Last year our chickens stopped laying eggs. For the first time in a decade we had to buy eggs instead of selling them. The egg strike, as one of our customers called it, lasted five months. But by the time they started laying again, their replacements were already in the barn.

The life of a laying hen starts like all other birds, by hatching out of an egg. The first few weeks can be spent with other poultry as well, although keeping them with meat chickens endangers their lives after a few weeks, especially if they decide to pile on top of each other.

Meat chickens tend to double their weight very quickly. The laying hens grow much slower.

When people asked when we would have eggs again, I told them the chickens wouldn’t start laying until October. It takes five months for them to start laying eggs and we got the chicks in late May, so that seemed reasonable.

Sure enough they started laying eggs in late October, but we were out of town. So I was told they had started with only a few. By the time we returned there were two-dozen waiting for us, already collected with more to be picked in the barn.

The following week we had another five-dozen, then 11 and then 24.

In my experience, it takes some time for all of the hens to reach maturity and start producing. In that time the eggs aren’t all exactly as they should be.

Some end up with double yolks and others are too small to contain any yolk at all. We will also get eggs without shells. When picked up they resemble a fragile water balloon.

A few weeks ago, while checking for eggs one morning, I came across four of these. We can’t use them so Schwartz got them with his breakfast.

The chickens are also learning where to lay their eggs. At first they lay where ever they happen to be but after a while they start using the nests provided.

A few years ago, Al went into the barn in the morning and had to really watch his step. The floor was covered with eggs. He counted 52 when he finally got them all picked up.

It was the first time that happened, and it hasn’t happened since.

A hen can produce up to 300 eggs in their first year of laying. As a chicken ages, two things happen to them: the eggs become larger and they produce fewer of them until they stop completely. This is what happened almost a year ago with our old hens.

At this point they make very good soup or they can be allowed to live out their days doing whatever they like.

Because we only had 10 of the old hens left we decided to just let them live.