Mar 14, 2012

When Do Chickens Start Laying?

One of the first questions every backyard chicken owner wants to know is when will my chickens start laying eggs?  The general rule is sometime between 4 and 6 months of age (16-24 weeks).  

We got our first batch of day old chicks on July 6th.  I counted the weeks and we expected that sometime around Thanksgiving, our Rhode Island Reds should begin laying (everyone else in that image turned out to be a rooster).  They would then be about 21 weeks old.  They did not disappoint.  We got our first egg a week later on December 2nd.

Image Source

It took a few weeks before all three of them began laying.  In the meantime, we occasionally saw a soft-shelled egg or two in the coop.  This happens more often in the early stages of laying, but can apparently occur, sporadically, throughout a hen's life. 

After the 1st few soft shelled eggs, we haven't seen any more from the Rhode Island Reds.  On average, we get 2 eggs from those 3 hens each day.

In October, we purchased a group of 10 4-week old pullets (Barred Rock and Silver Laced Wyandotte) from someone on Craigslist.  Again, I counted the weeks and expected them to begin laying sometime in mid-February when they would be 20-21 weeks old. 

barred rock hen
Barred Rock

We saw a few soft-shelled eggs during the month of February so we knew they were getting close.  This group took a couple weeks longer than our RIRs, which was likely due to the season (chickens lay less when there is less daylight), but we got our first pullet egg from this group on March 3rd.  They were about 24 weeks old then.  We believe it was from a Barred Rock because a couple of them look more mature than the other chicks do. 

chicken eggs in a nesting box

For each of the past 3 days we have had 4 eggs in the coop, so we believe another one of the younger pullets (the term used for a hen before it begins laying eggs) has begun laying.  We can't wait to catch them in the nesting box to see exactly which ones are. 

If you don't know your chickens' hatch date and can't calculate their age, another way to guess when a pullet will begin laying is the color in her face and comb and the comb's size.  It was a telltale sign for us.  As the chickens matured and neared laying age, their faces and combs deepened in color and their combs grew.  You could almost see the change daily.  Here are a couple examples:

rhode island red pullet
Rhode Island Red Pullet (about 18 weeks old)

rhode island red hen
Rhode Island Red Hen (about 22 weeks old)

Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast rule about how long it will take for your chickens to begin laying eggs, but we've found that the general rule of thumb of 16-24 weeks is true.  Of course, we'd love it if they had started closer to 16 weeks, but we're pleased as punch to see eggs in the nesting boxes each day.  It's such a good feeling knowing where our breakfast comes from!

As a side note:  I don't recommend purchasing chicks or chickens from someone you don't know and trust.  We had a hard time with the group we bought off Craigslist and lost 3 chicks within the first few days of bringing them home.  It was very disappointing and going forward we will only purchase from a hatchery or trusted seller.

If you just got your backyard flock or are thinking about taking the plunge, be sure to check out our top tips for owning chickens here.

I'm linking up with Rural Thursday,  Farm Girl Friday  and Homestead Barn Hop.


  1. Thanks for this post, it's really interesting as I am hoping (as long as city council approves my permit application) to get a few laying hens this spring. :)

    1. Good luck! I hope you get approval soon. Besides the benefit of eggs, they are so fun and have more personality than you might think.

  2. I am always learning here on our little farm. I noticed the comb color and size changes for the first time this year and knew they were getting close! Nice informational post!

  3. my next door neighbor has chickens and they sell eggs when they end up with too many. my husband went over a couple of nights ago to see about buying some but they slowed down production over the winter i guess....i've been thinking about getting a few though for us :)

  4. Sorry you lost some of the Craigslist chicks. We've always used a hatchery for ours. I never knew that about the comb growing!

  5. One of our hens hatched 4 chicks last year and I'm hoping she'll do the same this year. They are so cute! Great information for the beginning chicken-mama. :)

    Thanks for sharing at RT!

  6. I don't have chickens but friends do. Farm fresh eggs are the BEST! Mmmm.

  7. This is a great post for those beginning or thinking of starting their own flock.

  8. Very informative post. We've always purchased our chicks through the local feed store and have had good success. Never had RIR's but have had Barred Rock and Sex Links.

  9. Interesting info! We are hopefully getting chickens this year. Did you feel like the day old chicks were better with your family then the ones that you got at 4 weeks? I have heard that getting them as chicks means they can become gentler than if you buy older chicks or pullets. I don't know if I want to get chicks or if we just want to try a few pullets first to see if we really want chickens :-)

  10. I never thought of watching their comb growth. Good idea. Of course, with our Americauanas that would have been a moot point, but with the rest, I'm going to watch this time. Thanks for sharing on the Barn Hop.

  11. We got chickens earlier this year, and I can't wait until they start laying! One neighbor boy keeps asking if our chickens have "starting pooping out eggs yet." LOL!

  12. when we first got chickens we got ones that were laying and was told they were a year old. they laid really good for the first year and then only about half. we then hatched off some ourselves, which was the most exciting, then brought some from tsc. all in all the ones we hatched out were the most fun. they started to lay at about 5 months. we have barred rocks. light brahmas, australorps and some mixed breeds. the mixed seem to lay first.


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