

A: To ensure that your chicks grow into healthy layers, provide a balanced diet starting with chick starter feed, transitioning to grower feed, and then layer feed at 20 weeks. Provide adequate housing to protect them from predators and extreme weather conditions, and conduct regular health checks for diseases and parasites.

Q: What is the ideal diet for laying hens?

A: Laying hens need a balanced diet rich in nutrients essential for egg development, including protein, calcium, phosphorus, and sufficient energy. Diets formulated specifically for laying hens typically meet these nutritional requirements.

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