First, a disclaimer. This is the first time I have been owned by a chicken. Started with three, and after a raccoon-induced thinning of the flock, I am down to one chicken. My chicken is an Easter Egger, from Meyer Hatchery.
Starting the first day I had the little ball of fluff, my eye has been on the prize, waiting for the very first egg. I am happy to announce that today, August 26, 2012, our first egg appeared, exactly five months, one week and one day from her own hatch day.
In the past months, I have googled variations of "How long does it take a chicken to lay its first egg?", "What signs to look for when your chicken is about to lay an egg?" and my favorite, "Is there any way to induce labor in a chicken?" Patience is not a closely held trait of mine.
Here's what I have observed.
As you read above, my chicken took slightly over 21 weeks to lay its first egg. Somehow, I was under the impression that she could start as early as 16 weeks. I have read that each hen and each breed is different. Easter Eggers, I've read, are among the slowest to pop out the first egg. But when it is your first, it seems a lot longer.
Another tip was that her comb would get redder when she is ready to start producing. Although I didn't actually make a chart, I did start to take daily pictures of her about a month ago. What I discovered is that her comb changes color throughout the day. Some times a pale red, others bright red. Her comb seemed about as changable as my own complexion. Redder when it was hot outside, paler towards the end of the day or after chasing her rabbit pal around. So I give the comb color a one cluck on the laying meter. Didn't help me at all.
Next tip, was that she might start squatting down when I pet her. Oddly enough, the first time this ever happened was this morning, AFTER she laid her first egg. She's very sociable, likes to be held, but when she is cruising around my feet or picking at my shoelaces, all she has ever done is a little sidestep when she sees my hand coming down.
I did notice this past week that she would occasionally sit in the grass. Just sit. With a periodic leg stretch from the seated position. Just a few days ago, I actually called my husband outside to look at her, since I wondered if she was sick. Even as my husband approached her, she didn't move. He's perfectly harmless, not a chicken beater or anything, but she generally gets out of his way. I'm the one who has bought her affection via poo shoveling, food, water and treats, although I am not certain my poo removal service has garnered me any particular preferential treatment. This behavior was different from the dirt baths she takes. So as to the petting squat, I give this tip two clucks, since maybe she is a little more skittish than most.
Looking for or spending time in her nesting box. Again, true confession. My five month, one week and one day old chicken has had an official coop for approximately six weeks. "Have your coop and brooder all ready when your chicks arrive!" Although I kept emailing my husband photos of coops and was actually accused by him when he caught me up, in the middle of the night, trolling sites "You are addicted to chicken porn!!" our coop did not become functional until a little more than a month ago. And she still doesn't 'go home to roost' at night. She instead hops up on a tarp covered, four foot high cage which is sitting in our back yard (don't ask why), flops down and goes to sleep there. So mommy (that would be me) sneaks out, grabs her from her non-roost and puts her in the coop. Which is also not an easy process. She puffs up to the size of a small St. Bernard, and manipulates her shoulder blades just so, rendering it virtually impossible for this five pound chicken to squeeze through a 15" by 10" door. The moral of the story (if you are still with me), is that she didn't show any particular love for her nesting box before her first egg. But I do think she has been sleeping in there. I religiously check the nesting box each morning after she has been let out to roam. My anticipation was high, every day, hoping to open the lid and find that first proof that I was not going to have to invest in fertility drugs for my chicken. Alas, my reward was somewhat egg shaped, a mix of dark and light, and I was pretty sure my family would not welcome this chicken output on their breakfast table. So again, two clucks for this tip.
Pre-egg song. Nope. Didn't get this sign of imminent egg-laying either. No squalk, no dinosaur noises, nothing. She did seem to perk up a bit when "Call Me Maybe" came on the radio, but she didn't seem to know the words. Can't even give this one cluck.
The last pointer I read was to examine her vent and hips. Ok. I drew the line here. I don't even want to examine my own vent and hips. Besides that, I couldn't quite wrap my head around what I was supposed to be looking for. I suppose if an egg was on route out of the gate I might have deduced that it was time to turn on the range and heat up the skillet, but otherwise, I decided to let her mind her own vent, thank you very much. The cluck meter on this is turned off. No chicken speculum experiments.
Bottom line of the Omens of Oncoming Ovidity...I don't know. Mine chicken really didn't give me too many signals. Or I just didn't know what I was seeing. I have ordered three more chicks, picking them up in Polk, Ohio on September 4, so maybe I'll be more observant with the next batch.
No farmer here, I rolled out of bed on a perfect Sunday morning at the stroke of 9:18, got coffee and went outside to let the chicken out. Really, that's what I do. Even before brushing my teeth. Although I think coffee tastes terrible with newly brushed teeth. Anyway, I went out, unlatched her chicken door, positioned the ramp and waited. Normally, she comes charging out with a great deal more determination than the Cleveland Browns. But that is a story for another day. One beat, two beats, nothing. Insert profane word here, since that's what I did. I thought she had become coon chow. Looked through the door. Wandered around to the coop side, and looked in the window. There, at the opposite end of the coop, sitting in her nesting box was the hen. Ran into the house to tell my hubby that we might have an egg. Suddenly dawned on me that I had not googled the multitude of questions this posed. How do I get the egg out of the box? Will she been angry if I stick my hand under her behind and start rooting around? I know I sure would be if I were the root-ee. Fortunately, she scampered out of her own accord, I ran back to the nesting box, and voila! Le oeuf!
With all the superiority of the proud mother of exactly one chicken who has laid precisely one egg, I can tell you that my only secret to getting the ball, or egg as it were rolling is string cheese. I discovered two days ago that she likes it. Shredded into the smallest wisps of strands. I dangle it from my fingers, and she merrily walks over and grabs it like a worm. Last night, I gave her string cheese again. But this time I made her work for it. From a standing position, I held the cheese strand above the chicken, about two feet over her head. Boing! The chicken executed a perfect vertical jump! Again, this time higher, Three feet straight up! Jumping almost three times her own height! Like me jumping 16 feet nine inches straight up, which I would never do for string cheese, but maybe for chocolate. Anyway, she did the over and over, until her daily allotment was complete.
So I conclude, that making my chicken jump up and down repeatedly knocked the egg that had obviously just been waiting to come out through her system, down her chute and ready to be deposited this morning in her nesting box, thus ending the wait for this long anticipated, blessed event. That's all my chicken egglaying knowledge in an eggshell.