How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Want to know what to look out for regarding chicken behavior before laying their first egg?

There are some behaviors that are pretty strong indicators that a hen is going to lay an egg soon. In this article, I will summarize what to look out for and how you can tell if you’ll find an egg in the nesting box soon!

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How Does a Chicken Act Before Laying an Egg?

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

If you’re eagerly awaiting that first egg from one of your hens and you’re wondering what behavioral cues to pick up on, I can help;

I will start by saying that all hens are different. There are some behaviors and actions that will be unique to an individual hen, and different breeds have some different pre-laying rituals.

With that said though, there are also a few things that are very common among hens about to lay an egg.

In the days leading up to laying an egg, one of the most obvious signs is that you will likely notice their comb and wattle becoming a much brighter red.

They will also start squatting, and might fuss around in their nesting box. It’s almost like they are going through the motions and getting ready to lay an egg…which they are.

Hen’s will also start searching for somewhere to lay their eggs. As long as their nesting boxes are easy to get to, they will almost certainly decide that’s the best spot.

As I mentioned earlier, some breeds behave differently. Leghorns, for example, tend to spend a lot more time searching for a nesting area than other breeds.

Signs a Chicken Is Going to Lay an Egg

To summarize, here are the signs to look out for that a hen is going to lay an egg in the near future:

  • Squatting, especially when you approach
  • Standing still and opening their wings when you’re near
  • Their wattle and comb is redder
  • They are clucking and chatting more than usual
  • They are searching for and building nesting areas

It’s worth noting that these behaviors are triggered by hormones associated with their last ovulation. It’s not something you can or should be trying to stimulate.

Do Chickens Make Noise When Laying Eggs

Chickens do make a noise just after laying an egg, yes. It’s called the “egg song”.

I wrote about it in more detail in this post, why do chickens squawk after laying an egg?

Hens make a lot of noise after laying an egg for a few reasons. It’s an instinctual behavior that they would do in the wild to distract potential predators.

It’s also a way they communicate with roosters and other hens in their flock. And, it’s believed to just be a way they announce to the world they’ve laid an egg as, well, it’s something worth announcing!

If you want to hear the sweet sounds of the egg song, check out this video:

How to Help a Hen Ready to Lay an Egg

If you have pullets or point-of-lay hens nearing a time when they’ll start laying, there are some things you should do to ensure they have everything they need.

This means having enough nesting boxes. It’s also a good idea to place them in different areas with different light exposure. This is because some hens prefer a dark enclosure, while some prefer a little light.

If you can place some boxes up higher, this is also worth testing. Just make sure they have easy access and the box, it’s an adequate size for your bird, and has some litter/nesting materials in.

Failure to put nesting materials in a box is one of the main reasons why hens start off floor laying. Obviously this is a habit you don’t want to start with, so preparation is the key.

In Summary – Chicken Behavior Before Laying First Egg

Now you know the signs to look out for that your pullet/hen is getting ready to lay their first egg.

It’s one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences as a backyard flock owner. Just don’t be disappointed when their first egg is a small one!

There are lots of reasons why chickens lay small eggs when they start laying. It takes time to get up to regular size – it’s not easy producing large eggs, you know!

You’ve carefully chosen your chick breeds, placed your order, and waited patiently for your hatch day to arrive. You’ve successfully navigated the brooder phase and the awkward “teenager” chick phase. Now, the days are nearing when you expect your first eggs to arrive from your hens.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Is She Old Enough?

Breed averages can vary, but typically a pullet (young female chicken not yet laying) will begin to lay eggs around the age of 16-24 weeks. Before she begins laying, you can observe a few signs that she’s almost ready, if you watch closely. Here is a list of things to look for as you anticipate your first pullet eggs from your young flock.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Comb Reddening

A pullet’s comb and wattles will enlarge and turn bright red in color when she’s nearing point-of-lay. The comb and wattles also look somewhat waxy and plump. Comb reddening and development is due to the increased blood flow and higher hormones circulating in the maturing pullet’s system.

The Submissive Squat

Leave it to Mother Nature to know best when a young pullet is nearing the egg-laying age. If you have a rooster or two in your flock, the first sign I’ve often noticed is that the rooster is suddenly interested in breeding with the pullets. If you don’t have a rooster, you may still notice that your pullets begin to squat when you approach them. Squatting with the wings spread out low is a submissive posture a hen takes when the rooster is going to mount. Young pullets will often squat when a human quickly approaches. After she matures a bit more she will learn this isn’t your intent.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Interest in Nesting Boxes

Within a week or two before the onset of laying, you may see a pullet jump into the nesting boxes and check them out. When I see this happening, I like to put some golf balls or wooden eggs in the nest boxes to help the pullets understand that the nesting boxes would be an excellent spot to lay eggs. An egg in a nesting box tells a hen, “this spot is safe from danger for you and your chicks”. If you watch your flock lay their eggs, you’ll notice that a hen will usually get on a nest that already has an egg instead of picking an empty nest.

