CO-Horts Blog

Monday, April 11, 2016

Determining Your Hen’s Productivity

By: Curtis Utley Jefferson County Extension Agent

So you have a few chickens and you are interested to know who is laying and who is ready for the stew pot. How do you decide?  There are a few different ways to determine a hen’s productivity and more importantly if she is in production. The simplest way to determine who is in production is by watching who goes into an empty nesting box and leaves an egg behind after vacating. No brainier right? Well, who has time to sit and watch hens all day long – I don’t. The next way to determine productivity is to pick up individual hens and inspect their vents which should be big loose and moist if in production and small dry and tight if not in production. Blow the downy feathers away with a whistle to inspect the condition of the vent.
The vent of a productive hen

You can also tell if the hen is in production by feeling her abdomen with your flattened hand while you are holding her. The abdomen should feel soft deep and flexible. If the abdomen is shallow, hollow, and taught the hen is not in production. If the abdomen is taught and hard your hen is too fat to maintain efficient productivity.
Measuring width between pelvic bones

Measuring width between pelvic bones and the keel bone
If you are raising a yellow-skinned breed you can determine how many eggs your hen has laid in a given year by inspecting various parts of the body for pigment loss. The yellow pigment {Caratin} is redistributed from the skin to the egg yolks of productive hens and this occurs in a very specific order. The first pigment lost is from around the vent; the last pigment lost is from the hock joints and the tops of the toes. Pigment is regained during the molting cycle, so the most productive hens (those hens that also molt quickly) may not completely regain their pigment in all body parts. Pigment is gained back in the reverse order of loss.

The order in which pigment is lost from laying hens.  
  1. Vent 
  2.  Eye ring  
  3. Ear lobe  
  4. Beak, from the corner of the mouth to the tip 
  5.  Bottom of the foot 
  6.  Shanks, from front, then back and sides 
  7. Hocks and tops of toes

Bleached out corner of beak of productive hen
Yellow pigment visible at corner of beak of unproductive hen
Bleached out bottom of foot of productive hen
Yellow pigment remains on foot pad of unproductive hen
Bleached out shank of productive hen

Yellow pigment visible in the shank of a unproductive hen
Tops of toes of a productive hen

Tops of toes of an unproductive hen

Pigmented Body Area
Egg Production
Weeks of production
0-2 Weeks
Eye Ring
2-2.5 Weeks
Ear lobe
2.5-3 Weeks
5-8 Weeks
Bottom of Feet
10-15 Weeks
Entire Shank
20-26 Weeks
Hocks and top of toes
30 Weeks +

Lastly it may seem strange but your most productive hens are going to look ratty and pale, bright and active. The hens with perfect feathers and stunning colors are just pretty and not your true working girls.
This productive hen has a bright, alert, round eye and broken, worn and ruffled feathers 


  1. Fascinating, great pics, very succinct, and much easier for backyard "chickening". Thanks!

  2. Great reference photos! Thanks.

  3. I have never been thinking about productivity of domestic animals... This article confused me a bit! I's ridiculous to talk about productivity of your pets! Let's change the topic of our conversation! For instance, we can discuss ideal working hours or something like that! Read it by following!

  4. thanks a lot, you advice help me, I have several hens in my house! will help you to determine your productivity hours!