All female chickens lay eggs, and all hens lay best in their first year of production. But some chicken breeds lay better than others. Hens that lay best are of breeds that have been selectively bred for egg production, rather than for fast growth or exhibition qualities.
Layers of Eggs with Brown Shells
Chicken breeds that lay eggs with brown shells are popular among backyard chicken keepers. Brown shells can range in color from pale tan to deep chocolate. As a hen ages, she tends to lay larger eggs with shells that are a lighter shade of brown. Here are seven of the top brown-egg laying breeds, each of which lays up to 280 eggs during the first year of production:
Australorp: Hens lay large eggs with medium brown shells.
New Hampshire: Hens lay large to extra-large eggs with medium brown shells.
Buff Orpingtons: Hens lay medium-size eggs with medium brown shells.
Barred Plymouth Rock: Hens lay large eggs with medium brown shells.
Rhode Island Red: Hens lay large eggs with medium brown shells.
Rhode Island Whites: Hens lay large eggs with medium brown shells.
Welsumer: Hens lay medium to large eggs with dark brown shells.
Layers of Eggs with White Shells
Chicken breeds that lay eggs with white shells are generally of lighter weight than breeds that lay eggs with brown shells, and therefore are more economical to feed, but they also tend to be flightier. The best breed that lays eggs with white shells is the Leghorn — the chicken most often used for industrial egg production.
Top Hybrid Layers
Hybrid layers are the offspring of a rooster and a hen of different breeds, selected to produce chicks that can be sexed at the time of hatch based on their down color or feather growth. Although their eggs won’t hatch into chicks of a uniform breed, hybrid hens lay better than most pure breed hens. Here are three top-laying hybrids:
Austra Whites are a cross between black Australorps and white Legorns. In her first year, an Austra White hen will lay up to 280 large eggs with ivory colored shells.
Cinnamon Queen is a red sex-link hybrid resulting from a cross between a red rooster and a silver or white hen. Cackle Hatchery’s Cinnamon Queens are a cross between Rhode Island Reds and Rhode Island Whites. In her first year, a Cinnamon Queen hen will lay up to 320 large eggs with light brown shells.
Layers of Eggs with Colored Shells
Easter Eggers may or may not be hybrid chickens, depending on the source. Cackle Hatchery’s Easter Eggers are a pure breed — in the sense that they do not result from any type of cross breeding. However, they are not standardized, because they are bred to produce a variety of feather colors and patterns, coupled with the production of eggs in a range of shell colors from pale blue to dark blue to shades of green, plus some eggs with light brown or pinkish shells.
Easter Egger hens will lay up to 280 large eggs in their first year of production.
Most hens lay their first egg at six months of age and continue laying to the age of approximately 18 months. During late summer or early fall, hens naturally molt and produce few eggs, or hens may stop laying altogether. When laying resumes, the hens will lay fewer eggs than they did the year before.
Aside from a hen’s age, egg production within any breed can vary considerably, depending on the flock keeper’s management practices. Climate extremes, housing conditions, winter lighting, feed quality, and water availability are just a few of the many variables that affect the number of eggs a hen will lay.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow, author, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens