Do all chickens lay eggs? It’s a great question, and one we hear often, especially when people come to visit our meat birds. While all HENS (female chickens) have the ability to lay eggs, there are a few more factors at play here. Age, breed of chicken, health of the bird, time of year, feed… all of these areas need to be taken into account before you can find out whether a particular chicken will lay eggs. We’ll jump into the quick answer below, then explain more about the different types of birds, which breeds are the highest producers, and what you can do to increase egg production.
Do All Chickens Lay Eggs?
All female chickens (called hens) have the capacity to egg eggs. However, the number of eggs chickens lay regularly can vary greatly depending on breed, as well as a number of other factors. In addition, chickens don’t start laying until they are about 16-24 weeks of age. Roosters (male chickens) – just like male humans! – do not have the capacity to lay eggs.
(Because we keep our meat chickens for only about 8 weeks before processing, we never see a single egg from these birds!)
Can hens lay eggs without a rooster?
Yes, absolutely! Hens don’t need a rooster in order to lay eggs. Having a rooster only means that the eggs may be fertilized. No rooster means unfertilized eggs. In other words, without a rooster to fertilize the eggs, they won’t ever be able to develop into chicks.
Don’t worry, you can still eat fertilized eggs! Just make sure that you collect your eggs daily if you have roosters to ensure that they don’t have time to start developing into chicks.
Should you have a rooster, then? Well, the main benefit of adding a rooster to your flock is that they can be excellent for protecting your hens. Roosters are loud and can be excellent at scaring off any predators.
Their loudness can also be a downside though, especially if you live close to town and have neighbors who don’t appreciate the crowing. It’s always a good idea to check local ordinances before getting a rooster (and even before getting hens, for that matter). The other potential downside to roosters is that they can sometimes be aggressive toward people, especially small children. Sometimes, roosters may also fight with each other once they reach maturity.
Some of the most gentle roosters for backyard flocks include the Ameracana, Orpington, White Leghorn, Jersey Giant, and Cochin.
Types of Chickens
There are dozens of different chicken breeds out there, but there are also three main “types” of chickens, if you will. These include egg layers, meat chickens, and dual-purpose chickens. Each category has specific traits that make it best for its “job”.
The breeds included in this category of chickens are typically the best for egg production. They’re generally leaner and lighter than meat birds, and can lay more eggs in their lifetime than their meat bird counterparts. Some breeds that are best known for their egg-laying abilities include White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, Australorps, and Isa Browns, among others.
If you want a steady supply of fresh eggs, getting layers is definitely your best bet!
These birds grow fast and are heartier and heavier than layers. Meat chickens are sometimes also referred to as “broilers”. Although these birds can lay eggs, they aren’t as efficient at the job as laying breeds are. In addition, chickens raised for meat generally only live for about 6-12 weeks before they’re ready to be processed. If your goal for your chickens is to get meat on the table, this type of bird is definitely your best bet.
The top breeds for meat production include Cornish Cross and Freedom Rangers.
Cornish Cross are a very popular meat bird that’s bred to grow extremely fast. They’re ready for processing in just 6-8 weeks. While they can range in weight from about 6-10 lbs, our recent batch of Cornish Cross broilers capped out with a 10 lb chicken. These guys are huge.
The benefit of Cornish Cross is that they grow so quickly, but you also have to be on top of taking care of them. These birds need to be put on a 12-hour on, 12-hour off feed schedule for most of their lives. If they grow for too many weeks or eat too much feed, they’re prone to health problems, such as heart failure and leg issues (because their bodies get too heavy for their legs to hold).
Freedom Rangers are another great choice for broilers that don’t grow as fast but also aren’t prone to as many health problems. These birds are ready for processing in 12-16 weeks. They’re not as economical as Cornish Cross birds, but can be better foragers and overall a little bit healthier birds.
We’ve raised both and honestly can’t justify going back to Freedom Rangers now that we’ve experienced how economical and easy the Cornish Cross are. And the meat tastes great, too!
Dual-purpose birds are – you guessed it – birds that are decent for producing both eggs and meat. These birds aren’t as hearty as broiler breeds, but, unlike layers, they, have enough meat to provide a dinner and be worth your while. They’re also decent at egg production, but don’t produce as many eggs as laying hens that are bred for that purpose. So, in a way, dual-purpose chickens give you both the best of both worlds and the downsides of each category, too.
Still, many chicken owners love the flexibility that these birds provide. And if you pick up a batch of straight run chicks on sale at your local farm store, you can always keep the hens as layers and process the roosters around 6 months old. Some of the best dual-purpose options for backyard chickens are heritage chicken breeds including Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, and Brahmas.
When Do Chickens Start Laying Eggs?
