Black Australorps hatched in Spring and early Summer (April through June in the Northern Hemisphere) typically start to lay their first eggs at around 6-7 months of age, in my experience. But other things can influence that:
- the type of food that you have them on (starter/grower versus layer feed)
- the time of year at which they reach maturity
- how they are raised
Let’s explore several of these more closely.
Choosing the right feed for your pullets
I recommend keeping your Black Australorp pullets on a non-medicated starter/grower feed up until they reach the point of lay – that is, the point at which they are first starting to lay eggs. Once you start to get eggs from them, then switch to a layer feed.
Why not use a layer feed earlier?
Because starter/grower feed has higher amounts of protein and lower calcium than layer feed, so it promotes proper growth and development.
Once your pullets have reached the point of laying, much of their energy will go toward egg production, and they won’t grow much more after that point. They’ll grow a little, but their growth rate slows down. So, in order for your hens to develop to their full size and potential, they need the higher protein feed (the starter/grower feed) up through point of lay. Hens that lay early will tend to be smaller, which is a detriment if you are raising dual-purpose heritage breeds for both meat and egg production and if you’re wanting to have hens that will have a long productive live.
Time of year at point of lay
Depending on when your hens were hatched, they will (obviously) reach maturity at different times.
Spring hatched Black Australorp pullets (or any pullets for that matter) will start to lay in fall or early winter when day lengths (the number of hours of daylight per day, to be more precise) is decreasing or is close to its lowest. The number of daylight hours that a laying hen or pullet is exposed to can have a significant effect on her laying. In spring, daylight hours per day are increasing, reaching their peak in June (in the northern hemisphere).
For practical reasons, I’ve not tried hatching in the fall, but I would expect that fall hatched Australorps would start to lay a little more quickly than spring hatched Australorps for that reason.
If you want eggs as close to year-round as possible, then I recommend hatching or buying chicks in early spring. Female chicks hatched in March will reach 6 months in September and should start to lay around that time. Your second-year and third-year layers will be starting to molt around September or October, so you won’t be getting many eggs from them. But your newly hatched, 6-month-old pullets will supply you with eggs through fall.
Hatching in the fall
Why not hatch in the fall? If you are raising your own breeding stock, it’s best to hatch from second-year (or older) hens rather than pullets (first-year layers), for several reasons. Mature, second-year hens produce larger eggs. They’re more proven. They’ve produced for a year already and are now in the second year of production. You’ve had a chance to watch them and see how well they thrive, what their temperament is like and how well they resist illness. If you are hatching chicks to perpetuate your flock, you’ll produce a stronger, more resilient flock this way than if you rely on pullets for your hatching eggs.
The first difficulty with trying to do a fall hatch has to do with what I mentioned earlier, second-year hens will be in a molt in the fall, so they won’t be laying very well and there won’t be a lot of eggs to hatch. The second difficulty is that if you wait for them to start laying again, that will be December or January, and you’ll be raising baby chicks during the coldest part of the year. It’s possible, but there’s a reason that birds naturally tend to lay best and hatch the most in the spring. For more information on hatching, please see my articles on hatching in an incubator and hatching under a broody hen.
Black Australorps molting
When Black Australorp hens reach about 18 months of age, or in the fall after their first season of laying, they begin going into a molt, and egg-laying ceases until the molt is over. We usually begin to see some eggs again in December, and lay rates of the second year hens will gradually pick up. As with all breeds, the Australorps will not lay as many eggs their second year as they did their first year.
Our first Black Australorp layers
The first Australorps we raised, starting with a straight run of heritage chicks began to lay on in early December, right at about 6 months from the day they were hatched. December 21 is the shortest day (fewest number of daylight hours).
Once they start to lay, their lay rate increased rapidly for 1-2 months until it reached a peak. For at least several weeks, lay rates were around 85%. Then as the weather began to warm in early summer, at the time they reached about one year old, their lay rate began to decline. Each year, during the hot, central Texas summer, their laying slows considerably. Then, as mentioned earlier, in the fall of their second year (at about 18 months of age) they go into molt that lasts for 8 or more weeks, during which they cease laying.
Do Black Australorps go broody?
