I think one of the most common questions we receive from new chicken owners is when they should expect that very first egg. Everyone anxiously awaits that first egg. Even long time chicken owners anticipate the first egg from their spring chicks or from a new breed they've started to raise.
There are no hard and fast rules about when to expect that first egg, some is reliant on the breed, while some of it is reliant on the weather and coop environment, but there are some averages we can use to help determine an approximate age.
As an average, pullets lay their first egg at about 22 weeks. But if there are sudden changes in the weather or sudden changes within the coop environment, illness, parasite infestation or predator attack, this average can be altered dramatically. Everything in a chicken's life affects their laying habits and their average expected lay date.
What may cause a delay
If new chickens have been introduced, this may delay a pullet from laying, because of a natural disruption within the flock. If there are behavioral issues with certain flock members or dominant members of the flock that bully, this can delay laying in those birds that are being bullied. A pullet that is docile or victim of bullying, may not lay for weeks beyond an expected lay date. If there is a predator attack or predator threat, this can alter laying habits as well as affect a pullet that is reaching laying age. These types of events can delay laying by weeks and even months.
By monitoring your flock, you can get a sense of something happening within their environment, especially if you see any of them showing signs of lethargy or isolation. When there are indications that things are not normal, it's time to investigate why and try to track down the problems. Bullying is an obvious sign. You may see feather picking or a pullet being chased away from the feed and water, or attacks from flock members and aggressive behaviors. At this time you need to make a decision as to what to do about the bully. Very often, removing that bully for a few days alters their aggressive behavior, and when returned to the flock they will most often lose their pecking order, so they become the less dominant one. But if once returned to the flock, they continue the aggressive behaviors, you need to make a choice about whether to remove them permanently, rehome or cull out of the flock.
The laying environment may not be inviting enough to a new pullet, and she may resist the nesting boxes. The nesting area may not be private enough or because she is new to all these hormonal changes, she may be confused as what she should do. You can attempt placing her in a nesting box each morning to get her accustomed to the nesting environment. You can place artificial items in the nesting box to give her a clue where her eggs should be laid, or you can provide a little privacy by moving the nesting boxes, or screening them off from the general flock population. Many times it's a matter of changing the nesting materials. If you're using straw, try changing to wood chips, or shavings. Sometimes it's just that they are not liking that nesting environment and you need to find ways to make it more inviting to encourage the desire to lay. Out of curiosity, new pullets or even hens that have laid off for awhile, will check out the changes in the nesting environment and while they are there, things seem to click and they lay an egg.
The Value of a Rooster
When there is a rooster in the flock, he will often direct a new pullet to the nesting boxes. He will get into the nest box, check it out thoroughly, he'll even sit in it for a bit, then he'll call to the new pullet, encouraging her to join him. If that nesting box does not appeal to him, he may even check out more than one, until he finds the one suitable. A good rooster is invaluable in training his ladies for their next stage of life.
Observing your flock, you may notice a pullet squat as you approach, or squat as other flock members approach. This is usually a tell-tale sign that she's reaching the point of lay. You will know at this time that she may lay at any time; within a few days or a week from those first signs. We've had pullets get so excited over a new treat, that they laid their first egg in mid run to grab their share of that treat as if nothing even happened.
Prepare for that first egg
While you're waiting for those first eggs, which can seem like an eternity, there are things you can do in preparation.
At about 16 weeks start the pullets on a good quality layer feed. The layer feed, helps to build up their calcium intake and it's very important to start them on a quality product so their health is kept at optimum before and during their laying years.
Always provide fresh clean water. A chicken requires continuous hydration, and if they run out of water or the water is not clean, they can dehydrate very quickly, especially in summer months, however they require the same amount of water during the colder months as well. And always keep that water thawed in winter so they do have a ready source.
Provide Calcium in the form of crushed egg shells, or oyster shells. As the pullets begin to reach their laying age, they will be seeking calcium for healthy, strong eggs and shells. This calcium is given free-will. If they don't need it, they will not seek it. A good layer feed provides all the calcium they need, but some calcium is not easily absorbed into the body, so they may also require supplemental calcium.
