Rare is the hen that will lay an egg every day, year round. Most hens lay in cycles. Depending on the hen’s breed and age, one cycle may last for 12 days or as long as a year. The total number of eggs laid within one laying cycle is called a clutch.
Eggs per Clutch
Most hens take 25 to 26 hours to produce one egg. You can see, then, that if a hen lays an egg at 6:00 in the morning today, tomorrow she will likely lay between 7:00 and 8:00. Egg production is light sensitive, and eventually the hen will lay too late in the afternoon to start developing the next egg. She’ll therefore skip one day, or more, before starting a new clutch in the morning.
All the hens in a flock don’t start laying at the same time or on the same day, and they don’t all have exactly the same laying cycle. A hen that takes longer than usual to produce each egg will lay fewer eggs per clutch than a hen that lays every 25 to 26 hours. Likewise, a hen that takes less than 25 hours to produce each egg will lay more eggs per clutch.
Production breeds are developed to have the shortest possible interval between eggs and therefore lay as many eggs as possible per clutch. In 1979 a super strain of Leghorns developed at the University of Missouri averaged more than one egg per day per hen. One of the Missouri super chickens laid 371 eggs in 364 days.
Eggs per Year
Chickens that are developed mainly for exhibition purposes have not been bred for a high rate of egg production. Therefore, they lay somewhat fewer eggs than layers developed specifically for production. The poorest layers are hens that readily go brood. Such chickens prefer to spend more time hatching eggs than laying them.
As a Hen Ages
When a pullet (young hen) first starts laying, she may lay only one egg every 3 or 4 days until her reproductive system gets fully geared up. Then, after she’s been laying for about eighteen months, she’ll take a break to molt and refresh her plumage. After the molt she’ll lay fewer eggs per clutch than she did during her first year. This pattern continues as the hen ages — each year she will lay fewer eggs than the year before.
Aside from a hen’s breed and age, her egg production is affected by many external factors, including temperature and light. Hens lay best when the temperature is between 45°F and 80°F. When the weather gets much colder or much warmer, egg production slows down.
Most hens stop laying in winter, not because the weather turns cold, but because reproduction is sensitive to light exposure, and daylight hours are shorter in winter than in summer. When the number of daylight hours falls below 14, hens may stop laying until spring.
A healthy and well managed hen should lay for a good 10 to 12 years. Occasionally, you’ll hear of a hen laying to the ripe old age of twenty, by which time she’d be doing well to lay one egg a week.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow, author, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens