When Will My Hens Start Laying?

When will my hens start laying?

This is a question I get all the time.

And then I get asked, Why have they stopped?

The answer begins with, It Depends.

IF you have early spring chicks and IF you have production breeds, your new pullets will begin laying at four months. However, some of the old-fashioned breeds, especially the large, heavy ones, take a long time to mature. They might not begin to lay until they are 24 weeks old, which might bring you up to autumn, when daylight hours are shrinking and the weather turns cold. Not optimum for laying. So, your new hens might not lay until February.

My Gems (so-called because I’ve named them all after fancy rocks) hatched on April 25. They are 7 months old. I’ve been getting 3 eggs a day for the last month. That’s only 3 eggs from 12 healthy pullets. But I’m not worried. They’re animals, not machines. This summer there was a stretch of brutally hot weather. No one wanted to eat. Then at the end of last month there was a freak snowstorm. That could put anyone off their schedule. And then there was the stress of a humungous bird hunting fish (for all the Gems knew that Great Blue Heron could have been hunting chickens!) and landing on their barn and scaring the bejeezus out of them.

Things have calmed down. I think the heron has migrated south. The hens are eating. We’ve had some lovely sunny days. I collected five eggs from the Gems today! I also got one from my Golden Comet, Philomena, who is older, and molting, but she’s a hybrid who just doesn’t stop.

I am very pleased to see these eggs. I need 35 eggs to make the pies for the Pie Party. I’ll have enough for a second Rhubarb Custard Tart.

As to why your hens have stopped laying, well, it depends. Around 18-months of age, all hens molt – some more dramatically than others – but they all have to put their resources into making new feathers, not eggs. This stage can last for only a few weeks, or up to two months. The molt usually occurs with the onset of winter, shorter daylight hours and cold temperatures, all of which signal the birds to stop producing eggs. I usually see the egg laying pick up again by February or early March.

A sudden stop in laying is often due to stress. Perhaps there’s a predator around, or you’ve added to or depleted birds from the flock causing social upheaval. Perhaps there’s a lot of noise with construction going on next door. The weather can stress out hens, too, especially prolonged periods of extreme heat (cold rarely bothers them.) Or, maybe something is stealing the eggs. Snakes, skunks, and other animals will take eggs. Maybe one of your hens has learned to smash eggs and eat them (you’ll usually see a mess if that happens). Sometimes a hen goes “broody” which means she sits in a nesting box but doesn’t lay a thing. Sometimes a hen has a glitch in her system or an injury and she doesn’t lay at all.

A gradual reduction in egg production is usually due to age or poor health. It happens to all flocks that are allowed to keep going past 18 months (when commercial farmers cull their old stock and start fresh with new). Philomena is a hybrid, designed to lay day after day for two seasons. She’s now into her third. I get three eggs a week from her, not the six from when she was young, and they’re thin-shelled and misshapen. But they’re still good for baking. Her twin, Agnes doesn’t lay any, nor do any of the other old girls in the flock you see on the HenCam; some haven’t laid an egg for years. It’s a flock of retired chickens. I’d be surprised if the oldest – Eleanor and Edwina (who are seven and have been toddling around for years) make it through the winter. (Although that’s exactly what I said last November.) At least I have the Gems this year and enough eggs for my pie party. It looks like they’re revving up the egg production, but I don’t know if they’ll keep laying through the dark days of winter. It depends.

(note – although keeping a light on at night does increase production, I don’t bother. I’ll give the girls a break for a couple of months. My barns have big, sun-facing windows which encourage early-spring laying. More about winter care in this FAQ.)


  1. i finally have four out of six laying and mine are the same age as yours. i love checking in on yours. even though i’m sure my little flock is fine, it’s great to have the added reassurance of knowing what yours are up to :)

  2. My 4 arrived May 19th and your group has been so helpful for me to know what to expect. All my previous chickens have arrived as rescued adults. Two of my four new girls are laying almost daily. My Fifth hen is over 8 and I do not think she has layed an egg in the three years she’s been here. Her two siblings did lay consistently until they were 7.
    I am hoping my smallest barred rock will be ok with egg laying – she was stunted and nearly died once as a baby, but now looks almost full sized and is certainly healthy seeming.

  3. Some days I get 3, some days I get 10 or 12. I’m not in it for the egg production so as long as they are happy and healthy, the eggs are a bonus. Hubby took 4 dozen to his office today so it was nice to have a little inventory for sharing.

