How Chickens Lay Eggs

Hens can lay eggs without a rooster


The Spruce / Steven Merkel 

You're not alone if you wonder how chickens lay eggs. Healthy female chickens, known as hens, can lay eggs, whether or not a rooster is present. Eggs will be unfertilized if the hen has no access to a rooster, which means the egg will never develop and hatch into a chick. Hens will lay eggs when there's plenty of daylight (around 14 to 16 hours), beginning when they are about 18 to 22 weeks old. Healthy hens can lay an egg about once a day, but may occasionally skip a day.

egg laying basics for chickens

The Spruce / Ashley Nicole Deleon

How Hens Produce Eggs

The reproductive system of hens consists of an ovary and an oviduct. Although hens are born with two ovaries, one will shrink and become non-functional. The remaining healthy ovary is where the development of the egg begins. It takes about 24 to 28 hours for a hen to develop an egg.

Creating the Yolk

The yolk is created in the ovary and, when ready, gets ejected into the first part of the oviduct, called the infundibulum. This is where fertilization takes place if the hen has mated. After mating, the sperm of the rooster travels to the infundibulum, where it fertilizes the newly released yolk from the ovary.


Click Play to Learn If Chickens Can Lay Eggs Without a Rooster

Forming the Egg White

After about 30 minutes, the egg travels further along the oviduct to the magnum where the albumen, or egg white, begins to form. After about three hours, the thick, white albumen is about halfway developed, and the egg moves further along the oviduct.

How the Shell Forms

The next stop is the isthmus, where the inner and outer shell membranes form. The albumen continues to develop, and the shell membrane forms over about an hour or two.

After leaving the isthmus, the egg enters the uterus where it will remain for 18 to 24 hours while the hard outer shell develops. Once the shell is formed, the egg is pushed through the vagina and exits the hen's body via the cloaca (vent), which is the posterior orifice.

hen grazing
The Spruce / Steven Merkel

Fertilized Eggs vs. Non-Fertilized Eggs

If a hen is able to mate with a rooster, then its eggs may be fertilized. Fresh eggs can be consumed whether or not they are fertilized. If you are collecting the eggs every day or two, then there is no chance of finding a developed chick in an egg when you crack it open.

Fertilized Egg Development

For the chicken embryo to develop into a chick, the egg must be incubated for 21 days. The hen can do this by sitting on the eggs; this is called "going broody." If the hen does not go broody, then the eggs can be placed in an incubator for 21 days.

If fertilized eggs are collected shortly after laying and are kept in a cool place, then the embryo will not mature. Some breeds of chickens are more likely to go broody than others. In addition, if one hen becomes broody, the other hens around her may also become broody.

Visual Differences Between Types of Eggs

If you want to know whether or not a freshly laid egg is fertilized, this may be accomplished through a process called candling. Hold the egg up against a bright light and examine the contents for shape and opacity. You may be able to see the early stages of the embryo and sometimes blood spots as well. However, it typically takes a trained eye to see the differences between fertilized and unfertilized eggs at this stage.


Although there are minor differences between fertilized and unfertilized eggs, there is not necessarily a difference in the flavor, consistency, or nutrient content of the egg.

fresh eggs from a hen
The Spruce / Steven Merkel  

If a Hen Doesn't Lay Eggs

Some hens will never lay eggs. This is often due to a genetic defect but may have other causes, such as poor diet. Contact a veterinarian if one of your hens seems to be having trouble laying eggs.

Breeds That Produce Lots of Eggs

Breeds of chickens are good for either laying eggs or for their meat. Chickens that are prolific egg layers produce between 200 to 300 eggs a year (averaging one to four a week). If you prefer chickens that are known to produce an abundance of white or brown eggs, consider these popular backyard breeds:

Factors Affecting Laying

Hens become mature enough to lay eggs at around six months of age. The first eggs laid by young chickens may have soft shells or abnormal shapes. Laying hens must have enough daily protein and calcium in their diets to lay eggs with hard shells.

But the time of year is another important factor affecting laying. Ovulation and egg production depend on nature's light cycles. In the winter, hens naturally slow down egg production when it's darker for longer periods unless they are exposed to artificial light. Suddenly when spring and summer are in full swing, hens will begin laying again with fervor.

  • Why do chickens lay eggs without mating?

    It's the chicken's natural biological process to produce unfertilized eggs to lay, regardless of whether the egg will be fertilized by a rooster or not.

  • When do chickens stop laying eggs?

    It may depend on the breed, but the egg production of a chicken declines as it ages. Backyard chickens tend to retire from laying eggs between five and seven years of age.

  • How do chickens make egg shells?

    An egg will enter a shell-making gland that calcifies layers of calcium into a hard shell.

  • Does it hurt a chicken to lay an egg?

    No one knows for sure, but there are signs it can be a little painful to expel a large egg, such as bleeding from the vent. Hens can also produce vocalizations during laying that sound like they could be in pain.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Raising Backyard Chickens for Eggs. University of Florida Extension.

  2. Backyard Chickens. Cornell Cooperative Extension.

  3. Raising Backyard Chickens for Eggs. University of Florida Extension.

  4. Meet the Top 15 Brown Egg Layers. Backyard Poultry Magazine.