A hen who is laying well will have a moist, pink vent, and a wide, plump pelvis.
With large fowl, if you check the space above her vent on her abdomen, feeling with
your hand until you find the two pelvic bones. On a large hen, 3 fingers should be
able to fit between those bones on a hen that is currently laying. If you can only fit 2
fingers, the hen is not laying. On a bantam, you have to consider the size of the hen
Also the redness of the facial skin is helpful to gauge if a hen is in lay. Hens that are
in lay will have vivid red faces, combs, and wattles. Those who are not in lay will
be pale in those areas. Comparing comb *size* is not always helpful--especially
with different breeds, hens may have very different sized combs. Leghorn hens have
very large combs that flop over, while Easter Eggers have compact pea combs,
barely there by comparison.
As well, the legs of a good layer may also be paler or "bleached" (in brown egg
laying breeds with yellow legs). A poor layer will have lots of pigment. Hens who
are good layers may also have broken feathers, simply because their bodies may put
fewer resources into their plumage. Make sure your layers have a high protein diet
with plenty of calcium for strong egg shells, and so they can maintain the health and
gloss of their plumage at the same time.
If you are looking for visual signs that your young pullet is getting ready to come
into lay, those might include the fact that her comb will get larger and redder right
before she begins, and she will begin to "squat" submissively when you reach down
to pick her up. Additionally, she may get a little louder right before she begins,
since she is experiencing new instincts, and she may not be sure exactly what they
are telling her to do, yet. She may go in and out of nest boxes looking for a safe
place, and she may try to drive the other hens away from possible egg depositories
if she is feeling protective. After she gets used to the process, things will go more
smoothly and she will be less irritable.
One other thing to note is that hens who are molting will not be laying, as they need
their energy to molt. Hens who shed all their feathers at the same time, or have a
short molt, are good to note and keep, as it means they will come back into
production sooner. Hens who take a very long time to molt should ideally be culled,
as they are poor producers, and will pass that trait onto their offspring.
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