    I’m wondering if my rooster wants to be a papa again. He was sitting on the nest last week, tucking straw around him and clucking. He is such a freak:-) Sure enough, he was sitting on someone’s egg. LOL

      • It’s just cooled off here and we’ve had some rainy windy days. And some of them just moulted. There’s not so much variation during the Summer.

  4. My pullets (about the same age as yours)began to lay about 6 weeks ago–at least the three Marans did. Shep, the little Ancona, laid a few eggs but hasn’t laid one for about 2 weeks. My old hens (mostly 4 years old + one Buff Orpington who’s at least 5)have laid pretty well all summer but now are molting and hardly laying at all (I did get one egg from them today) The Marans lay very dark brown eggs which I think are very beautiful. Shep lays white eggs. My one Ameracana, Muffy, hasn’t laid an egg yet but when she does it should be blue or green. Muffy’s two handsome brothers (who lived in a boxstall) unfortunately were killed by a fox who dug under the stall walls. Their Delaware rooster friend, Butterfinger, survives in a hopefully more secure pen.

    • I wish I had Maran eggs and blue eggs in my egg basket. But, I can only have so many chickens! One reason I have concrete floors in my barn is to keep out the predators and vermin. There are trade-offs. It’s not as warm on their feet and I have to deeply bed the goats, but it is easy to clean and no one digs in!

      • The box stalls, of course, were built for horses and have dirt floors; the rest of the barn has concrete floors. When I first put chickens in one of the stalls, we “raccoon proofed” the walls all the way to the ceiling. I had my hens there for at least two years with no problems. We built a new chicken house in 2007 (with the very able assistance of the Franciscan Monks who had a nearby monastery)and moved the youngest of the “old” chickens in with my new chickens that I started in October,2007. I’ve used the box stall since for an assortment of critters, including the goslings I started a couple of years ago, with no problems. I guess Brother Fox finally found a way to get his dinner! I’ll have to do some serious work before I use those stalls for anything but horses.

  5. Depends, is so right. My girls seem to buck every rule. The two younger ones started laying last year at this time. I read that hens maturing this late wouldn’t lay as well, but they’ve both been very dependable layers. One of the others layed partly through her molt, her twin sister has been stopped for over two months during her very slow molt. Getting about 13 a week now from four hens, was getting 21.

  6. Just found your interesting site. The cam of chickens is fascinating. I have 4 hens: 2 Buff Orpies and 2 New Hampshire Reds, 18 months old. Two have molted, so far. They looked terrible! The first winter the girls were laying two to three eggs a day. Now we are getting only one egg a day. Haven’t had any problems so far (crossed fingers). They free range and are my ever present garden helpers. Looking forward to keeping track of your doings. Your pie party sounds fascinating – I LOVE pies!

    • Rule of thumb (and stats to back it up) is that after the first molt, that egg production goes down at least 20%. The third year it drops by that much again. I think that they still earn their keep.

  7. I have a Black Copper Marans that was hatched last Feb. She has not laid an egg yet and she is a big girl. I’ve read that late laying is normal for this breed. Right now nobody is laying because of molting and/or short days.

  8. If you are interested in egg production, feeding animal protein during the molt will make the feathers come in faster. The rate is 1/2 oz/day/bird. Feathers are mostly protein, so it takes a lot to replace them.

    If you are not interested in egg production, feeding extra animal protein will feather them out before the real cold hits.

    I read somewhere (can’t find the reference) that hens that molt during the summer (assuming a spring hatch the first year) of their second year will be poorer layers than those who wait to molt in fall.

    Since I began culling carefully, it seems most now molt in the fall. Before they would start in July and someone would be molting into late fall. As far as laying, all eggs are brown and there’s 18 hens, so I really never know how well anyone lays.

    I try to get chicks as close to May 1 as I can. The new hens started laying Sept 10 this year. They were Buff and Partridge Rocks. I am still getting a couple pullet size eggs but most have worked through size small and are medium now.

    I have 2 old birds (pets), and (4) 2 1/2 year old birds. I’m assuming they aren’t laying at all well. Of the remaining 12, I’m getting 8-9 small or medium sized eggs. The most I get is 11, with a 2-3 large size eggs from the older birds every couple days.

    I do use a 60 watt light in early morning to make a 14 hr day. They need 14-16 hrs of at least 60 watt light to keep laying. We discovered the first year that the red heat lamp light was enough to keep them laying. We hadn’t intended to use light in winter. (The heat lamp was to keep the bell waterer from freezing, not to heat the coop.)

