What to Expect When You’re Expecting that First EggIt’s understandable that a first-time chicken-keeper may be anxious to know when they can reasonably expect to see the first egg in the nest box from their new flock. The following are general guidelines for what to watch for and how to help prepare a chicken to lay her first egg.
Sonny, my White Crested, Blue Polish pullet, was practicing for the big day.
Her first egg was produced the next day.
When Will She Lay Her First Egg?
The age at which a pullet lays her first egg is called the “point of lay” and it is controlled by many factors. Hormones, breed, health, lighting conditions, extreme temperatures, stress and diet all play a role. I know, I know. You just heard “blah, blah, blah, blah blah,” but what is the answer? In very general terms, most pullets lay their first eggs between five and six months old. However, there is a wide range of normal that extends from 18 weeks to 12 months. My Silkie, Freida, didn’t lay her first egg until she was 14 months old.
Help ‘em Out1. Feed them properly. Laying hens should be fed layer ration no earlier than 18 weeks of age. Layer ration contains less protein than starter/grower feeds and it contains added calcium needed to produce quality eggshells. Pullets younger than 18 weeks should not be fed layer ration due to the calcium content- it can cause kidney damage and gout, which may not be immediately apparent, but will affect the health and lifespan of the hen.
2. Ensure access to clean,fresh water at all times. An egg consists of approximately 75% water and without access to a regular, clean supply of water, a hen will be physically unable to produce eggs.
3. Provide access to calcium. While layer feed contains calcium, an additional source of calcium, such as crushed oyster shells or clean eggshells, should be made available to hens at 18 weeks old in a separate dish, apart from the feed. All laying hens have different calcium requirements and will consume as much calcium as they need. Oyster shells should never be added directly to the feed because excess calcium can be harmful to the health of hens not requiring supplemental calcium. Hens deprived of adequate amounts of calcium will begin utilizing the calcium stored within their own bones to produce eggshells, to the detriment of their health.3. Set the Mood. One nest box should be available for every four layers in the flock. They may choose to share nest boxes, but forcing them to share is a recipe for broken eggs, egg-eating, stress and a drop in egg production. Place nest box material such as straw on top of nest box pads and liners in the nests to make it comfortable for the hen. They love rearranging the nesting material!
4. Make it welcoming. Hens prefer to lay their eggs in a quiet,dark, private place. Consider nest box curtains, particularly if the location of the nest boxes is well-lit.
5. Minimize stress. Limit activity in and around the coop in the morning. Reserve coop-cleaning chores until later in the day, keep small children from engaging them in any way and ensure their living environment is spacious, clean, pest-free and predator-free.
I add fresh rosemary, lemon balm, lavender and/or rose petals to my nest boxes when in season and dried herbs in the winter. I appreciate the scent in the coop and imagine the hens enjoy it too. Certain herbs may serve to deter mites and lice from setting up shop on chickens. Read more about nesting box herbs and herbal pest prevention on my blog HERE.
Signs of Readiness
Pullets provide a few physical clues when they are approaching the point of lay.
1. They may be seen exploring the nest boxes, walking in and out, rearranging the nesting material and practice sitting in them.
2. Combs and wattles will begin to darken and redden.
This photo of Gilda, my Wheaten Marans, was taken 5 weeks prior to the one below.
In five weeks, Gilda's comb and wattles have tripled in size and darkened.
I expect an egg from her any day now.
Submissive squat, preparing for mating.
"Treading" is the term used for the way a rooster stands on a hen's back during mating.
Within 24 hours of publishing this article, my Buff Orpington pullet laid her first egg! It never gets any less exciting! Can you guess which pullet in this photo laid this egg today?
A pullet's first egg is not always picture-perfect. It will ordinarily be quite small, but subsequent eggs will soon reach "normal" size for her. It can take some time before her reproductive system is working like a well-oiled machine and new layers are capable of some funky looking creations, but before long, she'll be an egg-laying master. To learn more about how a hen makes and egg and why some eggs are odd, read my blog article here.
The pullet on the top, with the darker, larger comb and wattles laid this tiny egg today. They were all hatched at the same time and raised by my Silkie hen (top, left photo) so I expect the pullet with the smaller, lighter red comb and wattles will join Team Egg-layer soon!
This was the first egg from my Easter Egger, Ethel. It was a "rubber egg," which can be completely normal for new layers.