When you’re holding a baby chick in the palm of your hand, it can be easy to forget that this little fuzzball is going to get bigger. Chicks are soo tiny when they first come out of the box! But for the record, they don’t stay small and fuzzy for very long.
For most breeds of chicken that specialize in egg production, your bird should reach its full size in about a year. There are a few exceptions to this. The Jersey Giant, for example, takes around 18 months to completely fill out.
The bulk of growth, for your egg layers, will happen in the first 3 months. I have found it difficult to notice any real difference with my flock after this as growth is very slow – comparatively speaking.
The ‘meat bird’ breed of chicken, however, is a different story all together. These type of chickens are bred for consumption and grow very fast! The Cornish Cross is a perfect example of this. I have never kept a Cornish Cross past the 8 week mark. And we’ve had some really big Cornish Cross Chickens.
How Long Do Chickens Live?
Like most living things, a chicken’s lifespan has a lot of variables. Breed, living conditions and access to nutrition are just a few of the things that will affect the longevity of your bird.
When kept as a pet, a chicken in the right conditions can live over 15 years. If your birds are working animals, though, then you might choose to harvest them a little sooner. With regards to my egg-layers, I will generally butcher them around the 2 year mark.
Like everything else, there are always caveats regarding the amount of time your bird will be with you. You might have a healthy, beautiful bird that suddenly disappears to a predator. And the same is true of the opposite – you might have a really raggedy looking bird that just keeps hanging in there.
Realistically, if your free-range bird lives more than 4 or 5 years, then you’re doing pretty good!
Chicken Ages And Stages
Ever hear that question, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
To be honest, I really couldn’t tell you as I get most of my chicks in the mail (LOL). But what I can tell you is what happens after mommy and daddy chicken do their thing.
- Egg development – A hen will take roughly 25 hours to develop and lay an egg. This is pretty amazing to me when you consider just how much energy and work is required to build that egg shell.
- Incubation – After the eggs have been laid, a broody hen will sit on her clutch of for a minimum of 21 days. It is during this 3 week period that the chicks will develop and eventually hatch as noisy little fuzzballs.
- From baby to teen – Chicks will grow at a phenomenal rate for the first 8 weeks. Point of fact, unless you were monitoring them daily, you would not be able to recognize ‘who is who’ at the end of four weeks – let alone 8 weeks. After the 8 week mark, however, this rapid growth slows down and while they still have a long ways to go, this part comes much slower.
- Adult – For the sake of ease, I am defining an adult chicken as a bird that is capable of reproducing. This level of maturity will happen around the 6 month mark for hens and as early as the 4 month mark for roosters.
### Important Note ###
While the capacity for reproduction can start as early as 4 to 6 months, your birds will not finish growing for some time. As mentioned above, a chicken will continue to ‘bulk up’ until they hit about 1 year in age.
When Do Chickens Start Laying Eggs?
Ask anyone who’s been through this and they’ll tell you it seems like forever before that first egg finally comes. You’ll peek in that nesting box soo many times before you actually find something!
Your hen should lay her first egg somewhere around the 6 month mark.
Some girls will fall right into this process easily while others take a little time to figure things out. If you already have an established hen that knows what she’s doing, then this will be a big help to the newcomers, as chickens learn a lot by observing other chickens. But if you’re starting from scratch, then be prepared for a few ‘oops’.
It can be helpful when starting a brand new flock, to put a fake egg in the nesting box. A female’s instinct is impressive. The majority of the time, they’ll know what’s going on. And for the few that don’t immediately get it, they generally figure it out pretty quickly. So be patient and be gentle. It will work out!
### Important Note ###
It takes a little while for the ‘egg machinery’ to really start running right. You’ll see a lot of weird stuff those first 5 to 10 days of eggs. The shells will have all sorts of appalling deformities. Don’t freak out, this is totally normal.
For example, I always find a few leathery broken eggs from new hens. This usually happens when they jump down from the roost first thing in the morning. I think the impact from hitting the ground, jostles things a little and out comes an egg… that wasn’t quite ready.
Also, don’t plan on eating a lot of those new eggs – especially for the first 2 weeks. I ALWAYS crack my eggs in a separate bowl before adding them to whatever I am cooking. As mentioned previously, the ‘egg machinery’ takes a little while to get running correctly. You will find a BUNCH of horrifying blemishes on the inside of that new egg. (I promise you, you will seriously consider never eating a farm fresh egg again!) But rest assured, once things get going, you can count on a steady supply of wholesome eggs.
When Do Chickens Stop Laying Eggs?