Generally, chickens will start to lay eggs when they’re about 16-28 weeks old, or around 6 months of age. However, this depends largely on the breed of chicken. Chickens that are bred for their laying abilities may start laying as soon as 16 weeks, while dual-purpose breeds are closer to 24 weeks or even later.
However, keep in mind that hens don’t lay as much as in the winter – largely because of the decreased daylight hours. So, if your chicks happen to be born in the fall, rather than the early spring or summer months, they may not start laying until the following spring.
Getting that first egg is definitely exciting, no matter how many years you’ve spent raising chickens. Some signs that your hens may start to lay soon include:
- Larger, redder combs and wattles
- More talkative birds (more singing and squawking)
- Eating more
- Submissive squat
- More exploratory
When Do Chickens Stop Laying Eggs?
Egg production decreases as hens age. Most hens lay for about 3-4 years, although some can continue laying for 5 or more years. Layers generally reach peak production during their first year of life, around 30 weeks. Around year 3, production starts to decrease.
If your goal is a regular supply of fresh eggs, it’s important to stay on top of knowing the approximate ages of your chickens so that you can integrate new birds into your flock on time.
Chicken Breeds with High Egg Production
As we’ve mentioned, different breeds of chickens have different strengths. If your goal is maximum egg production, here are some of the top breeds to consider.
These birds lay white eggs and can lay around 250-300 eggs per year. They’re social birds that are hardy and can handle hot weather.
These dual-purpose birds are easily spotted by their black and white stripes. They lay light brown eggs and can amazingly produce for up to 10 years!
Rhode Island Reds
Rhode Island Reds are one of the quickest producers, starting around just 16 weeks old. These birds are another hardy breed that can lay 200-300 eggs per year.
Isa Brown hens are a super friendly breed that also start laying early. These amazing birds are often known to produce over 300 eggs per year. If you want a fresh supply of eggs, these are your girls!
These birds are very cold-hardy and great for cooler climates. They lay 200-280 eggs per year, and can be broody compared to other breeds.
Lastly, a lot of people love Easter Eggers for their beautiful blue eggs, green eggs, and sometimes even pink. If you want to add some color to your daily egg supply, definitely add some of these beautiful hens!
What Factors Influence Egg Production?
Okay, now you know what breeds are best for egg production. But are there other factors that go into this equation of maximum and consistent egg production? YES!
Some of the quickest-to-lay breeds, like Rhode Island Reds, can start laying their first eggs as soon as 16 weeks. However, around 4-6 months of age is average for young hens to start laying. Most hens reach peak production during the first year of their life, and production declines during the second or third year.
If you’re not finding as many eggs in the coop each day, it may be because you have older hens. It might be time to start integrating some younger birds into your flock!
Another major factor that can influence egg production is the season. Hens tend to lay fewer eggs during the winter months for a few reasons. The biggest factor is the decreased number of hours of daylight. Longer summer days, with 14-16 hours of light, stimulate hens to lay more eggs. During the short, winter days, some chicken keepers add artificial lighting to help aid the chickens in laying more eggs.
Besides daylight hours, the cold weather also means that chickens burn more calories trying to stay warm and spend less energy on egg production. They also miss out on many of the summer greens that are available during the warmer months, which contribute to providing nutrients for egg laying.
Next, chickens spend about 2-3 months per year molting. Molting is the process by which they lose their old feathers and re-grow new feathers. Because molting takes up so much of the hen’s nutritional needs, hens often stop laying during their molting season. This typically happens sometime in the fall.
Next up, stress. Just like we can’t function our best when we’re stressed, neither can chickens. The stress category is an important factor in determining how many eggs a hen lays. Some of the main forms of stress for chickens include danger from predators, heat stress, moving to a new chicken coop, not having enough space, and stress within the coop from meaner birds. Any and all of these factors can cause hens to take a hit when it comes to their egg production.
Lastly, the overall health of the hen has a major impact on how many eggs a chicken lays on a regular basis. Healthy hens have access to food and fresh water. They have their nutritional needs met with a complete layer feed and maybe even added oyster shell (which helps to fortify the eggs if you’re noticing soft shells). They’re getting a balanced diet with not too many table scraps, which can throw off their protein levels (a few snacks are okay, of course, as long as they’re safe for chickens!).
Free range chickens who have access to adequate greens, experience low stress, have clean nest boxes, and receive proper nutrition will generally produce a generous amount of eggs, assuming they are the right age and aren’t currently molting.
Hoping to Start Your Own Flock?
There’s really no comparison between farm-fresh eggs and store-bought eggs. If you’re looking to start your own flock of layers, check out our blog post on the best layer breeds for backyard egg production!