Do a head to toe check of your pullets to make sure they do not have external parasites that can affect their desire to lay. If they are infested, they can become weakened and their immune system can be sacrificed. If even one has visible signs of parasites, all must be treated even if you are not seeing signs on other flock members. Parasites are not selective, they will find others to host their needs as well. Leg mites can cause permanent injury to the legs and feet of chickens, so during your examination, check carefully around the legs for any signs of swelling or signs of blood. Treat immediately and again, treat all flock members to prevent an over population of parasites in the coop and run environment. Internal and external parasites can have an impact on laying, whether a new layer or a hen in her prime laying years.
Check for secure fencing and coop environment, from snakes, and weasels that can enter through very small gaps and openings. Larger predators can easily tear through chicken wire, and Raccoons can even figure out locks. So check the entire perimeter of the chicken run and the coop to make sure all is secure. If you have not seen any signs of predator behavior, that can cause the chickens undo stresses, and behaviors are all normal, then you should be able to expect your new pullet to be laying by 22 weeks. Some breeds will lay as early as 4 1/2 months, while some breeds are well into a full year before they may lay. We have some breeds in both of those extremes, but most of the breeds we raise are well within 20 to 25 weeks when they lay their first egg.
When she does lay
One thing we have noticed is that most new chicken owners are expecting a full size egg from the beginning, when in fact many pullets will lay a very tiny egg, about the size of a quail egg, no matter large breed chicken or not. That egg is often called a *fairy egg* or *wind egg*. There is rarely a yolk, just white albumen, because the pullets natural reproduction system has not fully developed. The egg size will increase as she begins to lay regularly and as her system becomes more developed there will be a yolk in the egg. Another thing we find is that many new chicken owners expect an egg per day from their chickens, which isn't realistic. The highest average is 5 eggs per week. It takes about 26 hours for an egg to fully develop, so it is not possible for them to lay an egg every day. Even the highest egg producing chickens, such as the Leghorn, will only average about 300 eggs annually. With natural molt, weather changes and other environmental conditions, most breeds will average 200-250 eggs annually.
Important to Note
One note that we feel is important is that spring chicks may go a full 6 months before laying that first egg, and lay a few eggs, then go into an Autumn molt, then into Winter and not lay another egg until the first signs of Spring. So there can be a long wait before that first egg, only to see the normal setbacks dictated by the weather and environment. Fall chicks on the other hand, are growing during the late fall and winter then they are ready to lay as early as late Winter or early Spring and they continue to lay through Spring, Summer and well into Autumn. Since you're not expecting to see eggs until Spring, those Autumn chicks make that wait much easier for you than the Spring chicks and you'll see more eggs in that first year from your Autumn chicks than from Spring chicks. We recommend having some Spring chicks and some Autumn chicks, so you will have a longer laying period and because the Autumn chicks are acclimated to the colder months, they will often lay through winter because they've already made those adjustments in their young life.
Other things to consider
Another consideration we like to point out, is that having some chickens that are good winter layers, as well as some that are good summer layers will keep you supplied with some eggs throughout most of the year. Typically the lighter weight, smaller framed chickens make good summer layers. Those breeds are mostly from the Mediterranean region, such as the Leghorn and Andalusian. The heavier bodied, heavier feathered breeds usually make the best winter layers, such as Orpington, Brahma, Sussex along with other heritage breeds, and those breeds that are from colder regions, such as the Icelandic and Swedish Flower Hens.
Though we can't give you exact dates; knowing what to expect, what to look for, prepare for and what breeds may be early layers, will help prevent those anxiety spells while waiting the long weeks and months for those very first pullet eggs.
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Naseerudeen B. WHAT NORMAL AGE HEN WILL start IT FIRST
JFA: About 22 weeks
Naseerudeen B. MY HEN IT JUST 4 months
JFA: About another Month then