    • Pam, many of my vintage poultry books recommend culling as you do. An early molt is a sign of a poor layer, as is an extended molt. The best layers molt quickly and get the whole process over with! I’ve heard that a night light is enough light to keep them laying – 20 watts, but I haven’t tried it. I think even that might bother my goats :)

  9. My Speckledy is the only one moulting but she’s still laying as well! The other 4 are still laying, not every day but out of 5 girls, I usually get 4 or 5 eggs a day. I’ve been giving them mealworms for more protein, which they love and layers mash during the day. A little lettuce in the afternoon and they seem to be happy!

  10. My five pullets I got in March started laying in July they laid up to 4 eggs a day until August/Sept. Varicella, a buff orphie got broody in Sept and then molted. This month, the others (2 black sex link, 1 araucana, another buff orphie)are all molting. I have no eggs but many fine feathers! I am feeding them layer crumbles am and pm plus greens, apples, tomatoes, yogurt and tuna cat food.

  11. We’re so happy after a month of no eggs, Meg, our Americana who will be 3 in February, gave us an egg. Oh Happy Days….

  12. Please don’t think this is a dumb question or laugh. Having never owned hens, my question is, how do you know who laid the egg?

    • Not a dumb question at all. Each breed lays an egg of a specific color. So, if you have only one Araucana, then you know who that blue egg came from. It gets harder when you have several hens of the same breed. Sometimes you can’t tell them apart, but sometimes a hen lays a unique egg. I had a chicken that laid a egg that was pointy on both ends. Another hen lays a distinctly spotted egg. Another lays one with a bit of wrinkle to the shell. You don’t see eggs like those in the supermarket because the hens are bred to lay identical eggs, and, any egg that isn’t “perfect” ends up being sold elsewhere – not in the carton. Variations also happen due to age of the hen, health and diet. I’m getting a variety of brown eggs from the Gems. I haven’t yet figured out who lays what.

  13. I had a major problem with predators. This caused my hens to stop laying. I solved that problem by installing a motion light. Also hookedup (to the switched side of the light or usually the red wire on the light ) an outlet to run a radio, that I turned up loud enough to scare any predators away. So to make along story short when the light comes on so does the radio, making noise to scare away animal. Ok some of you are saying doesnt this bother the chickens also? Maybe it did at first ,but they had quit laying due to being freaked out by the predators ,so it didnt matter. Now I have this installed they have gotten used to it and I have no animal problems and I’m now getting eggs again

  14. Hello!

    I got day old chicks in May. I just got my first two eggs today!!! I am so “eggcited” and so amazed by this process. The eggs are just beautiful! So clean and so perfect. Have only had hens since May. I have to admit I am a bird person but having chickens has been one of the greatest decisions I have ever made! Love being out with “the girls”!

  15. I watched the girls this morning trying to figure out who was the proud egg layer. I think it is my Austrolop. Seriously for the last week she has been making some chatter almost as if to tell me that something is going on in her body. Today I watched her going in and out of the nest box, creating a place to lay an egg. She settled down in the nest box for a few minutes and then left the box but chattering the whole time. I had to leave for a while and when I came back I found a beautiful egg. Brought a smile to my face!

  16. I’ve read that mealworms are not all that high in protein. Can you recommend good high protein food for growing feathers out quickly? I bought some fancy new stuff at the feed store last spring (ultra kibble or super kibble or something), developed by some bird expert. It has crustacean meal and other stuff instead of soybeans, and sounded great. Supposed to also keep their poop slightly more compact. My girls won’t eat it. It is supposed to be mixed with regular layer crumbles at 10%, but my girls toss it out and it sits there, rotting expensively below the feeder. Sunflower seed? I like the idea of feeding less regular layer ration, since it is primarily soy and corn, both of which are in the top 3 list of GMO crops. I’ve been reading that even some (people) foods labeled ‘organic’ are contaminated with GMO’s. Sorry, didn’t mean to ramble. Just wondering about what to feed for higher protein during the molt.

    • Kathy, I don’t know why mealworms have become such a big deal with chicken people. Those same bugs, live in the barn environment are intermediary hosts of bacteria and internal parasites. I hope that the ones commercially raised are not carriers! If you’re trying to get your girls to eat something new, stop with the corn and the yummy treats. Chickens will hold out for “candy” if they think they can get it! Sunflower seeds are fattening, but good for hens. Feed in moderation. A hundred years ago, farmers fed spoiled milk which provided protein and calcium. You can feed yogurt. Some people feed pet food kibble, but personally, the cheap stuff has really gross ingredients in it, and I can’t bring myself to buy it. Honestly if your hens are eating high quality laying hen pellets and not over-indulging on bread and corn, they’ll get through the molt fine.