Somewhere between the ages of 18-22 weeks, your chickens should start laying eggs. Some lay a bit earlier, and some make you wait longer, but for the most part, when they’re around five months old, your chickens will start to earn their keep.
Smaller breeds tend to start laying a bit earlier, while the larger breeds take their time starting. And in my experience, the blue egg layers make you wait the longest — or maybe it just feels that way!
It’s important to switch your flock over to a good-quality layer feed like Home Fresh Extra Egg Layer or Home Fresh Organic Layer when they approach the 18-week mark. Switching them to the layer feed won’t make them start laying, but it will provide them the higher level of calcium that they need to not only lay eggs with nice thick shells but also create the contractions needed to push the egg out.
Offering crushed oyster shell in a small container in the coop and setting fake “eggs” in the nesting boxes to help your chickens know where they should lay their eggs are both good ideas around the same time. As your chickens approach laying age, you’ll notice that they start nibbling at the oyster shell and will test out the nesting boxes for size. You might catch them peering inside to check them out or even hopping into the soft nesting material for a bit.
However, the best sign that your chickens are about to start laying is the “submissive squat." Your hens will start to hunch down and flatten their backs when you (or your rooster) come near. This signals that they are approaching puberty and in my experience, you can expect eggs within days of noticing your hen squatting.
A chicken lays an egg about once every 26 hours, but don’t be concerned if a chicken doesn’t lay an egg every day. Especially when they’re young, it can take them awhile to become regular. And often their first eggs will be small, sometimes as small as a marble. But after a hen goes through her first molting season around 18 months old, the eggs she lays that following spring will be noticeably larger.
Your spring chicks will lay right through their first winter without any added light in the coop, but after that, when the days get shorter, you can expect egg production to drop off naturally. Adding supplemental light through the winter to extend the “daylight” to at least 14-16 hours can keep the eggs coming, but I prefer to give my older hens a winter break and rely on the new layers to provide eggs until everyone resumes laying in the spring.
Once your chickens start laying eggs, be ready to hear their “egg song” that they cackle to announce to the world that they have just laid an egg. Congratulations! Your babies aren’t babies anymore!