Plenty of beginning keepers (and people who were once beginning keepers) probably know the feeling. You’ve set up a comfortable environment, and kept a healthy, happy flock, but you just aren’t getting any eggs. Take heart; odds are, if you’ve done your due diligence, that there’s nothing wrong with you or your chickens. Whilst waiting for our own to get a wriggle on I’ve listed a couple of things here to keep in mind if you are waiting for those first eggs, and in some cases even encourage them.
The oldest virtue is sometimes the only one you’ll need. New owners of a young flock are often understandably anxious about production, and it’s tempting to get a little panicky after a few months without results. Staying calm and waiting is often the best thing you can do. If your chickens are happy with their chicken coop and surroundings, and you’re feeding them well, time is often the only solution. While you may have heard that laying generally begins when a bird is around 18 weeks old, that estimate’s on the optimistic side, and doesn’t account for differences in breed. It’s perfectly normal for a hen to start laying only after around 22-24 weeks, with heavier breeds (e.g. Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks) and in particular ornamental breeds (e.g. Langshans, Cochins) taking even longer to mature.
Sometimes, despite well-furnished nest boxes, and a hen house built from a materials list as long as your arm, your hens just might not take to their surroundings. Some seemingly non-laying flocks are actually just exceptionally sneaky ones. Hens are naturally inclined to find secretive, secluded areas to nest, so if they’re not laying in their boxes, they may just be finding their own hidden nooks. If you do discover some of these secret nests, it’s best to quickly remove any eggs, then block off the area to discourage further use.
One solution you may have already heard of is to place fake eggs in desirable laying spots. Doing so lets your girls know that the area is safe, and encourages each hen to use it for her own clutch. You can easily find false eggs at a supply store, or even at a neighborhood arts and crafts outlet. Wooden and ceramic eggs are both perfectly effective (the latter might be easier to clean), and even golf balls are usually enough to help point a hen in the right direction. One thing they probably won’t do is jump-start a hen’s egg-laying – something determined primarily by age – but they can at least make sure that you’ll be able to find most of the eggs your flock produces.
Eggs weren’t always a perennial food. In the days before the role of vitamin D was understood (a discovery followed by use of artificial light), a Winter egg was a rare find. Hens are naturally heavily seasonal creatures, and as the days grow shorter and colder, they become less and less likely to produce eggs. Some breeds have a reputation for cold resistance, which allows them to keep laying as the thermostat drops. Rhode Island Reds, Black Giants, and Buff Orpingtons are just a few examples of some breeds that are a little more cold hardy.
However, no matter how resilient the bird, they can still be affected by reduced sunlight, thanks to some hard-wired neurological requirements. It’s possible to rig your own system to make sure that they still receive enough light to feel egg-y. A relatively simple combination of lights, timers, and patience can extend your hens’ perceived daylight hours, and should keep laying right on through the darker months. Check here for a more full length tutorial on setting things up.