A healthy hen will lay up to 250 eggs in her first full year. Note: Some breeds are closer to 200 eggs and others are more than 300 eggs annually!
There are a number of reasons that a hen doesn’t naturally lay an egg every day, 365 days a year:
Every year, chickens “ ‘molt,” usually in the autumn. During this “vacation,” the hens lose their older feathers and grow new feathers.
A hen need a consistent 12 to 16 hours of light per day to lay eggs. While she’ll lay 5 to 7 eggs in the spring and summer, she’ll slow down in the fall and winter. You could add an artificial light/heater (setting from 4 A.M. to 8 P.M.) but also this will shorten your hen’s laying years.
Weather can also affect egg production, such as very hot days when hens are overheated.
The level of nutrition, parasites and disease, chicken housing, and the presence of predators also affect daily egg production.
Most chickens will lay eggs in cycles. After laying 8 to 12 eggs in a row, a hen will take a day off of laying and then continue the cycle again.
Egg laying slowly drops as the hens get older. Their first full year of egg laying is about 250 eggs up through her first winter. This is the reason you want to get baby chicks in early spring! The second year is 80% of production, the third year is 70% of production, and the fourth year is 60% of production. Hens will lay until they are about 5 to 8 years old. What do you do when you hen stops laying?
Why It Takes One Day to Lay an Egg
The amazing creation of a single egg takes at least 24 hours, with much of the process happening overnight. About 20 of the 24 hours is spent forming a strong exterior shell which is made of calcium. This protects the interior yolk from bacteria.
The process starts with the hen releasing a yolk. Just as human females are born with all their eggs, female chicks are born with all the yolks (called “ova”) in their ovaries.
As a singular yolk (“ovum”) enters the reproductive tract, strands of white protein spin around the yolk which creates the egg white (called “albumen”) and keeps the spinning yolk in the center. Another double membrane is added and the oval egg shape is formed.
The next 20 hours are spent in shell formation. A strong shell requires a healthy hen with strong calcium levels, just as humans need calcium to avoid brittle bones. The hen gets calcium from her food but most chicken farmers add supplemental calcium just as humans take vitamin supplements. If the hen doesn’t get enough calcium, she will leach calcium from her bones (just as a human baby will take the calcium it needs from the mother). If you are raising chickens, keep crushed oyster shells in a dispenser that’s always accessible to ensure that the hen will get the amount of calcium she needs for strong eggs.
Finally, egg travels to the vagina (pointy end down) so the egg can be pushed out of the hen’s body. During this time, a clear coating (called the “bloom” or “cuticle”) covers the shell to protect the egg from any bacteria getting inside by sealing the 6,000-8,000 shell pores. The egg flips so the more rounded end is downward and releases from the hen for a soft landing into her nest.
How Many Chickens Do You Need for Eggs?
A hen will product 5 to 7 eggs a week as long as she has enough light. However, as discussed above, you need to factor in that hens will skip a day every so often. Therefore, if you want to be almost guaranteed of a dozen eggs per week, we’d suggest at least three hens or, depending on breed, up to five hens. If you want two dozen eggs per week, then you’d probably want 6 to 10 hens.