Like all other animals and birds, hens, too, like to raise their families and live with them. In the wild, they have all the freedom and time to lead their lives like any other ordinary bird. There is enough food that makes sure their bodies are fit and strong to go through the painful process of laying eggs.
There are enough mating partners as well which means few of their eggs will go unfertilized. In a factory environment, an average chicken may lay as many as 300 eggs per year. But in the natural wild, they produce just about 12-14 eggs per year in mostly two egg-laying seasons. This is just enough to keep their family continue.
But, how often do backyard chickens lay eggs?
How Many Eggs Do Chickens Lay Naturally (How Often Do Chicken Lay Eggs In The Wild)
For the hens in the wild, it takes a good deal of nutrients and energy in the body to form and produce an egg. In nature, making and passing an egg involves so much energy and labour that hens lay eggs only twice a year and can at best produce 10 to 16 eggs per year. The red forest fowl from whom the common layer hens have been derived lay on average only 5 to 7 eggs per clutch, twice a year.
Through genetic manipulation and breeding, hens are now made to lay 250 to 300 eggs per year. While they do produce eggs for most of the year in commercial breeding farms, their bodies take a heavy toll due to the depletion of nutrients. In nature, wild hens, like most other birds, lay eggs only during the breeding season, which primarily falls in the spring. The number of eggs that they produce is just enough to make sure that their lineage continues and their gene survives.
The maximum number of eggs a backyard chicken can produce is 600
The maximum number of eggs that a backyard chicken can produce in her lifetime is estimated to be 600. However, now the number is steadily going up thanks to the practice of selective breeding. In 2013, the oldest backyard British hen produced her last two eggs at the age of 17. Two American hens rose to prominence for laying eggs even in their advanced age. Before dying at 12, Cornell Endurance had laid 1,232 eggs while Cecilia who passed away at 10 was close behind, a farm magazine reported in 1922.
However, the productivity of hens also depends on the breed type. If the comparison is between ISA Brown and Silkie chickens, ISA Brown will win by a long margin. But in terms of visual appeal, Silkie chickens with their fluffy and colourful plumage will stand far ahead of ISA Brown. If eggs are an important factor for you to rear backyard chickens, you should try and find breeds that lay more eggs and also invest in creating a favourable environment for them to lay eggs and hatch them.
The hens’ laying capacity depends on several factors such as life span, feed, breed, and environment. Backyard chickens are most productive up to the age of 4 years and by that time they are likely to have laid hundreds of eggs. Commercial farming of eggs in the US averages out at 276 eggs, in Australia at 200 eggs (at the rate of 5 eggs per week), and in Canada at 320 eggs per year.
When Do Chickens Start Laying Eggs
Chickens start laying eggs at an average age of 6 months. However, it depends on the breed. Some chicken breeds such as Sex Links, Australorps, Golden Comets, and Leghorns can start laying eggs as early as 17-19 weeks. However, heavier breeds such as Largsaer, Wyandottes, Orpingtons, and Plymouth Rocks would usually start laying at 6-8 months. However, coming to maturity is not the only factor for the birds to start laying, climate, too, play an important role. Your chickens may or may not start laying eggs if they attain maturity during the fall or the winter. If they do not, they will start laying in the upcoming spring.
If it is neither fall nor winter and your birds have grown beyond 8 months but not laying you need to look for reasons why it is so.
Eggs During Winter
If your birds are laying eggs even during the winter, you can consider yourself lucky. Chickens need at least 14 hours of daylight to be able to lay eggs. The sun triggers a hormonal activity in the chicken’s body that prompts their bodies to start making and producing eggs. So, it is important to ensure that your chickens are getting about 14 hours of daylight to make them form and produce eggs. Depending on where in the world your chickens are being reared and what kind of coop environment is being provided to them, the chickens can lay eggs once in a while even during the winter. But this is not what you can put a bet on.
For most hens, the peak egg-laying season is the spring and summer while the production seems to taper during the fall and winter. This is so under natural daylight conditions because they need long days to be able to lay eggs. However, people wishing to extend the egg-laying period of their birds use artificial light such as an electric bulb in their coop. If it is you, too, you should use the bulb along with a timer and set them to illuminate the coop in the early hours of the morning when it is still dark outside.
While many hens would lay eggs beyond the age of 5, if your bird has stopped laying even though it is much younger than that, it could be because it’s the time to moult. It’s not eggs alone that drive people to raise chickens. Take time to find out how you can prevent your older chickens from becoming cranky.
What Time Of Day Do Chickens Lay Eggs?
Chickens are known to be secretive about their egg-laying spots. If you know your chickens are laying eggs but you are not able to find them, it’s a clear sign that the chickens are using a secret spot to deposit their eggs. But if you know the likely time they will lay, it will help you start scouting for the eggs. Sometimes, you may be driven just by the curiosity to know which hens lay at what time.
