Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pullets' 1st Egg

Barred Plymouth Rock "Zebra"   ~  Rhode Island Red "Red"
Waiting for your pullet to lay her 1st egg can be a time of worry for the 1st time chicken owner.

I hope this post will help ease your anticipation and know what to expect.

This is my 1st time as a poultry owner. 
I have scoured the chicken sites for info and observed my own flock.
Here is what I learned...

I have given the breeds letter designations : 
RIR = Rhode Island Red "Red"
BPR = Barred Plymouth Rock "Zebra"
SLW = Silver Laced Wyandotte "Nutmeg"
GLW = Gold Laced Wyandotte "Ginger"
EE = "Easter Egger" or Ameraucana "Nugget"


Pullets will start laying around 18-22 weeks old. Not usually earlier.

Variables: Breed, time of year they were hatched, weather and light conditions, feed - All these have an impact on laying age.

My girls were hatched August 31, 2011. They had the failing daylight to grow and just about near laying age the sunlight begins to increase.This is good because we live in a fairly temperate climate and the pullets get a chance to grow before the bodies want to start producing eggs because of the daylight.
Zebra layed at 24 .5  weeks
Red layed at  26 weeks
The Wyandottes layed on same day at almost 27 weeks
The Easter Egger layed 28 weeks

Physical Appearance:

Wattles and combs grow and become bright red. - mine did!
          RIR and BPR and SLW did redden up. My GLW didn't redden up till that morning! The day before she was still baby pink. The EE has a red comb for quite sometime but has no wattles.

The legs lighten up.
          This is a very difficult one for me to tell. I think their legs are lighter yellow but their legs were constantly changing color and ever so gradually. My BPR had grey and yellow legs. My EE has dark leggs, although the webs turned green.

They "plump" out - buts get puffier and rounder. - Yep, that too.
           Especially true with my BPR. The Wyandottes puffed out far earlier before laying time but they are a "round" breed. The RIR still looks a little slim to me. So does my EE.
They widen at the "hips" - measured by increased width between the legs (I didn't notice this one - I give them a "physical" every week. I just noticed they got bigger in general - growing up)

Their attitude changes. This seems to happen about a week before they lay.

 They start to do the "wing squat" when you put your hand suddenly over them or try to pick them up. This is when they quickly squat and put their wings up so they kinda look like little chicken Arrow heads. Very cute. This squat is a sign of submission to the rooster.
My RIR and BPR did this about a week before laying. The Wyandottes and the EE  also started squatting about a week or less before starting.

I cant' seem to get a photo of video of this behaviour so here is a link to a Youtube video (not my video some guy posted it. He also posted another one that shows the squatting well)

I observed that they start to show interest in the nest boxes. They crane their little necks to peek in and act like they want to jump in.
They all did this about 5 days before laying. Except the SLW did it for 2 weeks and the GLW didn't show interest till that morning.

The EE started showing interest about 3-4 days before laying. She nested the day before and sat but no egg. The next day she nested and sat and lay. She also started doing the wing squat about a week before.

Egg Day!

They act anxious. Mine pace the door and fence like they are desperate to get out.
They pace in and out of the coop. They jump in and out of the boxes. They bite litter or pick up sticks and try to put in on their back. They push and pull litter with the beak. They get noisy and yell at you.
They sing the "egg song". Sometimes all morning, several times.
My BPR sang a lot the 1st week then tapered off to only a song or 2 before laying.
My RIR still sings before and a not so loud version after.
My Wyandottes didn't sing at all the 1st time. The 2nd time the gold one sang before once or twice and the little silver one sang before. After laying she very proudly stood on the stoop of the pop-door and sang the egg song like a rooster crowing. So cute.

All this behavior can last for hours!
My BPR and RIRone acted "eggy" for about 6 hours before laying.
My SLW was strange for a week.
My GLW had no signs - she just layed like she had been doing it forever.
The EE nested and showed interest but was not irritable or noisy.
Their first eggs will be small. Mine were about 45grams with the exception of the 41 gram from the SLW - but, she is very small anyway (I think she may be a runt). They will get bigger as the bird grows. I will post a chart at the end once my EE lays.
I have seen tiny eggs  - quarter sized - before (from another farm).