In spring, some of our Australorp hens will go broody and cease to lay while setting and for several months after they hatch chicks. The hens that don’t go broody tend to continue to lay well.
The tendency toward broodiness depends on the strain. Black Australorps, in my experience, are not extremely broody. But some hens do go broody every year. Some set several times a year. I intentionally select for broodiness in one of my breeding lines, but not all of them. Broodiness decreases egg-laying. I want some hens to go broody each year because hens that set and make good mothers are excellent for raising chickens. They take care of training the chicks and keep them warm and protected. This reduces the amount of work that I need to do in brooding and raising chicks, and I believe it results in smarter (or at least better trained) chickens.
But I don’t want all the hens to go broody or even the majority of them because then there would be very few eggs for eating and hatching. So I select for it in one family line, but not in others. This helps to keep broodiness in balance.
How many years do they lay?
We have hens that are over 4 years old that still lay, but laying decreases with each passing year, just like it does with all breeds. A good rule of thumb is that once a flock start to lay, they’ll produce about 80% as many eggs as they did the year before with each passing year. The first year of lay starts at about 6 months of age. From 6 to 18 months constitutes their first year of lay. That’s when they produce the most. Their second year, from 18 months to 30 months, they’ll produce about 80% as many eggs. Their third year, 80% x 80% = 64% as many. Their fourth year, 64% x 80% is about 50%. So by their fourth year, they’re only laying about half as many eggs as their first year. It’s nowhere near that precise, and individual hens will lay better or worse than average, but again, it’s a good rule of thumb.
If you want long term layers, Black Australorps are a good choice, but there are additional considerations if you want to keep a productive flock. One of which is simply to raise new “replacement layers” every single year. This keeps the average age of your flock somewhat young and it ensures that you’ll have some first-year layers (who won’t molt their first fall, if spring hatched) that will lay some eggs for you during the “dry season.”
What size egg do they lay?
Australorps lay a medium to large egg. From what I’ve seen, they lay a larger egg than Delawares and Barred Rocks but not as large as White Leghorns or ISA Browns (Red Stars / Red Comets / etc.). The featured photo at the top of this article gives an idea as to the size.Ad
What color eggs to Black Australorps lay?
As you can tell from the photo, the egg color varies. Most of the eggs are fairly dark brown — darker than those of Barred Rocks or Delawares, but not as dark as eggs produced by Welsummers or Cuckoo Marans. Occasionally we will have a hen that lays lighter colored (almost cream-colored) eggs, but most of the eggs are darker brown than that.
Do Black Australorps lay in winter?
Yes. Winter through spring is when our Australorps are laying their best. Female Australorp chicks that were hatched in late spring or early summer will come into laying at about 6 months. That puts your first eggs from them in late fall up till around December.
Over the course of 1-2 months, they’ll go from laying just a few eggs to reaching their peak production. Then as the weather begins to get hot in the summer, they will lay fewer eggs. In fall, when they’re over a year old, they’ll go into a molt and cease laying. They will be done molting and back to laying in December or January and will lay well again in February, March and April, then repeat the cycle. Each year (as with any breed) you’ll get fewer eggs than the year before. That’s why it’s important to renew your flock each year by raising replacement layers.
What about other breeds of chickens? When do they start to lay?
According to the guest article on McMurray Hatchery’s blog, At What Age Will My Chickens Start Laying? — hybrid egg layers start to lay at 4-5 months and heritage breeds start at 5-7 months. Hybrids include industrial White Leghorns, Red Stars and Black Stars. Hybrids are a good choice if you are looking for lots of eggs and if you plan to replace your layers yearly or every year and a half. Heritage breeds are a better choice if you are looking for longer-term egg layers and if you’re raising chickens for meat as well as eggs.
How do you tell if a Black Australorp is a rooster?
Once the Australorp chicks reach about 4-8 weeks old, you can start to tell, though it’s still possible to be wrong. The roosters will be a little more aggressive, so you can tell by their behavior. And their comb grows more quickly. The longer you raise them and watch their behavior, the easier it is to tell. Even so, there are some slow-to-develop roosters that look more like hens until they’re quite a bit older.