What does the phrase ‘point of lay’ actually mean? Terry Beebe dispels any confusion

Most people buy chickens purely for the supply of fresh eggs for their family. The sale of the many varieties of commercial poultry breeds has increased on a massive scale, whether they are in auction or through advertisements in magazines. Birds are sold as ‘point of lay’ – but are they really described correctly, or should the buyer be given an exact age to give them an idea as to when the birds will in fact produce that first egg?

To most people, especially newcomers who have decided to take on the hobby of chicken keeping, the term point of lay means that they are in fact on the point of laying or are in fact in lay. There are some cases were this may be true, but this is very rare. The chances of you buying a pullet that will produce eggs within the first few days after purchase is highly unlikely.

Point of lay is in fact a very vague description of pullets that are in the process of developing to an age where, in the near future, they will become mature and therefore start producing eggs. Pullets are young chickens that carry this description until they reach the age of one year, at which point become known as hens. The average age for chickens to come into normal lay is around 22/24 weeks, but this does depend on the breed, the time of year and, in some cases, how they have been reared.

Problems with young birds

There are, of course, exceptions where younger birds may start to lay earlier than expected. In some cases this can cause problems in the future, especially if the birds have not developed enough to begin their natural process of egg production.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for young birds to start laying early. This is due to them being fed on layers pellets too early – because the seller did not give the correct age when the birds were purchased. One result can be that the bird suffers a prolapse, a serious and harmful condition.

A prolapse occurs when the bird tries to lay and the oviduct turns inside out and protrudes through the vent. The condition can be the result of the bird being too young, and so not fully developed, or the egg being too large. This is another reason to try and find out the true age of birds before you buy.

Rearing the pullets (Finishing)

Once you have bought the birds, allow them time to settle into their new environment. If you have found out their true age, or at least have some idea, and they are indeed young birds, then put them on a diet of growers pellets/mash with a small quantity of corn. Keep them on this diet until they are at least 18 weeks old, or longer if required. Gradually change the feed by mixing with layers pellets or mash until the birds are on a complete layers diet. This should be by the time they are 22 weeks old. From this point, you should start to see the first eggs within a few weeks. These will be what is known as pullet eggs – quite small by comparison to what the bird will eventually lay as soon as she achieves her full maturity.

Pure breed chickens may take a little longer as they mature much more slowly than hybrids, in which case the birds could be anything from 25 – 30 weeks old before they start to produce normally.

Keep the birds on layers pellets as this is a complete feed that gives all the ingredients for good egg production, with a little corn late afternoon as a small treat.

Checking the birds to see if they are laying

When you buy your new or replacement birds as pullets, you can easily check to find out if they are in any way close to laying.

To do this, hold the bird securely with the head under your arm, or at least hold it in some way to allow you easy access to the bird’s rear end (vent area). Then gently feel around and locate the two pelvic bones.

If the chicken is not ready for laying, the two pelvic bones will be very close together.

If the pullet is just starting to lay, you will be able to place one finger in between these pelvic bones. This space will widen even further as the laying process increases, until eventually you will be able to place two or more fingers between the pelvic bones.

When buying birds, using the finger test will give some idea of their age. Although this will not give a true idea as to when the first eggs will appear, it will help you choose the correct feed.

Always expect to be rearing the birds for quite some time before you get any results. You could be rearing them for anything up to 10 weeks before they lay.

Breeders are pleased to sell birds at a younger age as the cost of keeping them

has increased quite considerably over the past couple of years. In many cases they can afford to sell them a little more cheaply by selling them early.

Conversely, buying birds that are laying will cost you more but will save you the initial expense of rearing them for several weeks before you see any results.

The first lay

The first sign is that the birds will make a sort of moaning noise and will constantly keep going to and from the nest box. They will eventually settle down in the box and lay the first egg. That will undoubtedly be small. After laying for the first time, the bird will make a cackling sound as if to everyone look what she has achieved!

Provide a nest box with easy access, make it as dark as possible, or place it in a dark area. Keep it clean and disinfected and always collect the eggs on a regular basis – at least once a day.

Expected egg production

Production varies according to breed and rearing but, as a rough guide, commercial birds at 23/24 weeks are expected to have 50% productivity and this increases to 90% at the age of 26/28 weeks.

A hybrid chicken can produce approximately 300+ eggs per year. Pure breeds will produce considerably less but are still, in most cases, excellent layers.

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