How many years do hens lay for? If I want a steady flow of eggs, how often do I need to get new laying hens?
Egg Laying Basics
A hen should start laying at about 5 months old (give or take a month or two depending on the breed). Her first year laying will be her most productive.
At around 18 months, she’ll take a break from laying in order to molt (shed and regrow her feathers). During her second year, you’ll still get a good number of eggs.
As your hen gets older, the number of eggs you get will continue to drop.
How long should you plan on keeping your hens?
Commercial egg laying flocks that are solely focused on production typically only keep their hens through their second year (and sometimes they cull them even sooner). These larger farms normally use breeds that lay a lot in the first couple years and then take a dramatic nose-dive in production after their prime.
Many smaller, backyard chicken keepers take a completely different approach and keep their hens for many, many years. Some even keep them until they die of old age (which can be up to 8-10 years). Often times, these backyard chicken enthusiasts raise heritage breed birds that don’t lay quite as many eggs, but are a little more consistent throughout the years. Their chickens are more like pets, so they don’t really care about the low egg production in those final few years.
What’s my approach?
I normally cull my hens and get a new flock after their third laying season (at around 3.5 years old). I find this is a good balance for me on my farm.
If egg production is important to you, I’d plan on keeping your hens for 2.5-3.5 years before getting a new batch of layers. If your chickens are just pets, keep them as long as you’d like – just be aware that your egg production will go down significantly after the first few years.