Summer is just around the corner and your spring chicks are approaching puberty, which means you can anticipate the arrival of eggs soon! Assuming they’ve enjoyed good food and care, the young hens, called pullets, begin laying sometime between their 16th and 24th week of age.
Discovering a hen’s first egg from your own hand-raised chicks is a thrill. Pullet eggs are tiny and look like gems in the nest. Although the first eggs your birds lay may be small, irregularly shaped and/or inconsistent, don’t panic! The eggs should norm out over time in size and frequency.
If your pullets are over 16 weeks of age, now is the time to switch them to a layer feed, as laying hens need special nutrition. Producing eggs places great nutritional strain on a hen’s body. Just think of the calcium she is giving up each time she lays an egg! Look for a layer feed that has the minerals, vitamins, protein and other nutrients needed to help keep your birds healthy and productive. Now would also be a good time to supplement calcium by putting oyster shell out or sprinkling it on the coop floor for hens to discover and eat.
Are your pullets ready to lay eggs? Here’s how to tell:
- Chickens will be between 16-24 weeks old
- Pullets look full grown with clean, new feathers
- Combs and wattles have swollen and are a deep red color
- Bones in the hen’s pelvis will begin to separate.
To check if the hen’s pelvis bones have begun to separate, cradle the hen between your side and arm with the hen facing your back so you see its rear end. Carefully hold the bird’s feet so it can’t kick. Place your other hand gently on the hen’s rear end. If three prominent bones are close together, don’t expect eggs for a few more weeks, but if the bones have separated, expect eggs soon!
Pullets like to lay eggs in privacy, and it’s important to have nest boxes in place before the first egg arrives. These can be purchased or made of lumber and should be approximately 10-12 inches square and about 18-inches deep. Install one nest box for every two to three hens and place them from one to three feet above the floor. Line the nests with straw, dried grass, wood chips or even shredded paper to help keep the eggs clean.
In no time at all, you’ll have an abundance of eggs – right from your own backyard!