For weeks now, I’ve had just one question in the back of my mind. As I water my garden, scoop the coop, feed my girls yummy treats, and love on them, all I’m really thinking is… When will my chickens lay their first eggs?? (Stay tuned at the end of the post for the answer!)
At What Age Do Chickens Lay Their First Eggs?
As a rule of thumb, most chickens will start laying anywhere from 18-22 weeks of age. Larger breeds generally lay a little on the later end, as they’re slower to develop. On the other hand, some breeds like Production Reds are bred to lay more often, so they tend to start a little earlier. Some rare chickens can even start laying much later, up to a year after hatching! All that to say, there’s really just no way to know.
When chickens lay their first eggs depends on external circumstances, too. If the weather is very hot or very cold, for instance, your chickens will put off laying for a while. They can sometimes even wait for months! Laying can also be hindered by loud noises or frightening situations. Things like fireworks or lots of storms can temporarily thwart your egg hopes. Not getting enough food, calcium, or especially water can prevent your girls from laying, too. (Note: Be sure to offer your chickens a bowl of oyster shell when they get to about 18 weeks old. They need the calcium to create eggshells!)
Signs That Eggs Are Imminent
So when will your chickens lay their first eggs? The disappointing truth is, we just can’t say for sure. But there are some signs to watch for that will let you know to expect them soon! The first sign is usually a darkening/reddening of combs and wattles. Remember that a comb is the flesh on top of a chicken’s head, and wattles are the parts that hang down under their beaks. These will get much more red in the weeks before a first egg is laid.
The second, very telling sign is what The Chicken Chick calls “The Submissive Squat“. This is when a chicken who is approached suddenly or from behind will instinctively squat down, readying for a rooster. (They will do this whether or not you actually have a rooster!) She will put her head down, spread her wings out slightly, and stick her tush up in the air. To tell the truth, it’s a little embarrassing. But I will say it does make them easier to catch! A chicken is likely to lay her first egg within a week or two of starting this squat, although this was not the case for my girls.
There are a few other signs that you may notice as your girls get close to egg-laying. They may act friendlier towards you, become noisier, or start exploring their nest boxes… which hopefully you will have already prepared!
Preparing the Nest Boxes
Before your chickens lay their first eggs, you will need to get their environment ready for them to do so. A nest box is just that – a simple box, built into your coop or sitting inside it, where your chickens can make a nest and lay their eggs. You need at least one nest box for every 3-4 chickens. Don’t be surprised if they all end up using the same box, though! Nest boxes should be tall enough for your chickens to sit in comfortably, but ideally not tall enough for them to stand. A height of 12-14 inches is just right. This not only gives them the feeling of coziness, but also keeps them from sleeping and pooping in the nests.
Your chickens will prefer to have privacy when they lay. You can achieve this very easily by stapling cloth curtains to the front of the nest boxes. Cutting the fabric in strips allows for easy access and good airflow, while maintaining a sense of seclusion.
Filling Your Nest Boxes
To fill your nest boxes, there are a variety of options. Some people swear by shredded paper (with bills being the preference!), while others are fine with simple pine shavings. You should never use cedar shavings though, as cedar is toxic to chickens. My nest box filling of choice is straw. Straw runs the risk of carrying mites though, which are small bugs that feast on chicken blood. Yikes! So if you’re going to use straw, I highly recommend spending the few dollars to buy clean straw from a farm supply store, rather than getting it straight from a field. Your chickens will thank you!
You may also want to place a “decoy egg” inside your nest boxes to encourage your hens. This may give them the idea that this is a safe place to lay, or it may just make them realize what the space is for – who knows what a chicken is thinking?! You can buy fake eggs at the store for a few dollars, or use golf balls or plastic Easter eggs. If you use Easter eggs, tape them shut first. You may want to fill them with sand too, for added weight.
Our Egg Watch
We got our chicks at the end of February this year. We hadn’t intended to get chicks until April, so for a while I was still expecting eggs in October or November. A couple months ago I re-did my math and realized we should have eggs much sooner! We had built our nest boxes and put curtains up, but I needed a filling. Since I had pine shavings left over from the chick brooder, I went ahead and used those at first. (You can see this in the photo above.)
