We get asked this question from time to time, so we thought that with the chick and laying season imminent now, this would be a good time to talk about it.
How Often Do Chickens Lay Eggs?
The short answer is – it depends on the breed, the hen’s age and the season.
There are some breeds that lay furiously and yet others that consider it a bore and lay very infrequently.
First we’re going to look at why different breeds lay different amount of eggs. Then we are going to ‘short profile’ some breeds to give you an idea of what to expect.
Chicken Breeds and Egg Laying
The large majority of breeds that you can buy today are geared towards being productive of eggs and meat.
This means that most birds you get from the feed store or by catalog will give a steady supply of eggs for 1-2 years. After this time they are considered ‘spent’ and industrial concerns will send them to slaughter.
Chickens’ egg laying capabilities can be largely divided into heritage and production– what’s the difference?
As the name implies, these birds are raised to produce large quantities of eggs over a short period of time.
Certain other qualities of the bird were sacrificed – such as broodiness. They will continue to lay after 2 years, but the amount will be significantly less.
Heritage hens are slower to start laying eggs and will not pop out eggs as profusely as production hens. They tend to lay around the same amount of eggs overall, but over a more extended period of time: 3-5 years.
The amount of time it takes for an egg to travel down the reproductive tract and be laid is a fairly consistent 25-27 hour period.
However, the frequency of laying can vary tremendously from breed to breed. As an example a Rhode Island Red production hen may lay five eggs per week, but a Sultan chicken may lay one egg per week.
4 Star Egg Layers
Without further delay, let us introduce you to our selected breeds – we have given them ‘star ratings’, but perhaps a Michelin rating would be more appropriate!
Instantly recognizable by the floppy comb, this breed comes in several colors, the most common being white.
Unfortunately, it is the most abused hen in the industrial setting because of its’ laying ability. Leghorns can lay between 4-6 medium white eggs per week.
Initially they were raised as dual purpose, but the meat is no longer considered to be worthwhile eating.
Leghorns are active foragers and enjoy their freedom. They can be friendly but dislike being handled too much!
Always alert, able to fly well, they may roost in a tree if startled by something. They can tolerate a wide range of weather and terrain – a very adaptable bird.
Rhode Island Reds
The powerhouse layer born and bred in the US! The Rhode Island Red was created in Rhode Island – where it has a monument to its success.
The Rhode Island Red is a relatively common chicken for very good reasons – it can lay 3-5 large brown eggs per week and the meat is also good for stews etc.
Although originally raised as a dual purpose hen, from the 1940s onward many of the strains were raised for egg laying alone.
This had the effect of splitting the breed into ‘production’ Reds and ‘heritage’ Reds.
They are calm, friendly and curious, and will often follow you around the yard to ‘help’. They enjoy being active although they will tolerate confinement.
For a docile and somewhat talkative bird, they can be a bit pushy with other flock members. They are tolerant of a wide variety of conditions and can thrive even in adversity.
This ancient fowl was reputed to have been around even in the time of the Roman invasion of Britain!
The Sussex became the quintessential English table bird for many years and the flavor of its’ meat was said to be unsurpassed.
As a dual purpose hen the Sussex can lay between 3-6 large, light brown eggs per week depending on the particular strain of bird. They are rarely broody.
They are a calm, docile and curious bird – they love to forage and really don’t mind being handled. They have heavy, soft feathering and come in several varieties – speckled, Coronation, light, buff etc.
Tolerant of a large range of weather, this hen is winter hardy but they don’t thrive in the heat.
The Delaware hen is another super layer from the US. It is not an old breed coming into existence in the 1940s when it was the prime bird in broiler houses.
It was soon surpassed by the Cornish cross which grew much faster than the Delaware.
Sadly the Delaware has seen a steady decline in numbers which is sad since it’s a great layer averaging 3-4 eggs per week and the meat is said to be very flavorful.
The Delaware is a calm, confident bird, always alert and loves to forage. They are quite friendly although cannot be considered a ‘cuddly’ chicken – but there are always exceptions.
The plumage is silver/white with some black barring on the tail and neck feathers. They are quite cold hardy but do not do well in heat.