Stories & Tips from my experience:

"Teaching" where to lay:
 I had to "teach" the 1st one where to lay. I had to put her in the box because she wanted to nest in the corner by the door. Once in the box, she started nesting. Every-time I left the coop, she would pace at the door for me till I came back.Once I was back sitting on the stool in the coop, she happily jumped back into her box and nested.  Finally, I quit and went inside, figuring she would figure it out when the time came.
Nope, My daughter went out to check on them and her egg was on the floor, right in front of the door.
Next time she layed, I stayed in there with her and she stayed in her box and layed the egg.
The 3rd time, she was more confident and needed less "supervision". She jumped in the box on her own to lay the egg.
After that, she knew just what to do.
The others had no issue about where to lay. They had the chance to learn from the 1st one. Now, they all prefer the same box and will take turns and won't lay in the 2nd box unless they just can't hold it.
I ended up having to open the 3rd box when I discovered 3 pullets shoved together in one box! I just took the "new" layers out and placed them in the other boxes. They now seem to prefer the boxes I put them in.
They all still prefer the middle box and I will occasionally find one eyeballing it while the other is sitting and growls at the potential intruder :-)

Sitting "styles":
The second one to lay. The girls had been watching Zebra lay for over a week. They would squawk and peek in on her. I think that helped because when it came time for Red, she knew where to lay the egg all on her own. I checked in on her to shoot the video but did not interfere. After she layed, she just remained in a half squatted position for about a minute, stiff and frozen with a look of terror in her eyes. I could imagine. After all, she did just give birth for the 1st time. I checked her over and she was fine. Soon, she relaxed, hopped down and joined the flock.
She tends to lay like that. Each time I peek in on her laying, she is down really low in the nest and frozen. I guess that is her style.
The BPR sits all pretty and proud (see photo on the "Chickens" page).
The SLW has a half-squat. She starts out laying and then when laying approaches,  she gets up and drops the egg from a half-squat position. Maybe because she is small and actually has room in the box to stand up.

I have found that with my girls, the first few eggs are stressful for them. Alot of pacing and yelling happens before the egg. The first one can take hours!
It gets better and easier and quicker for them each time. After one week, Zebra was an old pro. She knows just when to hop in the box. No fuss, just settles in, coos, and waits.

Fake eggs:
I found that the simple plastic Easter egg works well. They don't care about the color. At first they will peck it like something to eat. This is the reason for the fake egg - to train them that pecking something shaped like an egg in the box is not food.
I also found that when they nest the 1st time, they do alot of scratching and kicking in the nest. Zebra actually pushed the egg out and Red stomped it in half. If it were real, it would have been a mess! After the 3rd time with the egg in the nest, Zebra just treats it like a real egg. She rolls it, and places it under her. She is careful not to step on it. She puts it with her egg and "snuggles" them under her. So cute.
Red also chose to lay in the box with the egg.

Nest Boxes:
Mine are about 12 inches square with a 3 inch lip in front. No perch. They hop in just fine. I did thicken up one edge by an inch to see how they like it. It seems they don't care.
I think I would make them a little deeper next time. Maybe about 15 inches deep with a lip about 5 inches tall. They seem to like to get into a "hole". I think it may help them feel more secure and not kick as much shaving out. (I have standard size chickens). Also, if you have breeds with taller tails, it will help keep the tails from fraying - this is important if you show. Some folks use open-top nest boxes. I don't have the room for that style in my coop.

Videos of Red on egg day...

Here Red "growls", and acts restless. (with sound)

She shows nesting behavior. 
Fluffing the nest, making a dish... No sound

Red, like Zebra, was very rough in the nest her first time. One of the benefits of having a fake egg. (no sound)

The EGG SONG! - sound

Here is another of my pullets exhibiting signs of her 1st egg drawing near. She is making noise and putting stuff on her back. I am not sure what the stuff on the back means to them. Possibly an instinct to camouflage themselves in the nest? My Zebra was obsessed with sticks her first time. Then she just uses shavings now. Although, she seems not to do it as much as at first.

