This is a common question and one we had before becoming official chicken keepers. So, it seems fitting that this is our first official blog post topic.
To answer the question…hens are perfectly capable of laying eggs without a rooster. That’s good news for us urban chicken keepers since that aren’t many cities that allow roosters for obvious noise ordinances. However, if you want baby chicks, you’ll need that rooster.
To further explain, here’s an abbreviated description of the chicken reproductive system:
Generally, eggs take around 24 hours to form. At around 6 months, hens start to develop ovum (or yolk), which is thousands of follicles (potential eggs). When a yolk is ready to move to the next stage, it releases from its follicle and travels out of the ovary and down the oviduct (aka, ovulation). This is where a rooster would have the opportunity to fertilize the egg. Now that we’ve had “the talk”, let’s move on.
At this point, whether the egg is fertilized or not, the yolk travels down through the oviduct where the egg white forms around the yolk and a thin outer shell membrane holds everything loosely together. From here, the egg gains its shell in the uterus via a shell gland. The shell takes about 20 hours to form with the egg color pigment occurring in the last few hours of shell formation.
Then, a protective anti-microbial bloom layer is formed on the shell. When the process is complete, the shell gland pushes the egg into the cloaca, a chamber just inside the vent where the reproductive and excretory tracts meet. Yes, this means hens lay eggs and poop out of the same opening. But the good news is, not at the same time! They actually perform a cool trick where the tissue of the uterus extends with the egg. That, along with the bloom layer applied to the shell, keeps the egg clean and it’s why we don’t have to refrigerate fresh eggs.
How cool is that? As urban chicken keepers, we're fortunate that we can enjoy our hens and fresh eggs without a rooster annoying our neighbors. And if you have the privilege of living on a farm, you can enjoy those loud majestic creatures along with your hens and little baby chicks running around. Chickens really are amazing!