Chickens have been domesticated for thousands of years. Having originally descended from the Junglefowl of Asia and Southeast Asia, modern-day chickens are much-transformed from their ancient relatives.
Humans have bred chickens for their meat and eggs, which are staple foods throughout much of the world. So, how often do chickens lay eggs?
Under optimum conditions, modern chicken breeds can lay as many as 250 to 300 eggs per year or around one a day. Such breeds include Leghorns, Orpingtons, Australorps, Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, and Sussex, to name but a few. As a result of selective breeding, chickens today lay more than twice as many eggs as they did 100 to 200 years ago.
Chicken egg production highly depends on the bird's health, the time of year, and other factors. Most hens will only produce their max egg output for a year or so, and production will drop thereafter.
In the poultry industry, hens that surpass their ‘optimum’ are typically slaughtered and replaced.
Of course, there are many valid criticisms and complaints about how and why humans have bred chickens to lay more and more eggs.
While egg laying is not especially harmful to a hen, there are concerns about interbreeding chickens to lay larger and larger “jumbo” eggs that chickens aren’t able to lay safely.
Continue reading to learn all about what affects egg production for chickens, along with some other closely related questions!
Breeds like Leghorns, can lay up to 300 eggs a year, under optimum conditions
Several breeds of chickens can easily lay 250 to 300 eggs per year. That amounts to around one egg per day or five a week.
Hens can only lay that many eggs for 1 to 3 years. After then, egg production tends to drop rapidly.
Many breeds lay fewer eggs than that - typically between 100 and 150. There are a handful of breeds that only lay around one egg a week, like Sultans and Yokohamas. These chickens are “show birds” and have been bred for their looks rather than their eggs!
Wild chickens, called Junglefowl, lay around 10 to 14 eggs per year. This is pretty typical among birds - most species usually only lay a single clutch annually, with some exceptions.
So, domestication has transformed a bird that lays a single clutch of around 10 eggs into one that lays up to 300.
Chickens kept in the ‘wild’ as free range also lay fewer eggs than industrially farmed chickens. For example, the hens of game breeds like the Old English Game and American Gamefowl lay 150 or fewer eggs per year.
American Game Fowl hen in chicken coop
In the wild, hens and other female birds attempt to mate with a male while they’re producing eggs. If a female mates during egg production, the male will fertilize the egg.
The female bird will then wait to lay the eggs, at which point incubation takes place, and with any luck, the egg will hatch into a live chick.
In domestic settings, hens lay eggs regardless of whether a male (rooster) is present. The whole point is that the hen lays an unfertilized egg that cannot develop into a chick.
Domestic hens produce eggs all year round - they’re hormonally programmed to do so. Hens cannot know whether their eggs will be fertilized or not, so they continually lay them in the hope that a male will fertilize them.
In the wild, unfertilized eggs are discarded once the bird realizes that they’re not going to hatch. However, this doesn’t often happen, as the female will have already united with an eligible male once she’s ready to reproduce.
Free range chickens walking about in the grass
While modern chickens are interbred to produce high volumes of eggs throughout the year reliably, many factors affect a chicken’s egg-laying rate, including:
Hens often start laying within just five months of being born. Egg production typically peaks within the first 8 to 12 weeks and declines after that. After 12 months, egg production declines to about 65%. However, egg weight actually increases slightly.
Sufficient energy levels, protein, vitamins, and minerals are all required for efficient egg-laying. As a result, healthy chickens lay more eggs.
Calcium is essential and is often supplemented. In addition, industrial chickens are typically fed with a feed designed for egg-laying.
Several factors affect the egg-laying abilities of chickens
Sufficient light helps hens maintain their circadian rhythm, which is essential for their reproductive cycle. Natural light is ideal, but industrially farmed hens are also provided with artificial light.
Various diseases and parasites affect egg-laying. Healthy hens lay more eggs and recover quicker in between laying each egg. If a hen stops laying suddenly, it might be because of illness.
The breed has a profound effect on egg-laying. Some chicken breeds lay 250 to 300 eggs per year, whereas others lay less than half of that.
Breed plays a big part in how many eggs chickens can lay, with breeds like Australorps able to lay between 250 and 300 eggs a year
The season affects the broodiness of some hens, boosting or reducing egg-laying. Hens typically lay more throughout the traditional spring breeding season (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least).
However, in the winter, egg production typically drops. Industrial farmers combat this with heat lamps and indoor heating.
Hens form close-knit social groups. Egg laying and brooding is often a cooperative effort, so chickens need to be well-socialized with their groups to achieve optimum egg-laying. Stress reduces egg-laying.
Rhode Island Red hen with her chicks
Chickens have been selectively bred for various purposes, including as meat, eggs, and for show. Chicken breeds selectively bred for their eggs lay considerably more than those bred for other purposes.
Several breeds can reliably lay between 250 to 300 eggs per year under optimum conditions, including:
Other breeds lay less frequently - around 1 per week - such as the Sultan, Cubalaya, Phoenix, and Yokohama. Game breeds like the Old English Game and American Gamefowl lay about 100 eggs yearly.
Close up of a New Hampshire Red hen
Younger chickens often appear to be in some pain and discomfort when laying their first eggs. However, chickens gradually get used to laying, and it tends to get easier throughout the first year. Whether or not laying continues to cause pain depends on the breed.
Some breeds have been selectively bred to lay larger-than-average eggs, and these have come under criticism from animal rights groups which highlight the pain and discomfort inflicted on the hen. On the other hand, some breeds handle egg-laying very well.
Young hens are sometimes known to lay two eggs a day or eggs that contain two yolks. This is rare and becomes rarer as the chicken matures.
Mature chickens lay a maximum of one egg a day.
Hen in straw nest with her eggs
If you keep chickens in a natural, free-range environment, egg-laying will slow in winter or even stop completely. This is perfectly normal. Like most birds, chickens’ reproductive cycles synchronize with the seasons and peak in spring.
Sunlight stimulates chickens to lay, so they can be tricked into laying throughout winter by being exposed to heat lamps, which is typical in industrial egg farming.
The “egg squawk” released by a hen after laying an egg is thought to scare off predators in the immediate vicinity but may also signal to her flock that she’s finished laying an egg. This squawking can continue for some 15-minutes after laying.
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