Typically, chickens choose morning hours to lay their eggs. But this is not a black and white rule. As chickens have a 26-hour long egg-laying cycle, there cannot be a fixed time for the chickens to lay the eggs. What is, however, can be said with some degrees of certainty is that they will lay the eggs in the first six hours since the sunrise if they are at all the lay eggs that day. However, chickens laying eggs in the late afternoons are not entirely unknown.
While you cannot predict with certainty when your chicken is going to lay the egg, you can largely figure it out by working out the 26-hour egg-laying cycle and the fact that it will most likely lay the egg in the first six hours since the sunrise. This should give you some idea when to approach the coop for the eggs.
How Do Chickens Lay Eggs Every Day
Chickens produce eggs daily unlike other birds that lay eggs once or twice a year. Hens lay one or more eggs a day for a few consecutive days to make a clutch. However, these eggs may or may not be fertilized. But if you collect the eggs daily, the bird will continue to lay eggs because its objective is to create a clutch, which is nearly a dozen eggs. Once the chicken has enough eggs, she will sit on them like other birds irrespective of the fact that they are fertilized or unfertilized. Usually, hens lay their eggs close to the eggs laid by other hens. Sometimes, you can also spot one of them scooting the other’s eggs into their eggs.
Hens that are bred to have a long laying season can go on laying hundreds of eggs in a season while those who are not bred to be so would lay about a dozen eggs and only during the season in a year.
Why Does A Chicken Lay Unfertilized Eggs
The reason why chickens lay unfertilized eggs is that the development of eggs and their exit is independent of fertilization. The eggs are developed before being fertilized. The chicken would not know right in the beginning whether or not the egg will be fertilized. It has to keep growing the egg in the hope that it gets fertilized. In the wild, mating is more commonplace and most eggs end up getting fertilized. The chicken is biologically programmed to lay eggs whether they are mating or not, which depends on whether they have the company of a rooster or not. Its body has such a biological mechanism that it will take and pass an egg every 22 to 27 hours. This is not contingent on the fertilization status of the egg.
A majority of the birds would neither produce unfertilized eggs nor lay them all year round. However, the chicken is a domesticated bird that has been bred for thousands of years.
How Do Chickens Lay Eggs
As in the case of women, hens, too, have ovaries. They too have a menstrual cycle during which the ovary dispatches a yolk on the path that can lead to fertilization and reproduction. The yolk moves further and eventually becomes what is commonly known as egg-white. Usually, it would take about 26 hours for the yolk to become a fully formed egg in the uterus. But some hens can make their eggs even faster.
When the egg is ready, the hen’s uterus contracts and pushes the egg gently through the vent to come out. After about an hour of laying the egg, the hen’s body releases yet another yolk and the entire process of egg formation repeats itself. This process continues daily as long as the chicken is laying eggs. Collecting the eggs as early as they are laid helps prevent the hens from becoming broody.
How Do Chickens Hatch Their Eggs
In the wild, the hen has an abundance of food to keep herself full of strength and energy required for the egg-laying activities. There are enough male chickens to mate with and get their eggs fertilized. Before starting to lay the eggs, the hen meticulously creates a safe nest for the eggs — full of grass, leaves, twigs, and feathers. During the egg-laying period, the hen spends more time in or near the nest and when all the eggs are out – at most 14 at a time – the incubation period begins.
Over the next couple of weeks, the hen tries to maintain the humidity and temperature around the egg by carefully sitting over and occasionally turning the eggs with her beak. During the incubation of the hatching period, she hardly ever leaves the nest. When chicks are well-formed and mature enough to come out of the shell, the hen can hear their chirps, though extremely feeble.
The chicks use a spur found on the top of their fledgling beak to break open the shell and come out. When all the chicks are out, the mother hen guides them to a source of water for their first drink. Now, she starts to train them in finding food and keeping themselves from predators. Over the weeks that ensues, the hen protects and nurtures the chicks selflessly.
Compared to how they live and grow in the wild, the life of chickens in the factory farms is arguably pathetic. These factories work on the principles of high volume and low cost which practically means a living hell for the birds.
In contrast, how often do backyard chickens lay eggs? Backyard chickens have a better life as they have the freedom of moving around and finding their food. They also mate and lay eggs more naturally. They usually lay eggs twice a year and in many moderate quantities than their factory counterparts.
An interesting aspect of their egg-laying phenomenon is that many a time the eggs are unfertilized, meaning no chicks will emerge from them. This prompts people to collect eggs for food. Interestingly, if they are your hens and familiar with you, they don’t seem to mind this.
This way, having backyard chickens is a more preferable option. However, eggs or meat is not the only reason why people raise them. Some people simply love birds and like to have their company.