Also, make sure you have plenty of nesting boxes for the number of hens. I recommend 1 nesting box for every 4 hens. If a newly laying pullet must fight for nesting box space, she will more likely choose an alternative spot that you won’t know about.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Switch The Diet

When you begin to see the first signs of a pullet who is nearing point-of-lay, switch their diet over to a layer ration that contains calcium. Once a pullet begins to lay eggs, their body will pull calcium from her bones and bloodstream if there is not enough calcium in her diet. A lack of calcium in her system can cause weak shells, bone fractures, and possibly even death. In addition to providing a calcium-enhanced layer ration, I provide oyster shell or limestone in a “J” style small animal feeder so the hens can eat extra calcium as they may need it.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Now you are prepared with the signs you may see when a pullet is reaching laying age. Leave us a comment below and let us know what breed you have and at what age she began to lay eggs. Happy chickening!

If you have pullets, you are wondering when they should start laying, but how do you know they are ready to lay or already are laying. If you think your pullets are close to laying you have to look for these clues.

1: Red face with big comb and wattles.
You should be able to tell when your chickens are getting ready to lay their first egg because their comb will start growing really fast and their comb, face and wattles will be a bright red. Here is the difference with a chicken that is ready to lay and a chicken that isn’t.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Is ready or already laying.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

2: when you enter the coop or try picking up your chicken she will squat submissively. Here is a pic that you should be familiar with.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

3: She will go in and out of the nesting boxes and may try to drive the hens away if she is feeling protective.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

4: Since it is her first time laying she may get a lot louder before she begins.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

5: After she gets used to the process things will go more smoothly and less irritable.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

6: It may seem like eternity but soon there will be an egg in the coop.

I haven’t had ducks since I was a kid and although I remember the big important things there are a few things I just don’t remember. Do you see any signs before your ducks start laying eggs? My hens haven’t started yet and I’m wondering what signs I’ll see to indicate they are close to starting. Do they suddenly increase their feed intake? Show unusual behaviors? What tells you your ducks are thinking about starting egg laying?

  • Jan 14, 2016
  • #2

needlessjunk

Crowing

  • Jan 14, 2016
  • #3

Amiga

Overrun with Runners

  • Jan 15, 2016
  • Thread starter
  • #4

Gone-Quackers

Chirping
  • Jan 15, 2016
  • #5

cayugaducklady

Chirping

Mine played hop on top for almost 5 months before they started to lay. Every day seemed like it got more and more ramped up in intensity and how excited they were to head bob and flirty quack to each other. It started with my boss hen ( who has about 2 lbs on the other hens) laying flat in the water, then the boss & the 2nd biggest hen would lay flat in the water. Until all four were laying flat on the water flirty calling to each other until one decided to hop on top.
Now when they hop on top I sometimes see two hens standing on each other standing on top of the boss hen.

My boss hen would make the girls all go into the nest box for about an hour day each day.

I checked obsessively from about 5 months old til Thanksgiving, Then i just gave up on looking for eggs.

Right before Christmas I found 2 eggs in the nest box. I only found them because i fluff the bedding daily as long as temps allow.

My smallest hen laid 2 eggs a day for 2 days. Then she settled in to one egg a day and haven’t missed a day since. My second hen started laying about 1.5 -2 weeks later. I don’t know who the second layer is but i suspect that it is my 2nd smallest hen.

All the hens take a turn in the nest box. My two layers lay in the same nest every day except for the night of our Clipper snow storm. My tiny hen slept under the stars that night and laid her egg outside. Her nest was the only area in the pen that didn’t have snow in it.

Now that two hens are laying I’ve noticed that pecking order has changed a bit. Boss hen is still the talker forthe group but the others will butt peck her to make her move out ofthe wat. THey didn’t dare do that before laying.

When you buy chicks or chickens from a breeder you’ll almost certainly be told how old they are.

However, if you’re adopting or being given chickens by some other means and not told their age it can be hard to figure out how old a chicken is.

How to tell the age of a chicken? There are various physical and behavioral characteristics to look out for that can give you a good indication of how old a chicken is. Such as plumage, activity, egg-laying, crowing, and more.

Let’s start by looking at how chickens develop through the different stages of their lives:

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Baby Chicks to Pullets and Cockerels

You’ll know if you have baby chicks on your hands by their size and appearance.

If they just have some fluff and haven’t started to grow their first feathers yet, they are likely less than 8 days old.

Chickens then go through several mini molts as they develop a coat of juvenile feathers which should be finished when they’re about 20 weeks old.

Around this age is when you will also start to be able to tell the difference between males (cockerels) and females (pullets).