The shavings didn’t seem very “nesty” though, so after doing some reading online, I added shredded paper. I even made a cozy little nest shape to intrigue my girls; like “Hey, doesn’t this look inviting? Don’t you want to settle your fuzzy bum here and lay me an egg?”
As cute as it was though, it didn’t work. My two biggest chickens had very red combs and wattles by 17 weeks. At 18 weeks they began doing the submissive squat, and I thought for sure we would have eggs any day! Unfortunately that week was also the beginning of firework season, and 100-degree weather. For two weeks we had heat advisories more days than not! I worked hard to keep my girls cool, and was hopeful that we would still see an egg soon. They free range in the backyard every day, and I was afraid that they might be laying in a secret nest under our bushes, deck, or camper. I watched them carefully, and spent way too many hot hours outside looking for stray eggs… but to no avail.
A Change in Tactics
This went on for four very long weeks. Yesterday the chickens were 22 weeks old, the late side of the expected timeframe. Finally I decided to switch up my bedding once again as a last-ditch effort. Straw was the only thing that would really allow them to peck and paw and get their nests “just right”, so last night I went and bought a bag. I also cut the middle fabric strip off of each curtain to provide better access. The heat has let up a little in the past couple days, which made working outside so much more bearable!
Gypsy was incredibly curious about what I was doing. She’s my most shy chicken, and usually prefers to stay clear of me, so it was funny that she was right there in the middle of the action. As I filled the nest boxes she tried to hop inside, and once I was done she explored them thoroughly. Her interest, along with the drop in temperature, made me hopeful for what the week would bring! Would my chickens lay their first eggs this week?!
A Tiny Big Surprise!
When I planned to write this post today, I never could have imagined what would happen. This afternoon I let the chickens out as usual, and filled up their water dishes. I noticed that the straw had been moved around significantly, exposing the flooring, so I added more. Gypsy, once again, was very interested in this. When I was done and closed the outside nest door, she surprised me by going straight inside! She pushed the straw all over the place, and then actually sat down on top of it. She was panting and restless. I snapped a couple quick pictures and then left her alone.
After about an hour, I couldn’t take the suspense any longer. Seeing that she was no longer in the coop, I went out and quietly opened the nesting box. To my surprise and great joy, this tiny egg was waiting for me! Isn’t it beautiful?!
First Egg Abnormalities
More often than not, a chicken’s first egg will not be perfect. Ours was no exception. When chickens lay their first eggs, they’re usually tiny and do not have a yolk. These are called “fairy eggs” – which sounds so much sweeter than the alternative term I’ve run across, “fart egg”. Yes, people actually call them that. I will stick with fairy egg! The name especially fits because of the size of these first eggs. You can see that ours is much smaller than is typical:
Besides the smaller size and lack of yolk, first eggs are often malformed or misshapen. Soft eggs, bumpy or wrinkly eggs, and eggs without shells are all common. Ours was especially odd in that it had one end open, with something almost like an umbilical cord coming out of it:
Patience is Rewarded
Despite our first egg being less than perfect, I couldn’t be more thrilled. I know this is one of many that Gypsy will lay in the future! Hopefully Pepper is right behind her. Bijou is very small and I think will take a lot longer to lay, but that’s okay too. I got chickens for the joy of it, and eggs are just a wonderful bonus! If you’re still waiting for your chickens to lay their first eggs, be patient. I know it’s hard, but it will not be forever! Eventually they WILL lay, probably right when you least expect it!
Are you still waiting for your chickens to lay, or do you remember fondly the day you discovered your first egg? I’d love to hear your story in the comments!
Update and spoiler alert: Gypsy, a Wyandotte, was 22 weeks old when she laid her first egg. Bijou, our Easter Egger, was 25 weeks. (You can read about that here.) Pepper, a Barred Rock, did not start laying until 29 weeks! If your chickens are past the “average age” and haven’t started laying yet, don’t give up hope!