3 Star Egg Layers
Welsummers’ originated in the Netherlands in a small town called Welsum. It is not a particularly old breed, coming into existence in the early 1900s. It is a mix of several different breeds taking the best from all of them.
The Welsummer is a dual purpose breed. As an egg layer it will give you 3 large speckled, terra cotta colored eggs a week! They seldom go broody and are said to be terrible moms.
They are good foragers who like to roam in pasture, but they do tolerate confinement fairly well.
They are a friendly, easy to handle bird. They do like the company of humans but cannot be said to be a lap chicken.
The coloring of the Welsummer is a standard red partridge with gold/red highlights.
The Barnevelder was one of the forebears of the Welsummer – also from the Netherlands. The breed is a bit older; since the mid-1800s and was originally bred for dual purpose.
The original stock was certainly a large table bird with the roosters weighing around 10lb and the hens at 7-8lb.
As egg layers they put out a respectable 3-4, large dark brown, eggs per week. Some folks say the eggs are chocolate in appearance, but I have never seen an egg that dark.
They are docile and friendly and tend a bit towards laziness. They will forage but not as well as other hens.
A low maintenance hen that can tend towards obesity if fed too many treats!
The Plymouth Rock or Barred rock was the outstanding chicken in the US until the World War 2 era. It was found in just about every backyard and poultry concern in the US.
It’s a calm, docile and intelligent bird that is easy to manage, is a good sitter and makes a good mother.
Raised as a dual purpose bird the egg laying is a steady 4 large brown eggs per week. The hens will weigh in around the 7-8lb mark so do make a good sized table bird.
The Rock is tolerant of a wide variety of temperatures from cold to moderately hot. A great addition to any flock.
2 Star Egg Layers
The Java hen has been the base for countless ‘new breeds’ since the Victorian times. It was itself created in the US from several Asiatic breeds around the mid-1800s.
In fact, it is considered the second oldest US breed – the first being the Dominique. It was made as a dual purpose bird and the size reflects that. The roosters weigh 9½ lb and the ladies 7½ lb.
In the egg department they will lay 3 medium large brown eggs per week.
They were listed as critical by the Livestock Conservancy until fairly recently. Backyard keepers, such as us, became interested in this breed and the bird has consequently moved to the lesser ‘watch’ status.
The breed is slow growing, so does not fit well with the modern poultry industry. The Java is said to be friendly, docile, calm, and tolerates confinement well.
The Houdan is an old and noble French breed – it was known in the area before the 1700s.
It was originally raised as a dual purpose breed, its fine white meat being a delicacy. Egg laying is not quite so outstanding. 2-3 small white eggs per week are all you can expect from this charming bird.
The Houdan is probably better known in the US as an ornamental breed sporting a crest, muff and beard. It also has a V-shaped comb and 5 toes – an unusual bird to be sure!
It has a sweet and docile disposition and is easily handled. It does not tolerate the cold very well but enjoys warmth.
1 Star Egg Layers
Someone forgot to tell this little bird that chickens lay eggs! Sultans are beautiful and elegant chickens but lousy at laying eggs.
One small white egg per week is all you will get. However, if you are into ornamental birds the Sultan could be your new best friend.
It seems that the Sultan is a bird that has every design feature given to chickens! It has a crested head, V shaped comb, beard and muffs. Legs and feet are feathered and they have 5 toes. Tails are long but not flowing like some Japanese breeds.
They are a small bird, hens weighing 4lb or so (there is also a bantam variety). They are described as calm, docile and friendly.
There are of course many other breeds to choose from but we have tried to give you a selection of hens that lay from good to poor so that you can see the variability of the egg laying.
It’s always important to ask the seller how many eggs you can expect and for how long they will lay – both in terms of each year and expected lifetime.
If you are not interested in eggs so much but want some unusual or ornamental birds there are several to choose from.
The Sultan is just one of the chickens that lay very infrequently – Cubalaya, Phoenix and Yokohama are all infrequent layers bur require special housing.
We hope this was helpful to you in showing how widely chicken breeds can vary and that there is a chicken breed that will suit you no matter what you ask of it!
Let us know your favorite chicken breeds in the comments section below…