How do I tell if my hen is laying?
The easiest answer is to catch the girl in the act. This may not be possible with larger flocks of laying hens. There are many signs that a hen has begun to lay eggs again; some are easily observed and others take a little work.
Culling of Laying Hens
If your intent for raising hens is simply egg production, then you will need to learn to pick out the hens that are not producing. Chickens can live 8-10 years and yet a hen will only be a productive egg layer for 4 or five years at most. Now, if you can stomach culling your hens yourself, their tough old bird meat is great for soups and stews. Longer cooking recipies such as Coq auv Vin are perfect for a an old hen that has stopped laying.
Removing older or poorer laying hens from your flock is used to remove underdeveloped, weak, crippled or diseased birds as well as those great layers that have aged past their prime. Culling a flock helps prevent disease and provides more room and food for your healthy laying hens.
Body characteristics of your hens will often display the health of their internal physique. A healthy hen will change her looks as she begins to lay; below I have listed the various traits to look for in determining whether or not a hen is laying eggs:
Healthy Laying Hen Characteristics
- Comb and Wattles: Large Bright Red, Glossy
- Head: Neat and Refined
- Eye: Bright and Prominent
- Eye Ring: Bleached
- Beak: Bleached
- Abdomen: Deep, Soft and Pliable
- Pubic Bones: Flexible, Wide Set (about 2-3 finger widths)
- Vent: Large, Moist and Bleached
Non-Laying Hens Characteristics
- Comb and Wattles: Small, Dull and Shriveled
- Head: Beefy and Weak
- Eyes: Dull and Sunken
- Eye Ring: Yellow Tinted
- Beak: Yellow Pigmented
- Abdomen: Shallow Tough and Tight
- Pubic Bones: Stiff and Closed Together
- Vent: Small, Dry, Puckered and Yellow
There are several descriptions of bleached or yellow coloring in deciding whether or not a hen is laying. Once a hen begins to produce eggs, her body will naturally begin to divert the nutrients that cause yellow tinting from her extremities into her eggs, specifically the yolk.
Bleaching of the hen’s vent, eye ring, ear lobes, beak, feet and shanks is a very good indicator of her egg production. The first part to bleach will be the vent, turning from a shriveled yellow to a white, pink, or bluish white. Not long after the eye ring will lose its yellow tinge and bleach as well.
A hen will slowly turn pale as the pigments leach from their extremities. After the hen ceases to lay, she will begin to recolor again.
The Sure Thing
If you aren’t sure whether or not a hen has stopped laying, simply separate her from the rest of the flock for about a week. This is the safest method if you are afraid of accidentally culling a producing hen.