I didn't expect Nutmeg to lay next since she is so small. Maybe she is just copycatting. She tend to be that way - nosy and copy-catty. All I know for sure is she sure can make a BIG ruckus for such a tiny bird! (sound, loud sound)

My 2 laced Wyandottes layed today.
Story about the Wyandottes first egg:

This morning I heard my RIR (Rhode Island Red "Red") sing the Egg Song.
She was in the box doing her thing (she has been a consistent, predictable 24 hour layer since her 1st egg! Give or take an hour).
My BR (Barred Plymouth Rock "Zebra") was feeling the urge and really wanted the same box. She was "yelling" up at Red and pacing and craning her neck to the box.
Red did her thing and Zebra impatiently waited. When Red vacated, Zebra jumped right in and settled in.
Now, our tiny SLW (Silverlaced Wyandotte "Nutmeg") was cheeping and acting curious. She decided to jump in with Zebra. She pushed poor Zebra out of the box, tucked the fake egg under her wing and nested. Poor Zebra didn't quite know what to do and paced in and out of the coop complaining the whole time. I tapped on the edge of the empty box (usually they respond to this action by jumping up on the thing I tap on). She tried the empty box.
Then, in comes Ginger & she jumped in the box with poor Zebra and ended up pushing Zebra out too.

I have to leave for an hour to take my kid to the bus stop and run errands. I put the real egg in the box with Ginger, and leave the fake one for Nutmeg (maybe she will lay or is just broody).

I return and find 3 eggs in the empty box! (Red, Zebra and Ginger)
Nutmeg is still in the "favorite" box all hunkered down. I checked under her and there is only the fake egg.

I take the 3 eggs inside and go back out a little later.

Nutmeg & her egg

Nutmeg is in a half squat position and in pain (she closes one eye and leaves the other open). A minute later she drops an egg.

4 down; 1 to go!
Top egg is Reds' it is the darkest brown. Right side egg is Zebras' a lighter brown. Bottom egg is Nutmegs' almost same light brown as Zebras' but shape is more elongated and surface is smoother. Left side egg is Gingers'; also elongated but extremely light. I would describe it as a tan or beige.

UPDATE: 3/7/2012
 Our Rhode Island Red has turned out to be quite a champion layer. She started right out of the gate with consistent morning eggs. Her 1st egg was 45grams on March 1st. Seven days and 7 eggs later her egg measured a whopping 60grams! They are beautiful reddish brown, uniform and great thick shell and yolk.
The Wyandottes skipped a day yesterday but were the first to lay their 2nd egg this morning.
After the 1st week of laying, our Barred Plymouth Rock became a regular daily layer. Her eggs are slower to increase in size than the RIR.

UPDATE 3/13/2012
Again, the RIR proves to be a real trooper. Lays everyday and today even grunted out a HUGE 87g egg. Poor girl (see the chicken page for details).
And.... the EE finally lays! A good 44g in a beautiful sage green.

 Chickies 1st eggs:

Egg – ZEBRA -  44g 1.5oz 2/19/2012 2:00pm – 49g 1.75oz 2/21/12 10:00 am 
Egg – RED – 3/1/2012 about 2pm about 45g. 
Egg – GINGER – 3/5/12 – about 11 am about 44g
Egg – NUTMEG -  at 11:30am 41g -  3/5/12
Egg -  NUGGET – around 11am – 44g  - 3/13/12

1 comment:

  1. OK. I have recently experienced the girls will also sing the "EGG SONG" if they are lonely or want attention.
    Example 1 - I put Red in the coop alone while the rest were foraging because she just wouldn't stop biting all the other hens. Bad day I guess. So, she is in the run and she starts a singing big time.
    Example 2 - Ginger is in run alone all the others are in coop with me. Husband starts up chainsaw and it startled Ginger. She looks around and doesn't see the other and starts singing the egg song.


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