Keeping chickens for eggs and as pets is popular in both rural and urban areas. Surprisingly, chickens make great pets -- they are entertaining, personable, and even trainable. Even better, they lay eggs regularly.
If you are considering chicken keeping, here are a few of the basics related to the egg-laying biology of chickens and geese. A popular question asked is if hens will lay eggs without a rooster around. This FAQ addresses whether this is possible, how often they will lay eggs and other interesting chicken egg facts.
Does a Hen Need a Rooster to Lay Eggs?
This is the most-asked question by people curious about chickens. Most people are quite relieved to learn that the answer is "no"-- the hen (female) will lay eggs with or without a rooster (male) present.
What Happens When a Rooster Is Present?
Hens lay eggs on the same schedule as without a rooster present.
If the rooster is allowed to mingle with the hens, there is a high likelihood that the eggs will be fertilized. This could result in chicks if the eggs are allowed to incubate (either in the nest under the hen or in an egg incubator).
Collecting the Eggs
Eggs should be picked up daily and refrigerated immediately for proper food handling.
At What Age Does a Hen Start to Lay Eggs?
The age at when hens start laying varies somewhat with the individual bird, the breed of chicken, and the time of year (sooner for spring chicks, later for winter chicks), but most start to lay eggs around 6 months of age.
The first eggs may be misshapen or soft or even have a small amount of blood on the outside shell.
When a hen starts laying eggs, the diet should be switched to "layer feed" to ensure proper nutrients. You may also offer crushed oyster shells for calcium.
How Often Do Hens Lay Eggs?
This is another "varies with the individual bird and the breed" answer. Some chickens lay an egg almost every day, others every 1 1/2 to 2 days. Younger hens (called pullets if less than one year old) will lay smaller eggs at larger intervals until they reach maturity.
How Long Do Hens Lay Eggs For?
For backyard/pet chickens, the peak laying time is the first 3 to 4 years of age. Again, this can vary greatly between individual birds and breeds. Hens don't have a definite end to egg-laying, but eggs become fewer and at greater intervals as they age.
Do All Hens Sit on Nests?
No. Hens that do sit on nests are called "broody" hens and may be hard to rouse from the nest. Banties (small breed chickens) more commonly go broody. As with other egg-laying traits, certain breeds are more likely to go broody.
When Does a Hen Sit on the Nest?
Typically the hen waits until a clutch of eggs is laid, then begins sitting to incubate the eggs and ensure that they all hatch around the same time.
How Long Until the Eggs Hatch?
Fertilized eggs will hatch 21 days after the hen begins incubating (sitting on) the nest.
Caution is advised with some broody hens; they may keep laying or "collect" eggs into a giant nest that they are unable to incubate properly. Some hens will sit for periods much longer than 21 days.
This is not ideal for a couple of reasons:
- The eggs will rot (smelly!).
- The hen may neglect her own health -- forgoing food and water and at risk for collecting parasites (mites) from inactivity.
If You Are Interested in Keeping Chickens
This is a very basic overview of chickens and eggs -- you can find more tips on chicken keeping and continue your research.
Many university and county extension offices and community education organizations offer classes on backyard chicken keeping covering housing, diet, and general health in detail.
Networking with others is another great way to get started and get help should a problem arise in your flock. Knowing other chicken keepers is also great for those times when you need a knowledgeable chicken pet sitter.