The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

How many eggs does a chicken lay each year?

soft bolied eggThis desperate string of words comes up a lot on search terms that have led people to our site, particularly at this time of year.

People buy pullets in the summer and expect an egg a day from all of them, immediately. We made the same mistake. Our first six months of keeping hens was just husbandry without the egg tithes. We couldn’t understand it. They had a big run, good food, fresh water every day. They also had The Ritz (a hen house version) to roost in and a quiet, snug hay filled nesting box in which to relax and lay eggs. Every day, after they arrived, I checked the nesting box. I was amazed that I didn’t get repetitive strain injury, as I checked at lunchtime and in the evening as well.

We bought our first six bantams in August 2003. Not a single hen had any interest in the nesting box, it was left totally undisturbed. When I lifted the hatch and spotted the first egg in January 2004 I rushed back to the cottage and considered ringing The Times. Danny was suspicious. He examined the egg carefully and announced,
“It’s the first one. It may not be quite right. Throw it away.”

I boiled it gently and enjoyed the freshest egg that I had ever tasted.

The wait for eggs can be a long one. If you bought your hens this summer and still have no eggs you are likely not to have eggs until January. You are probably doing nothing wrong. Possibly the hens that you bought were immature. Carol hatched on April 23 2004 she laid her first egg early in January 2005. She is a Maran, a laying breed. This does not mean that she will lay 365 days a year. She came into lay in January about a month after December 21st when the days start to get longer. She lays an egg a day until the end of August. The egg laying gradually tails off to a stop around now. She is moulting a bit and will now rest until January. And why not? Even hens need holidays.

Carol is over three years old. A younger hen would probably keep on laying until October. That’s why loads of people knock the two year old hens on the head and replace them with pullets. Younger birds, when they start to lay, are more proficient in their egg laying. And their egg laying window is longer, with a higher yield throughout the egg laying season. Until now, Carol has rewarded us with an egg a day when she is in egg laying mode. Next year it could be an egg every other day.

Carol, like all our chickens, is a pet. She will live with us until the end. All our hens have stopped laying for this year apart from one four year old bantam. She is laying for England. Small, sweet eggs that are stashed in the larder and soft boiled for breakfast on days when we need the extra voompf that only an ultra fresh egg can give.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Judy,

    Great to hear about your chickens.

    I love the idea of the Chicken Hilton and the room rate of an egg a day.

    I didn’t know that the paleness of legs can indicate how well a hen is laying.

    Chickens are fun. I’d love to be able to let our hens run free in the garden but the dogs would kill them in seconds. The killed a visiting pair of wild ducks in the Spring, which was sad.

  2. Ages ago when we lived in Connecticut and the children (two) were still at home we had chickens. Paul designed and built the Chicken Hilton – room rates one egg a day. It was a 6 chicken house. Mostly we kept Rhode Island Reds. (I like brown shelled eggs. They’re prettier.) One year we had an overcrowded slum, with 12 hens. There was a 5 week period when I was getting 11 or 12 eggs a week!

    But the best was the time I had ROP – that stands for record of performance – hens. They were Hall Cross Silvers, pale cream with a few partridge-like brown featers. And we got better than 240 eggs per hen per year.

    It got to the point where I could assess the paleness of their legs, scoop up a hen and turn her over to lay fingers over the pelvic area and see how wide was the gap – both letting me know how well that hen was laying.

    Great fun, great eggs. I’m lucky now I can buy them from a friend with pastured chickens.


  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Deb,

    Chickens are great I do hope that you have some of your own one day.

    Our hens have never laid a double yoked egg. How amazing to get six in a box! I found this interesting site explaining how double yoked eggs are laid

    So pleased that you are enjoying the site.

  4. Deb McDonnell

    How I envy all of you with your hens! I had an odd experience having bought a 1/2 doz eggs at Waitrose a few months back. Each egg (large) had 2 yolks in it. What in the world is that all about?? One of these days, we will have our own hens and I will look forward to re-reading this blog as valuable reference. Many thanks for a lovely website.

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Celia,

    Glad to hear that the under gardeners are still laying. Love the comment about the Christmas cake and puddings. Mine are always last minute here.

    Hi Jan,

    I totally agree. I am fond of my flock, even when they are not laying. Percy sounds the sort of chicken that I would love to have around. A real character. Those three eggs much have been very special! What a shame that she drowned.

    I love the p.s. about Lucy. All the glory and none of the hard work!

    Hi Sara,

    Our hens started moulting in their second year. All are moulting now about from Mrs Squeaky Clean. She is white and is never dirty. She must spend hours grooming. I’ve seen a photo of Hatty on your site, she is gorgeous.

    Hi Virginia,

    Glad to hear that your keets are flourishing. Mrs Boss is the same, although the four remaining keets tend to stick close beside her since Lightning died. Our keets are bigger than Mrs B now.

  6. PS. Percy only ever laid 3 eggs in her whole life. Her natural mother, Lucy, would lay a single clutch each year (which she then abandoned for someone else to hatch) and consider her work done!

  7. Mine too. Half the flock are moulting, two others are bringing up families and the few left are struggling to keep us supplied with eggs. One of the Mum’s is dragging motherhood out as long as possible. She’s the one with 9 Guinea keets, now 10 weeks old, and she STILL thinks they need her… they’re as big as she is and have the advantage that they can fly, but she knows best, why start laying when you can laze around in the Autumn sunshine instead of sitting for half a day in a nest box? Who says hens are stupid!

  8. farmingfriends

    Thanks for this post it is good to know that other hens are not laying like my white leghorn Hatty, who has stopped laying and is moulting at the moment.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  9. hens are brilliant. We used to have a mixed flock of various breeds and crossbreeds of banties and bigguns. The commercial ones were easy to catch – touch them and they squatted and you picked them up, unlike the others which needed cornering. One particular bantie – a Blue Andalusian called Percy – was very friendly; she (yes She) liked to perch on your wrist as you walked arund the garden, and would settle on your tummy if you sunbathed and croodled to you. Unfortunately she fell in the pond one day and drowned.

  10. My “under-gardeners” are still laying an egg each every day (they have the odd day off now and again). They were hatched in November 2006 and started laying early in April 2007. A friend once advised that just as you start thinking about making the Christmas cake and pudding, the hens stop laying – which reminds me . . .

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