Chickens will lay eggs with or without a rooster present in the flock. However, hens can only lay fertilized eggs and reproduce with a rooster present if they successfully mate. Otherwise, their eggs will not be fertilized and will not hatch a chick.
Will Hens Lay Eggs Without a Rooster?
Hens will lay eggs without a rooster in the flock, yes.
Chickens require certain conditions to lay eggs on a regular basis, but a rooster is not one of them.
The conditions hens require are:
Daylight - Hens require at least 16 hours of good daylight to sustain good egg production. This can be changed for artificial light in the winter months to help them continue laying.
Good Nutrition - Laying hens require a wide range of nutrients, with calcium and protein being two of their most important needs.
Good Living Conditions - Stressed hens do not lay well. Healthy and happy hens lay bigger eggs more regularly. Doesn’t really come as a surprise, does it?
Age - Hens need to be of mature laying age, and egg production will taper off as they age. Their peak ages vary from breed to breed.
With all the right conditions met, the number of eggs a chicken will lay in a week, month, or year will depend mostly on the breed.
Some breeds, like Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns, are prolific layers and will produce anywhere between 250-300 eggs a year.
While Silkies, for example, will lay nearer to 100 eggs a year.
Related - Reasons why chickens stop laying eggs.
Will Hens Hatch Chicks Without a Rooster?
No, hens cannot hatch chicks from eggs without a rooster being present in the flock. Without a rooster, their eggs cannot be fertilized, it’s impossible.
Broody hens will still sit on unfertilized eggs though. They do not know if an egg has been fertilized or not, even if they have not mated with a rooster!
Which is why it’s important you collect your hens’ eggs daily. Otherwise, if a clutch of eggs builds up - even if they belong to another hen - a hen will go broody and sit on them.
Broody hens can be difficult to deal with, so unless you want them to hatch fertilized eggs, it’s best you try and avoid allowing them to get broody.
Related - What it means when you find a blood spot in an egg.
How Does a Rooster Fertilize an Egg?
Without getting too graphic, I know a lot of people are curious about how roosters mate with hens and how they fertilize eggs.
First of all, it’s important to note that chickens do not get pregnant. They start creating an egg, and that egg will get fertilized if the rooster has recently mated with the hen and passed his seed to the hen.
As for what the act looks like, it all starts with a “mating dance” performed by the rooster.
He will circle the hen, spread his wings, scratch around at the floor, and perform some other actions.
The hen will usually crouch down to make it easier for the rooster, and he will mount her back and get a grip by biting down on her neck feathers and digging in his feet.
They touch cloacas, the rooster passes his seed into the hen. It’s all over in a matter of seconds, and a rooster will mate again with other hens anywhere between 10-30 times a day.
So, now you know!
How to Tell Is an Egg Is Fertilized
The oldest and still one of the most effective ways to tell if an egg is fertilized is to use a technique called “candling”.
Simply put, candling is the process of using a bright light to see inside an egg.
In the olden days, people would literally use a candle. Nowadays, we have powerful lights designed specifically for eggs - or you can usually use a torch.
There is a difference when looking at fertilized and unfertilized eggs. Generally speaking, fertilized eggs are much cloudier and harder to see through.
After just a few days, if you candle the egg again you’ll see what people usually describe as a “spider”. This is because you will be able to see the embryo and some veins developing which look like spider legs.
Confirming an egg is fertile does not guarantee a chick will pop out in 20 or so days though. The egg must be properly incubated by a hen or in an incubator for it to develop a chick.
Can You Eat Fertilized Chicken Eggs?
Yes, you can eat fertilized eggs. The reality is, most people will not even realize they are eating fertilized eggs.
If you’re concerned about the embryo developing, put eggs in the fridge after collecting them the embryo will no longer undergo any changes.
I’ve read accounts from some people claiming that fertilized eggs are healthier and higher in nutritional value, but I couldn’t find any scientific studies I can point to that proves this.
The healthiest eggs are always eggs laid by free-range hens raised on a good diet of high-quality feed and natural food they find themselves.
Hopefully, this article has helped clear up some of the confusion around why chickens lay eggs without a rooster, how eggs become fertilized, and exactly what role a rooster plays in a flock.
Hens will produce eggs on a regular basis with or without a rooster. As long as all their other conditions are met.
You only need a rooster in your flock if you want to fertilize eggs for the purpose of hatching chicks. Or, if you want them to act as security for your hens.