black australorp eggsBlack 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 the 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 life.

Time of year at the 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.

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Which of my Black Australorp hens are laying

There are a number of different ways to tell which of your hens are laying. One of the most practical is to check the spacing between their pelvic bones and compare that between the various hens in your flock. Those with wider pelvic bone spacing are likely to be the ones that are laying. There are additional things you can do, as well, to be more certain. For more information the article on how to know which hens are laying.

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. In 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.”

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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.

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.

Are Black Australorps good layers?

Yes, during their peak egg-laying season for first-year hens.

I want to go into a bit more detail because there’s more to this question than meets the eye.

For instance, are Black Australorps good layers throughout the year?

Are they good layers their entire life? How many years of productive laying do they have?

Let me give you some background because your results may vary depending on where you live.

Background: Day Length and Hot Summers

We live in central Texas. Around 31.5 degrees north latitude. Our day length does not vary nearly as much as yours would if you live further from the equator than we do (northern U.S. states, or far into the southern hemisphere). Our short days won’t be as short as yours. And our long days won’t be as long. That makes a difference. Day length matters a lot when it comes to egg production.

Our summers are very hot. For long periods of time. We have many days above 100 degrees (F) in a typical summer. This creates stress on larger-bodied chickens, such as Black Australorps.

First and Second Year Layers

Given that background, our Australorps lay very well during their first winter. When we’ve closely observed lay rates, we’ve seen them exceed 85% for several weeks at a time during peak laying season. For us, that’s around March and April. First-year, spring-hatched hens (more accurately called pullets) start laying in December. The number of eggs increases through January and February. It peaks March and April. Then it declines through May and June as the weather heats up. Sometimes they’ll go into an early molt in late summer, during which time they won’t lay. This year (2020) has been a little out of the ordinary in that we’re still getting some eggs in October. Normally, our hens are molting and we have nearly or exactly zero eggs in October, November and December, then they start to lay again in January of their second year.

That’s been my experience with Black Australorps. Again, your mileage may vary. It probably will.

Egg production throughout the hens’ lifetime

This part of my answer is a little less conclusive.

As hens get older, they lay less. We’ve always seen that with every breed we’ve raised. In classes and seminars, I tell people that a good rule of thumb is that they’ll lay about 80% as many eggs as they did the year before. Is it that precise? No, it’s just a rule of thumb, but it’s a useful one.

I have tended to not keep as close of an eye on lay rates as our hens have gotten older. I know that we have some hens that are 3 or 4 years old that are still laying. They don’t lay as well as first-year layers. If you want high egg production, I’m convinced that you need to always have some first-year layers. Subjectively, my impression is that egg-laying declines the most from year 1 to year 2 on average.

Egg-laying can vary a lot from one hen to the next, so it’s better to look at egg-laying in terms of a flock average rather than for a particular hen.


I’m raising a single strain from one group of starter stock developed by one breeder. If your climate and stock are different, you’ll likely have different results. I would love to hear back from other growers on this.

Consider sharing your results

If you raise Black Australorps, what have your lay rates looked like through the seasons and through the life of the hen? Feel free to share your results in the comments below this article.

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.

Next Steps

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  1. Michael Lococo on May 6, 2020 at 2:55 am

    Why did my Black Austrolops start laying at 4 months old? When will they go broody?

    • Matthew Pressly on May 7, 2020 at 12:41 am

      Michael, ours have never started to lay earlier than about 6 months. But a few things that could cause them to lay earlier are:

      1. The breeder that produced them may have selected for earlier laying.

      2. If the pullets are switched from starter/grower feed to layer feed (which is lower in protein) early, before they’ve started to lay, that could cause their growth to slow down, and they might possibly start to lay earlier. I recommend keeping pullets on a starter/grower feed until they actually start laying, then switch to layer feed at that point.

      As far as broodiness, it depends. Usually, only some of the hens go broody. If they’re going to go broody, it’s usually in the spring. We have a few that are going broody now. If you live in a colder climate, then it may happen a little later for you. Australorps are not an extremely broody breed, and there will be some variation between different strains of Black Australorps as to how likely they are to go broody. We keep a few broodies in the breeding program because we want to encourage that trait to a degree. But it is possible to select against broodiness, and some breeders may do that because broodiness results in lower egg production.

