Hens coming up on 20 weeks old now...

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by jahphotogal, Sep 20, 2012.

  1. jahphotogal

    jahphotogal Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 15, 2012
    Should I start adding layer feed to their bin?

    Should I expect to see certain behavior before they start laying (squatting, egg song?) They don't seem to be doing anything special yet.

    I let them wander my yard (within a fence) and they have a couple of bushes they like to hang out under. Should I keep them locked in the coop until they are laying in the nesting boxes? Or wait til the first eggs before I do that?

    The three that are 20 weeks old are Wyandottes (one Columbian, two Golden Laced). I have two EE's that are a few weeks younger. They won't be harmed by the layer feed, will they?

    Their combs are pretty pink - that's a good sign, right?
  2. 1muttsfan

    1muttsfan Chicken Obsessed

    Mar 26, 2011
    Upper Peninsula Michigan
    They are all old enough to switch to layer feed. You will probably start getting eggs in the next 4-6 weeks. I would only close them in if they do not use the laying boxes - you might keep them in for a few hours in the mornings, as many hens lay their eggs then.
  3. terryg

    terryg Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 5, 2007
    New England
    Patience! :) Your pullets are old enough to safely eat laying hen feed, but why not wait for the first egg to give the younger ones a bit of time to catch up. You can put out oyster shell free choice now. I use a rabbit feed hopper which keeps it tidy and there's no waste. See a photo of that here:
    Red combs and squatting are all signs that eggs are imminent. I do like to keep my hens confined to the pen and coop for the first two weeks of lay. They'll learn to lay in the nesting boxes (dummy eggs help, too), and then, when they do free-range, they'll go inside to do it.
  4. mickey328

    mickey328 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 4, 2012
    Northern Colorado
    If you still have lots of their "regular" feed, you can start adding protein and calcium...that's the main things they need for egg production. You can move to layer feed when the last batch is gone. Typical pre-laying behavior includes, spending time in the nest boxes, squatting, general sort of "nervousness". You might want to place a couple of golf balls or wooden eggs in the boxes to help give them the idea. Don't be surprised if their first few eggs are weird...it takes a while for the kinks to get worked out of the system...you may find some that have no shells, or very soft shells or are oddly shaped. sometimes they just pop out and you can find them anywhere. It's quite an interesting process.
  5. Happy Chooks

    Happy Chooks Moderator Staff Member

    Jul 9, 2009
    Northern CA
    My Coop
    If you have younger birds, I'd hold off on the layer feed until the younger ones are about 20 weeks. There is no need to lock them up - they will probably miss the nest boxes for a bit, but they get the hang of it pretty quickly.
  6. jahphotogal

    jahphotogal Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 15, 2012
    Nervousness - funny! They always act a little nervous so it will be interesting to see if that changes. I'll start putting out oyster shell now, and switch to layer when I run out of my current batch, which will be pretty soon (2-3 weeks at most.)

    Can't wait to see those first little brown eggs!
  7. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Since you have a mixed age flock, I'd hold off on the Layer feed for a while. There are studies that show feeding Layer to growing chicks is potentially harmful, but I don't know of any studies that show what that "potentially harmful" cutoff age is. The simple solution in your case is to offer oyster shell on the side. Just put some in a container where they can get to it. If they need it, they should instinctively seek it out. If they don't need it, they should not eat enough to harm themselves.

    There are a couple of things about your situation that may make this kind of moot. Since yours free range, they are probably foraging for a lot of their food. Therefore, it may not matter that much what you do. The problem is not the percentage of calcium in the feed, but how much total calcium they eat in a day. One bite won't kill them, It's how much total calcium they get over a period of time. They may be eating enough other stuff low in calcium that the amount of calcium they get from Layer is irrelevent.

    On the other hand, they may get enough calcium from their environment that they don't bother the oyster shells even when they are laying. They can get calcium from the gravel they use as grit if it is limestone. Several plants they may forage on are pretty high in calcium. Because yours free range, we really don't know what is going on with them. Remember that wild birds lay eggs and no one is feeding them oyster shell.

    To me, the best thing to cover the uncertainty is to just make oyster shell available. If they need it, it is available. If they don't need it they should ignore it. You are covered either way.

    People talk about signs and clues that they are ready to start laying, both behavior or appearance. There are some indications that they may be getting close, but there are no guarantees. I've had a pullet squat for a rooster about a month and a half before she started laying. Right now, I have pullets that have had bright red combs for a month and I have not had an egg from them yet.

    The comb and wattles should get bright red before they start to lay and the vent should get large and moist instead of tight and dry, but as far as any of the other stuff, they will lay when they lay. Some will not squat even after they have started laying. Some do not sing the egg song after they lay. Some play in the nests before they start and some don't.

    I can't give you a good answer about locking them up until they start to lay either. I'd probably just put a fake egg (golf balls work really well) in the nests and see what happens. They may start to lay in the coop or they may hide a nest on you. There are no guarantees with this stuff.
    1 person likes this.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by