There are a number of things that influence the time of day your chickens will lay their eggs. Because of this, you will not know exactly what time to go collect your eggs. But with a little information you can make a pretty good guess as to what time of day they will lay and schedule your collecting appropriately.
How light exposure affects egg laying
Light is the trigger that starts the formation of an egg inside a hen. Once that process begins, it will take about 26 hours for the egg to be finished. About an hour after the hen lays that egg, the process will start all over again, provided there is light to trigger the production of the next egg.
Most hens will lay within six hours of daylight, or artificial light. A chicken’s egg production is dependent on light. They need about 14-16 hours of light a day in order to trigger their bodies to form an egg. If they are getting less light, for example, in fall or winter when the days are shorter, they will lay less frequently and may stop laying entirely for a few months. Chickens are sensitive to both the duration and intensity of light. Although they will lay less often in the winter, when there is not enough light to trigger egg production, when there is enough light to trigger the process, the time to make the egg will be the same length it is in summer, about 26 hours.
If they are very cold in the winter, they will also stop laying in order to conserve energy. Laying an egg takes a lot of energy and nutrients. A poor diet is another reason that hens sometimes stop laying or lay less frequently.
Will hens lay eggs during the night?
If the egg is completed during the night, the hen will not lay until morning. Chickens are busy sleeping at night, and they will not wake up to lay an egg, but gather the strength and energy they need to lay the egg first thing in the morning.
With an average production cycle of 26 hours, you can see that your hen will not lay at the exact same time from one day to the next. In fact, they will lay a few hours later each day. Since their reproductive cycle is triggered by light, they will eventually lay late enough in the day that it will not be light enough to trigger a new cycle to start. In this case, the next egg will not start to form until the following morning. Which means there will be no egg laid until the following day.
Differences in egg laying between breeds
Some chicken breeds lay more eggs than others. Laying hens have been bred to ovulate more frequently than other birds, this means they are producing eggs more frequently. Breeds who lay less often do not take longer to form an egg, they simply have a longer waiting period between ovulations.
How many eggs do chickens lay, by the breed
Breeds that lay up to 300 eggs per year.
- Rhode Island Reds
Breeds that lay up to 250 eggs per year.
- Plymouth Barred Rock
- Jersey Giant (This breed is usually raised for meat, due to its large size.)
Not all chickens will lay such a bounty of eggs. Breeds such as the Japanese Bantam and Silkies are primarily kept because they are cute, and will lay less than 100 eggs a year.
Can egg color be a clue to laying time?
Some scientists were curious if there was a difference between what time of day eggs were laid and the color of the egg. They found that white eggs were more likely to be laid in the afternoon and brown eggs in the morning.
What age will hens start laying eggs?
Most hens will begin laying eggs when they are six months old. However, this can vary between breeds. Some breeds will begin to lay eggs as young as four months old. Early laying breeds include the Plymouth Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, and Cinnamon Queen. Chicken breeds that are dedicated egg layers, as opposed to meat production birds, will start laying earlier. Meat chickens, such as the Jersey Giant, will still lay eggs, but they will not start until later, around the full six months. There are many breeds that will lay their first egg sometime between four and six months of age. There are many other factors that can influence how soon hens lay eggs.
Because light affects how often chickens lay eggs, it is also a factor when they first begin to lay eggs. For this reason, if it is summer when hens are around four months old, they will start to lay eggs much sooner than they will if it is winter when they are around four months old. Even an egg laying breed may wait until around six months of age if it is the dead of winter when they are old enough to start laying eggs.
What you feed your hens also affects how soon and how often they lay eggs
Creating an egg requires a lot of nutrients. If a hen does not have enough nutrition in her diet to support egg laying, she will begin to lay at an older age and will lay eggs less frequently, giving her body time to acquire the nutrients needed to create an egg. There are a lot of healthy ways to feed a chicken. You can buy formulated food (such as Purina), mix your own food, or add in a few extra supplements. Whatever type of food you choose, here are some essentials chickens need in order to lay eggs early and often.
- Oyster shells-It is very important that hens have a high calcium diet. In addition to their feed, fill a dish with oyster shells. They will not eat more than they need, and this will help them get the calcium they need in order to form the eggshell.
- Fat-chickens are omnivores, when left to free range they eat a lot of bugs, this provides them with high levels of both protein and fat. A simple way to make sure they get enough healthy fat in their diet is to add some black sunflower seeds to their diet. They don’t need a lot of these, just throw some out as a daily treat, or mix a little into their feed.
- Grains-The base of a chicken’s diet is grains and seeds, they will eat these right off the ground as they are foraging around. Grains and seeds support the energy needed to lay an egg.
- Dried meal worms-These are a high protein treat for hens and they love them. You don’t need to add them to their feed, but you can throw out a handful every day to boost their protein levels.
You may not need to supplement with anything is you buy a pre-formulated feed, but not all feeds are high quality, though they all cover basic needs, they do not all provide an optimal diet for your laying hens. If your hens have not started laying, or are not laying frequently, try adding in these supplements to see if it helps your chickens lay eggs. When choosing a formula feed, read the ingredients and nutrition label carefully. Most do not contain oyster shell so it is highly likely you will need to add that to their diet separately. Also, be aware that some chicken feed is formulated for meat birds and those feeds will not support egg production. Make sure you pick out a feed designed for laying hens.
Hens lay eggs more frequently when they are happy and healthy. If your hens are stressed for any reason, they may stop egg production. This stress could be caused by a predator attack, the death of another hen, or physical stress caused by mites, worms, or infections. The best way to get hens laying again is to make sure they are physically healthy, give them some nutritious treats, and give them time to recover from the stress.
Ultimately, hens lay eggs when the egg is finished forming and they are awake. The cycle to create an egg takes about 26 hours, so you won’t get your eggs at the same time each day. While you may find a few eggs in the coop each morning, you may also find eggs in the afternoon. The best time to collect your eggs is as soon as you see them. That might mean you collect a few when you open the coop in the morning, and you pick up several more when you go out in the evening to close the coop up for the night.