by Meredith Chilson
Photos by author
…when’s she gonna lay an egg?
Not so very long ago I was waiting for the mailman to bring my box of baby chicks. Now, I’m waiting again—for the very first egg from those same chicks. They’re no longer considered chicks, though—they are “pullets”—the proper word for female chickens under one year of age. I still think of them as my teenagers, but they are 16 weeks old now, and I am watching for the signs they may be thinking about taking the next step to become “layers”.
There are several things to look for:
· Interest in nest boxes
A few weeks before a chicken lays her first egg, you may notice that she shows an interest in nests. They may find a corner of the coop or yard and nestle into it, even tossing a piece of straw or litter onto their back, just like laying hens do when they are getting ready to lay an egg. You may see your young chicken stretching her neck to look up into a nesting box, or she may even hop up into one. Often, my teenagers will try out one nest, then another, then another, and finally hop back down and go about their business.
Red comb and wattles
Another sure sign that egg-laying days are close to beginning is the color of the comb and wattles on your pullet will turn from a pale color to red. The wattles, the fleshy growth on the neck, will develop, too, and also be red. Here are two of my pullets—they are the same age, but the Barred Rock’s comb is much paler than the Rhode Island Red’s, and the Rock’s wattles have barely begun to develop.
If you reach to pat your chicken and she dips down into a squat in front of you, this is a good indicator that she is only a couple of weeks away from laying. This is a sign of submission, showing she would accept a rooster. Usually her wings are held out a bit from her sides, and her tail may even be raised.
Chickens can begin laying eggs anywhere from 16 weeks to 24 weeks, depending on breed, health and weather. If it’s very hot weather or very cold weather, chickens may put off laying eggs for a while. My pullets are 16 weeks old this week, but because they are considered heavy birds– there are Speckled Sussex, Barred Plymouth Rock, and Rhode Island Reds, I really don’t expect them to be laying eggs much before 20 weeks of age.
At 18 weeks, I will switch them from “grower/finisher” feed to layer feed. This feed has more calcium and 15-16% protein. Calcium in the form of self-feed oyster shell is already available in the coop.
Since I already have laying hens in the coop, the nests are ready. I have two tiers of nests with a piece of plywood angled over the top to prevent roosting. There’s a walkway in front of the nests and a board about 3 inches high all across the front to keep nesting material (and rolling eggs) in the nest. I use either flake shavings or straw in the nests for litter, depending on the time of year and availability, but whichever nest material I use, I make sure that there’s plenty in each nest for a cushion.
Sometimes first eggs are small, misshapen, yolkless or without a shell—with just the membrane holding the contents. As the chicken’s body adjusts to laying eggs, her system will settle into a rhythm. A good layer will lay 3 eggs in 4 days. This, too, is dependent on breed, health—and yes, the weather!
I was impatient for my chicks to arrive, and now it’s almost as difficult to be patient when waiting for the first egg!
“Oh, I had a little chicken, and she wouldn’t lay an egg….”