In late March we simply had a heap of peeping fluffy chicks…

…but now it’s August, and our pullets have started laying their first eggs!

The first egg from our 2010 pullets!

Our girls are coming online right on schedule. On average, pullets come into lay somewhere between 18-22 weeks.  Ours have started laying at just over 20 weeks of age.

Beginning at 18 weeks we transitioned the pullets to an organic layer-diet that is lower in protein, and higher in calcium compared to their grower-diet, in preparation for egg-laying.  We also began to leave the nest box shutters open during the day.

Small shutter doors between the nest boxes and the main coop allow us to control access to the nests

We open the shutters during the day so the pullets have free access to the nest boxes

The pullets, like this Partridge Plymouth Rock, access the nest boxes from inside the coop when the shutters are open

Chickens defecate where they sleep at night, so we close the shutters at dusk to prevent the chickens from roosting in, and soiling the boxes.  This keeps both the boxes, and the next morning’s eggs, clean.

At night the doors are latched closed to prevent the pullets from sleeping in the boxes

With our previous hens, if we accidentally left the boxes open after dusk, one box would quickly turn into the chicken equivalent of a clown car, and five or six hens would try to squash themselves into one box for the night!

In addition to leaving the nest boxes open during the day, we also placed artificial eggs in each box.

An artificial resin egg was placed into each nest box

This wasn’t to ‘teach’ the pullets where to lay eggs.  Providing there are designated nest box areas, pullets are actually quite savvy, and will naturally seek out such an enclosed area to lay their eggs away from the rest of the flock.  However, this time we have a large rooster in the mix.  Siegfried is housed with the ladies full time.  Part of our concern was that he could easily break an egg, even if it’s just out of curiosity.  The artificial eggs gave Siegfried and his flock an opportunity to be inquisitive about these new objects in the coop, but these eggs can’t be broken.  This desensitizes them to the sight of eggs in the nests before the real, more fragile eggs are laid.

We’re not specifically concerned with the physical loss of a broken egg per se, but broken eggs in the coop can lead to a very nasty habit in chickens.  Egg eating.  Once started, even if only one or two pullets engages in egg breaking/eating behavior, it is nearly impossible to extinguish this behavior once it starts.  Oddly enough, chickens love the taste of their own eggs.  Not particularly advantageous from an evolutionary perspective, but important to know that it can and does occur, and often starts when they first begin laying eggs due to accidental egg breakage.  Desensitizing the flock to the presence of eggs, and quick retrieval of eggs once they are laid both help to prevent egg-eating behavior from starting.

So, back to our pullet eggs.  Thus far it looks like just one or two of the Delaware’s have started to lay.  On Tuesday, after hearing a round of rather loud clucking from one of the Delawares, I went up and peeked into the nest boxes. Nest box one…fake resin egg.  Nest box two…fake resin egg.  Nest box three…Oh! A PAIR of eggs!

Fake resin egg on the left; our first real egg on the right

Since Tuesday, we’ve had one additional egg each morning so far, including this morning, although not necessarily all from the same pullet.

The classic clue that a pullet is becoming sexually mature, and will soon be coming into lay, is the ‘egg squat’, where the pullet will quickly crouch low to the ground when approached by a handler (or a rooster).  Additional clues are a significant reddening of both the comb and wattles, and noting an increase in the time a pullet spends investigating the nest box. Here you can see that a young Buff Orpington, accompanied by one of our Delawares, is checking out the Curbstone Valley egg-laying accommodations.

Our first little ‘pullet egg’, was just a mere 40 grams in weight, compared to the 55-70 gram eggs laid by our mature hens.

An average hen egg on the left; our first pullet egg on the right

Pullet eggs, or practice eggs as they are sometimes called, are usually quite small compared to the eggs of a regularly laying hen.

A peek inside shows that the hen egg on the left, compared to the pullet egg, is really only different in size

The pullets are just laying eggs for the first time, and as such undersized eggs are normal when they first start to lay, as the pullets themselves aren’t quite yet full grown.  It’s also not unusual to occasionally find a pullet egg without a yolk, or sometimes an egg may be laid without a shell at all, or with a very thin, soft, or friable shell.  This is completely normal in newly laying pullets, providing after a few false starts, their egg production normalizes.  We’ll get into the complexities of egg-formation in a future post.  However, as mentioned before in regards to egg eating, it’s important to keep a close eye on the pullets at this stage so any shell-less mishaps are cleaned up quickly.

So now that our girls are coming online we expect that they’ll soon be producing lots of beautiful brown eggs, like these ones from our orchard hens.

Our old hens aren't laying as often, but their eggs are still beautiful

Omelette anyone?