  2. Lisa Anderson on October 28, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Thank you so much for all of your information!

    Do you provide additional lighting during the winter months? I have read that layers require a certain amount of daylight to lay during the winter. I live in the northwest and the days are rather short in winter.

    Thank you.

    • Matthew Pressly on October 28, 2020 at 10:40 am


      I never have added lighting, but some people do. I’ve always preferred to work with the natural seasons and laying rhythms, and our hens actually lay pretty well during the winter.

      That said, we are in Texas at about 31 degrees N latitude. Our day lengths fluctuate, but not nearly as much as they do further north or further from the equator. So it could make sense to add lighting in your case.

      Here’s an online tool that you can use to determine daylight hours in your region at different times throughout the year:
      Depending on the orientation of windows in your coop, you may get enough light during nautical and civil twilight to count toward the total. For example, today, the tool shows 11 hours and 1 minute where I’m located. But it shows civil twilight to last for 50 minutes and nautical twilight to last for 57 minutes. Altogether, I have 12 hours and 48 minutes of “daylight” that may be sufficient to help trigger laying. It will of course be different in your area at a different latitude.

      Coop orientation makes a big difference. A south-facing wall without a window or with a minimal window doesn’t admit much light and can halt lighting (in the norther hemisphere).

      If you do decide to add lighting, I recommend turning on a light using a timer before dawn to give the number of daylight hours that you need. From what I remember, the recommendations are usually for about 14 hours of daylight. It doesn’t take a lot of light, so choose a bulb that’s safe and doesn’t generate enough heat to be a fire hazard. Not a heat lamp.

      If you decide to use LED lighting, it would be good to do your research first to make sure that it will work. I researched this topic quite some time back and at the time was running across some concerns as to whether the spectrum of light generated by LEDs would be adequate to trigger laying or not.

      There are a few other things that are fairly common in winter that can halt or slow laying, such as colder temperatures and feeding a lot of hen scratch. Hen scratch is lower protein and higher carb. Hens tend to put on weight with it and then with excess weight they don’t lay as well. Smaller breeds have to work harder to stay warm in cold weather and seem to devote less energy toward laying; whereas, larger breeds tend to be good winter layers.

      Please let me know if you have more questions related to any of this.

  3. Ronald Bussard on November 16, 2020 at 7:25 pm

    Do you use a light in the coop for them to lay in the winter. I have 6 black austrliops that are right at 6 months that haven’t started yet. I bought a hanging light to put in the coop for additional morning light if I need to for the shorter days.

    • Matthew Pressly on November 16, 2020 at 10:22 pm

      Ronald, please see my earlier reply (in the comments) about lighting.

  4. Heidi on March 6, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    Hello! I have one beautiful Black Austrolorp named Velvet who lays about 5 eggs a week – since she was 6 months old. She will be two this Spring and has not yet molted, although I noticed this week that some of the feathers on her back near her tail are looking thin and not as full and shiny as usual. She shares a coop/run with one other chicken – a Bantam Cochin rooster. He was adopted as a chick this past summer and they have always gotten along well together. Could she be molting or is something else going on? She eats, drinks and lays normally. I hope it’s molting, because the greenish purple sheen in her black feathers is so striking. She is also a friendly chicken and very quiet.

    • Matthew Pressly on March 6, 2021 at 11:55 pm

      Are you seeing a lot of loose feathers in the coop? Usually, that’s a pretty good indication that one of them is molting. Here in Texas, we normally see molting start in the fall, but sometimes in the summer, which I attribute to the heat. Lighting, stress and other factors can affect the timing of when they molt. You can also gently look to see if there are any pinfeathers coming in. Those will start to come in while the hen is molting.

      It’s not at all unusual for feathers to get broken or for some feathers to fall out, but that doesn’t necessarily signify a molt. When she molts, those feathers will be replaced.

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