Male chickens tend to have pointer feathers and a thicker and longer plumage around their necks and saddle.

Their tail feathers (sickle feathers) will be longer too. Males also hold themselves more upright and have thicker legs.

Females are smaller, develop their combs slower, and are less boisterous.

Pullets and Cockerels to Mature Chickens

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

A pullet is a female chicken that has not yet started to lay. The age in which a chicken lays its first egg varies depending on the breed and some environmental and living conditions.

It’s not something you can take as an accurate gauge of their age. But it will give you a general idea.

With that said, most hens start laying between 20-24 weeks of age. If your hen is laying, you can be sure they are at least older than that.

If you bought or were given what is known as point-of-lay hens – which means they are ready to lay soon – you’ll notice the pelvic bones moving to make way for an egg.

They will typically lay smaller eggs at first too. This can be used as another indication of how old they are if you take in a chicken already laying.

If you have a rooster on your hands you’re going to hear that “cock-a-doodle-doo” when they are around 20 weeks old.

The combs and wattles will also be developing for both sexes, so these aren’t a very reliable physical trait to use for aging. If you have both males and females, the males will typically have larger combs if you’re interested in knowing the sex of your chickens.

Telling the Age of a Mature Chicken

When chickens, both males, and females are more than a year old it gets a little more difficult to tell how old they are.

If you have a hen, they should be in peak egg-laying age between 1-3 years of age. Check how many eggs per week your breed of chicken should be laying, and see if they’re operating on full production mode.

If all their environmental needs are met; 16 hours of light, good nutrition, stress-free conditions, etc and they’re laying less, it might be an indicator that they’re closer to 4-5 years old.

If you have a rooster, they are in their prime between the ages of 1-3 years old. They will be mating with several hens a day and bossing around the flock.

Roosters also slow down as they age, and who can blame them. They’ll mate less as they reach 4+ years in age.

Other physical signs that your chickens are reaching their senior years is that the color in their combs, wattles, and legs will fade.

Another thing to look out for is chicken’s first full molt as an adult. This usually happens around the 18-month mark.

It’ll typically happen in the late summer or fall so they can replace their feathers and have a nice warm coat in time for winter.

They’ll molt every year after though. So, if you’re not sure you witnessed their first molt, it can be hard to pinpoint their age or how many times they’ve molted.

In Summary – Ways How to Tell the Age of a Chicken

As you can tell from following the timeline above, chickens grow up and mature very quickly. It’s easiest to get a good idea of their age when they are less than a year old and still developing physically.

There are still some good telltale signs to look for in the middle phase of their lives though. I can usually tell when a chicken is between 2-3 years old, or between 3-4 years old based on how active they are.

It’s difficult though, it’s not like they show signs of aging on their faces or turn grey as we do!

Keep in mind that most backyard chicken breeds live to between 6-8 years old.

With so many different breeds of chicken, there are always some exceptions to the rules, however.

Do your best to find out what breed you have and do some research into their individual characteristics and behaviors.

Since I keep a fairly large flock of laying hens to have enough eggs to sell at my local farmers market, I cannot afford to keep too many non-productive hens around that eat feed but don’t lay many eggs. Here are a few tips on how a flock owner can generally tell which laying hen is likely to still be laying eggs and which ones have taken a break from laying or may have completely stopped.

First, we will assume some best practices for optimal laying hen flock management. Briefly, these will include providing an adequate feed ration for laying hens, no heavy parasite loads, no threat from predators, there is an adequate photo-period each day, and that fresh drinking water is available at all times. If any one of these criteria are lacking, it can cause hens to drastically slow or stop laying altogether.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

A hen’s age will be a good indicator of her likelihood of still being in lay. A laying hen will typically begin by 5 to 6 months of age. She will usually continue to lay throughout the next 12 months or so without stopping to take a break. By around 18 months of age, a hen will usually molt her feathers and stop laying eggs for a period of a few weeks to a few months. From that point on, a hen will take an annual break to molt her feathers each fall as she prepares for winter. It’s at this age that I will usually cull my less productive birds and only keep the best layers for the lean winter months.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Feather Condition and Timing of Molt

Usually, the “scruffier” a hen’s feathers are the better layer she is. Feathers are made of mostly protein, and a hen that has nice beautiful feathers is sending more protein and energy into nice feathers instead of eggs. Also, the better producers will molt later into the fall. So those hens that may have already began molting in late summer before the first leaves turn red are not the better layers. Secondly, a hen that has lost the vibrant red in her comb and wattles may have stopped laying.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Pigmentation and Bleaching

In yellow-legged breeds, the yellow pigment will return back to their vent, eye-ring, beak, legs and feet (in that order) when the hen is no longer laying.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Hands-On Observation

Put your thumb and middle finger on the points of her pubic bones on either side of her vent. They should be flexible and wide; about 3 fingers should fit between them. If they are close together and not flexible, the hen is not laying. Also, the vent on a laying hen is moist and oblong shaped. A dry and puckered vent would be an indication of a non-laying hen.

