Henopause – How Does A Hen’s Age Affect Egg Production?

Flock of backyard chickens and hens free ranging

Henopause. It’s a funny play on words, but thinking about how a hen ages can help us understand how this critical factor affects egg production and the health and vitality of our senior girls!

Egg Production is Reproduction

Egg production is reproduction. Over the years, this has become my mantra! I find myself repeating “Egg production is reproduction” as I help poultry keepers troubleshoot and we start to understand the reasons why a hen behaves differently and changes through the seasons.

While most of us keep backyard chickens because we love our farm fresh eggs, the true purpose of an egg is to be the reproductive vessel that poultry use to produce the next generation. So, as we begin to think about egg production as reproduction, we can start to better understand some of the common events that happen as a hen ages. As with any animal – cows, chickens, humans, etc. – female reproductive capacity declines as that animal ages.

What Age is Considered “Older” in Chickens?

The Guiness Book of World Records recently crowned a 21-year-old hen named Peanut as the World’s Oldest Living Chicken. Chickens can live very long lives! However, the average life span of a backyard chicken is about 8 years. By age 3, most hens would be considered “older.” This doesn’t mean that 3-year-old hens are finished laying eggs. It just means that, by age 3, the reproductive efficiency and capacity of your hen has started to trend downward. She is no spring chicken!

It is very common for older hens (3+ years) to take longer breaks between eggs or to have longer molts. It doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with how you are feeding or housing your hens. It’s just a natural progression in the life and productivity of older birds. Adding new birds to your flock every 1-2 years is a common practice and is the best way to ensure more consistent egg production throughout the year.

Egg Production Expectations in Older Hens

Genetics is likely the #1 factor that will help determine how well your hen lays eggs and for how long. Certain breeds of chickens have been genetically selected to be excellent egg producers while other breeds may take the slow-and-steady approach to laying eggs. Either way, you can expect peak egg production in your hens from about 8 months of age to about 2 years of age. After this, your hen’s reproductive capacity will start to gradually decline.

The initial decline in egg production is gradual. In fact, you may not even notice a decline during the peak seasons of spring and summer. However, once a hen surpasses 2 years old, you can usually expect a 20-percentage point decline in egg production for each subsequent year of age. For example, if you have 10 1-year-old hens, you are probably expecting 9-10 eggs per day (95% rate of lay). At 2 years of age, this same flock of 10 hens is probably laying 8-9 eggs per day (85% rate of lay). At three years of age, however, you can expect those same 10 hens to produce only 6 eggs per day (60% rate of lay). At four years of age, that rate may drop to 40% and, by five+ years of age, you are probably only getting 2-3 eggs per day from your 10 hens (25% rate of lay). However, don’t be surprised if you still find an egg or two from your senior girls on occasion. Many poultry keepers have reported the occasional egg from their 10+ year old chickens!

Can a Hen Run Out of Eggs?

No, she cannot run out of eggs. Just like female humans, when a female chick hatches, she has all of the ova (the beginning of an egg) that she will ever need in her tiny body. Female chickens have tens of thousands of ova at hatch so, even if a hen laid an egg every single day for 10+ years, she wouldn’t even use 1/3 of the total number of ova she has available.

Keeping poultry is such a wonderful experience and the rewards are many! At Kalmbach Feeds, we are always here to help. If you have any questions about the nutrient needs of your birds, feed options, or general poultry keeping, please let us know. We are so excited to continue writing about all the topics that are important to you and can’t wait to continue learning about your flocks. Stay tuned and thank you for choosing Kalmbach Feeds!

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Nancy Jefferson, Ph.D.

Dr. Nancy Jefferson has been a member of the Nutrition and Technical Services team at Kalmbach Feeds since 2013. She received her Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 2008 and has worked in the feed industry for over 15 years. She lives on a farm in Crown City, OH with her husband, John, and their children. Dr. Jefferson is a passionate poultry enthusiast and loves her chickens! Together, she and her family raise beef cattle and she keeps an ever-growing flock of backyard chickens.