As your pullets grow, you may be eagerly awaiting the day they will lay their first egg. Watching for signs of imminent egg laying is sure to be exciting, but what specifically signals that an egg is near? The time when a pullet lays her first egg (referred to as the 'point of lay') depends on several things. Egg laying for the first time usually occurs around six months of age but for some pullets can take up to a year or even longer. When a pullet will lay is also influenced by health, breed, lighting/time of year, temperatures, diet, and hormones. In order to set things motion there are a few guidelines you can follow to make sure all is right in your pullets' world to encourage egg laying.
Calcium is important to pullets of egg laying age and should be offered from the age of 18 weeks forward. Layer rations do contain calcium but since the calcium needs of each bird can vary, offering free choice calcium is a good idea as it will allow pullets and hens to supplement their own needs. Extra calcium can be offered in a dish to the side of regular feed in the form of crushed oyster or egg shells. Egg production without proper calcium levels will result in egg binding or calcium being leeched from the bones of hens which can be detrimental to their health. Free choice calcium offers them the ability to fulfill their own needs whereas mixing calcium with feed can cause a surplus of calcium in birds that do not need it, thus free choice is best.
Also vital is proper feeding. Layer rations should not be fed prior to 18 weeks of age due to the calcium content which is too much for birds younger than that age. Too much calcium too soon can cause gout, kidney damage, and a reduced life span. Beginning to feed layer ration at the right age is conducive to proper growth and giving your pullets what their bodies need at the right time. In addition to proper feeding, don't underestimate the value of water. The water you provide your chickens should always be clean, fresh, and readily accessible. Eggs themselves consist largely of water and thus require water to make.
Give your pullets access to an inviting nesting box that offers privacy, such as a curtain. Birds do tend to sometimes share nesting boxes but this can result in crushed eggs, stress, egg eating, and a drop in egg production. It is best to offer plentiful space for nesting so that hens have the option of laying in seclusion, although some will choose to share space. Nesting boxes should also be in a quiet, dark place with little disruption present. The key is in not forcing them to have to share and keeping nesting boxes, clean, comfortable, stress-free, and welcoming.
Once you've done your part to set the stage for laying to begin, keep an eye on your pullets for signs of eggs to come. Signs that eggs are near include increased redness in combs and wattles, exploration of nesting areas, and squatting submissively. The most telling act of imminent egg laying is the submissive squat, which is a position a pullet or hen assumes to indicate to a rooster that she is ready to mate. This includes crouching down and spreading her wings to allow the rooster an opportunity to mount her. Seeing pullets assume this position is a sign that they have become sexually mature and are ready to being laying eggs.
Do keep in mind that when your pullets graduate to egg layers, it might take a little bit of time for them to get it just right. Initial eggs will probably be small or malformed but soon that will change and she will begin to produce eggs of normal shape, size, and consistency. Once her reproductive system finds its stride, the long wait to have eggs will have become worthwhile.