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

By using these guidelines and taking a little time to observe your flock, you can determine who are your better egg layers and who may be getting the free ride in your coop.

Laying hen is a common term for a female, grown chicken that is kept primarily for laying eggs. Some chickens are raised for meat, while others are raised to produce eggs, and some are dual-purpose. People may use older laying hens for food, or raise roosters alongside hens but dispatch the roosters as young, plump birds for the table.

Raising laying hens is a different process than raising chickens for meat. Most laying hens will live five to seven years, laying eggs nearly daily for about three of those years.   You'll need to consider whether you want to feed hens that no longer lay well or whether this is an egg-selling business where you really can't afford to have "grain burners" living in your coop, getting a free ride.

Housing

If you want to raise laying hens, decide what kind of chicken coop you will need for them. You will need to ensure you are meeting the laws of your city, county, and state. These may limit the number of animals you can keep, whether or not you can have a rooster, and where the coop can be located in relation to your property line.

Your set-up will also vary if you buy baby chicks, pullets (under 1-year-old), mature laying hens, and whether you will keep a rooster or not. Chicks need much more warmth to ensure their survival. Your chicken coop needs enough light, usually set on a timer, to mature your pullets to lay eggs and keep your hens producing throughout the year. If you live in a cold climate, you’ll need to make sure that your laying hens are set up to be comfortable through the winter.

Laying hens need their nest boxes cleaned monthly. You will also need to clean and sanitize the coop thoroughly once or twice a year, taking everything out and washing it down with a 1-to-10 bleach solution.  

How to tell when a hen is ready to lay

Feeding

You need to feed a laying hen properly to keep it producing. For those older than 16 to 20 weeks, it is time to switch them to a layer feed, which has extra calcium to help in producing strong eggshells. This differs from a broiler feed, which is made for those breeding other chickens. The layer feed should provide a balanced diet with 16 percent to 18 percent protein and approximately 3 1/2 percent calcium to promote strong eggshells. Calcium deficiencies can result in eggs with thin shells and hens with leg issues, so you may want to offer them free-choice oyster shell for extra calcium. Some farmers feed the chickens higher-protein feed when they are in peak egg production or when they’re eating less during warmer weather.  

If you allow your chickens free-range privileges, they can eat anything from insects and grains to berries, seeds, and plants. Be aware that they will scratch at your decorative plants and in your vegetable garden, so you will want to be able to protect those areas. Some farmers feed their hens, bread and extra cow's milk, though others advise against it.

The average laying hen spends a significant amount of her lifetime producing and laying eggs. Your hen’s body creates a new egg roughly every 24 to 27 hours, resulting in her laying more than 200 eggs each year. If you take a little bit of time to get to know your hen’s laying habits, you should not have any problem telling when your chicken is getting ready to lay a new egg.

Your Hen’s Age

Your hens have to be old enough to lay eggs. Most pullets will be between 16 and 24 months of age when they lay their first eggs. Once the first egg has been produced, the pullet should begin producing eggs with more frequency. Do not be surprised if your hen’s first eggs are small, infrequent or misshapen. It will take her body a little while to get used to producing eggs in a uniform fashion.

Physical Signs of Readiness

If you are waiting on your pullets to mature, there are several physical signs you can look for to tell if the time is coming near. Pullets will develop a more mature appearance, taking on the look of full-grown hens. They will have deeper, darker red combs and wattles and their pelvic bones will begin to separate. You can check your pullet to see if the pelvic bones are beginning to separate by holding her snugly and securely in your arms while you feel the three bones at the back of her body. If the bones feel close together, she is not ready to lay an egg. If the bones are spreading apart, her first egg is probably going to be on its way soon.

Searching For Privacy

If your hens live in a coop, you can expect a hen who is getting ready to lay to start searching for a private place to lay her egg. Your coop should be equipped with nesting boxes full of nice, dry straw or clean wood shavings so that your eggs will have ample cushioning. A hen who is getting ready to lay an egg will climb into the nesting box and may start scratching around or rearranging the bedding until it suits her liking. You may notice her spending a significant amount of time inside the nesting box before she actually lays the egg. If your hens are free-range, you may notice your hen disappearing into the far corners of your yard for extended periods of time as she searches for a private place where she feels safe laying her egg.

Laying Behavior

When your hen is ready to lay an egg, she will sit on her nest and may be seen straining slightly. Some hens will also become vocal, crowing, cackling or otherwise calling out to the other members of the flock as they lay their eggs. If your hen seems to be spending a significant amount of time in the nesting box and straining but does not produce an egg for several days, she may be egg bound and you should contact your veterinarian.