I’m not sure that there is a definitive cut off for a hen and her ability to lay eggs. What I can tell you is that once your hen starts laying, her egg production will initially be very high and then gradually drop off with age.
It is completely possible for an old hen to lay the occasional egg, however, her production numbers are sure to be lower than that of the younger hens. For this reason, production focused facilities tend to replace the older birds fairly quickly as egg output is no longer profitable when factored against feed and care.
How Long Does It Take For A Chick To Grow Into A Chicken?
There is a fairly significant difference between a just hatched chick and a mature chicken. In my opinion, they look nothing alike. First off, chicks are completely covered in down, which looks like soft fuzz. There are no combs or wattles developed yet, like you would find on an adult. And in some cases, the chicks aren’t even the same color as their parents.
However, it doesn’t take a chick very long to start looking like an adult. By 8 weeks of age, your chick should be fully feathered with all the markings of an adult chicken. They’ll still be considerably smaller than they will be at a year – somewhere between one-third and one-half of their finished size. But you will be able to recognize them as an adult chicken.
It’s also worth noting that things like tail feathers, combs/wattles and in the case of roosters, spurs, will continue to develop with time.
Chick Feather Development
Believe it or not, if you look very closely, you might actually find feathers on your day old chick (look at the wing tips). Each breed is a little different, but for the most part, chicks will start growing the long wing feathers (contour feathers) while still in the egg.
At 2 weeks of age, the wings on your chick should be mostly feathered. This enables the little bird to take short airborne hops around the brooder. Once you see this, you should start thinking about a netting for the top of the brooder as they will get out. It is not uncommon for me to find 3 week old chicks perched on top of the wall of their brooder, which stands at 2 foot tall.
At 4 weeks of age, most of the fuzzy down should have been replaced with feathers. The feathers might look a little rough – always reminds me of a mess of wet hair that’s been tussled by a towel. But you should definitely see the beginnings of an adult chicken, albeit, a big-eyed and gangly kind of chicken.
At 8 weeks of age, your chicks feathers will look pretty much like an adults. Their coloring should be completely in, all fuzz gone and their tails starting to look pronounced. From a feather perspective, things are pretty much done by now.
### Important Note ###
The fuzz on a chick might feel like fur, but it is technically a type of feather called down. Chickens do not have hair.
Can Old Chickens Be Grumpy?
You’ve probably have heard of the term ‘pecking order’. This actually comes from chickens. Their social interaction is such, that while they operate as a flock, the bigger birds tend to get what they want. And they will not hesitate to shoot an angry peck at the smaller bird that may be irritating them.
Unfortunately, this behavior isn’t limited by age. In truth, all chickens have the ability to be grumpy!
An example of this was a hen named ‘Pasty Butt’ that we raised this spring (she had a tough time as a chick). Pasty Butt had a few sisters and one brother that we purchased with the idea that they would help with our ground squirrel problem. This particular breed of chicken was touted as the premier rodent chaser so we thought we’d give them a try. Unfortunately, I’d have to say that these particular birds hadn’t read the memo.
Not only did they not chase ANYTHING, but they were easily scared off by even the smallest of ground squirrels. I knew I had a problem when I looked out one day to see a furry chipmunk dart in under the tree only to see the following explosion of feathers as my flock of fearless hunters darted away in terror!
Consequently, we raised another batch of chicks and when the time was right, I harvested the fearless hunters, all except for Pasty Butt as she was fairly sociable and still had value as an egg layer.
I introduced the second batch of chicks to Pasty Butt (after a week of parallel cages where they could see each other) and initially all seemed well. Despite the fact that she towered over the 8 week old chicks, she was gentle and visually pleased to be a part of a flock again.
Our problems began though at bed time. After of few days of tolerating the youngsters, Pasty Butt decided that she needed the entire rooster bar for herself – unwilling to share with the other 13 chicks.
I tried everything I could think of and the more time that went by, the more aggressive she became. All was fine during the day, but she was absolutely viscous when it came time to settle in for the night.
Unfortunately, with her being so much bigger, the other birds were at risk. I ended up having to remove her… much to my regret. This is one of those sad realities of raising chickens. If I had ignored the problem, it is very likely that she would have injured or even killed one of the other hens.
Raising chickens has been very rewarding to me. Not only do these busy bodied creatures provide food for friends and family, but loads of entertainment. Their antics will have you laughing one minute and shaking your head in disbelief the next.
And the right breed of chicken can also reduce pests such as insects and mice, converting these things into a useful fertilizer for next years’ garden.
To those of you who considering raising a flock of your own, I highly recommend it. Watching these amazing little bundles of life grow and mature over the course of one summer, is a real experience.