Keeping chickens for eggs and as pets is popular in both rural and in urban areas. I have kept chickens and geese as pets for 17 years and never tire of watching them root around the yard. I didn't start out as a chicken lover. I was strictly a dog and cat person. I didn't want chickens.
My husband convinced me to "get a few chickens" all those years ago, and I am so thankful he did. Who knew that chickens make such great pets? They are entertaining, personable, and even trainable. And they lay eggs regularly. Even if you do not like eggs, friends, neighbors and people you haven't met yet do.
If you are considering chicken keeping, here are a few of the basics related to egg-laying biology of chickens and geese. I have been asked many times if hens will lay eggs without a rooster around. Do they? How often do they lay eggs? This FAQ addresses these questions and looks at some 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) lays 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. Additional safe egg handling resources below.
At What Age Does A Hen Start to Lay Eggs?
The age at when they 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. I 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 1.5 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.
Safe Handling Tips for Eggs
- How to Collect, Clean and Store Chicken Eggs
- Home-Produced Chicken Eggs
Colorado State University Extension
- Food safety checklist to get cracking with farm fresh locally produced eggs
University of Minnesota Extension
Benton Franklin Heath District (WA state)
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. I have found that 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 properly incubate. Some hens will sit for periods much longer than 21 days.
This is not ideal for a couple 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. The About.com Small Farm site has many tips on chicken keeping and is a great place to 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 a 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.