If you have decided to start with backyard chickens, you are probably trying to learn all that you can about your new animals! Most people keep chickens for eggs, so you might be wondering how long do chickens lay eggs?
When we got our first chickens, we did research on the different chicken breeds, learned what signs to look for when our chickens would start to lay, which breeds are the highest producers and if roosters lay eggs. However, at the start of our chicken keeping adventure, we did not ask how many eggs a chicken will lay.
How Long Do Chickens Lay Eggs?
After having our chickens for a little while, one Spring we found that we had much less in the way of eggs than we had in previous years. We knew how often chickens typically lay eggs and we just weren’t getting that many.
Hmm, we started to wonder why we had a decrease in egg production.
As we started to go through the list of decreases, we realized that it was not a matter of health or environmental components. Rather, it was the pure age of our layers.
How Many Eggs Does a Chicken Lay?
So the question isn’t so much “how long do chickens lay eggs?”, the real question is “how many eggs will a chicken lay?”. You see, chickens are born (or hatched) with a set number of eggs.
This means that a chicken can only lay up to the amount they they are hatched with. Many times it will be other factors, like health, predators, etc, that will ultimately prevent them from laying all of the eggs with which they are born.
Good egg production chickens, like the Rhode Island Red, will lay between 200 and 300 eggs for their first two years. After their first two years they will start to drastically decrease the amount of eggs that they lay.
Because of this, there is a pervasive myth that chickens will ONLY lay eggs for two years. That is not true at all. Assuming they are kept safe from predators, illness, and injury, chickens will continue to lay for the vast majority of their lives.
So, as chickens age, their egg production decreases. This might lead you to wonder, how long do chickens live?
A chicken doesn’t just stop laying eggs, but there are signs to look for to see if your hen has either stopped production or is close to stopping production. So, once your hen hits the two year mark she will still lay, but it may not be as steady as her prime years.
Can You Predict How Long They Will Lay?
Not really. There is no absolutely precise answer to how long will they lay. You can make the assumption that after age two, egg production is likely to start decreasing.
The breed of your chicken will also play a factor into how long they will lay. The easiest way to differentiate the different types of egg layers is to sort them into heritage breeds and industrial breeds.
Heritage Vs Industrial Breed Chickens
Breeds that are mass producers are considered industrial breeds. These are breeds like the White Leghorn. They tend to lay much heavier in the beginning of their lives and therefore have much more dramatic slow downs as they get older.
Heritage breeds that are a more moderate producer may continue to be a low to moderate producer a bit after the two year mark because they have not completely depleted their egg reserve in the first two years. They will still likely slow down their laying after two years but it will be a much less dramatic change.
Heritage breeds are chickens like the Black Austrolorp or Speckled Sussex.
The chicken and egg industry has a pretty big impact on the numbers around average egg production. One of the variables that effects the average numbers is that most commercial egg producers cull their layers around age 2.
As we have discussed, there is a production drop off at that age and for commercial producers that makes it not as economically advantageous to keep those hens around. So a lot of the numbers you see, are kind of skewed by mass production averages.
In terms of backyard chickens, many backyard chicken keepers will keep hens around whether or not they are pumping out the eggs. Also, backyard chicken keepers sometimes have heavy producing breeds like sex links and leghorns, but often times have dual purpose breeds and other more moderate producers.
As we discussed above, these more moderate producers will produce longer since they are not laying all their eggs by age two. We have some older girls in our layer flock – aged about 5 – who still give us an occasional egg.
So, exactly how long do chickens lay eggs? They lay really well from point of lay until around age 2. But moderate layers can continue to produce decently until older ages 4 to 5 and maybe even later.
Make sure to take these facts into account when deciding which chicken breeds you want to get. Do you want mass producers that will dry up around age 2? If so, will you cull them and get new birds then?
Do you want moderate producers that may lay less eggs overall, but will lay longer and will lessen the need to cull and replace as often?