Chicken owners may come across their flock at any age.
So, when you adopt a new member into your flock, you might start to wonder; how can you tell how old a chicken is when you don’t know?
Telling the exact age of a chicken is difficult, but looking at the size and fading colors of the leg, beak, and wattle compared to other chickens of the same breed will give you an idea of her general age. They also tend to get slower and more stand-offish as they age. Consult a vet for more specific aging.
From baby chicks to adult chickens, keep reading, and we’ll help you identify the age of your backyard chickens.
Life Stages of a Chicken
One helpful tool for recognizing a chicken’s age is being familiar with the general stages of a chicken’s life.
Some chicken raisers and experts break down these stages slightly differently, but we’ll review some general milestones here.
Baby chickens are known as chicks when they hatch from their egg.
Some chicken farmers divide this stage into two, defining the difference between baby chicks and “teenage” chickens.
For the first 2-4 weeks of life, your chicks will look like young babies and stick close to their mothers.
Now, they’ll look like what you think of when you think of a baby chick with small statures and downy feathers.
Once they reach 5-15 weeks of life, you’re talking about their teenage stage as chicks.
In this stage, females are known as “pullets,” and males are known as “cockerels.”
This is discernable from the previous stage as chicks because you’ll notice some physical changes.
Visibly, you’ll see your chick start to sport some primary feathers.
Additionally, you’ll see some of the visible differences between roosters and hens become more prominent.
This includes the development of wattles in cockerels and differences in body mass between sexes.
As far as behavioral signs go, you’ll notice these young chickens start acting more like adult chickens.
You’ll likely see them start to establish or work their way into the flock hierarchy.
For more info on caring for baby chickens, check out our guide here.
Laying Eggs and Molting
If you have a hen, a big milestone in its development is the first time it lays its first egg.
This happens around the 18th week of life, on average, and continues through most of adulthood.
Around the same age, a female chicken starts to lay eggs, and chickens (regardless of sex) may experience their first molt.
Your hens won’t lay an egg during this molting period as their bodies devote energy to the molting process.
During this process, you’ll notice your chicken lose its feathers, usually in a pattern.
This starts with the feathers on the head, neck, back, and saddle feathers and finishes at their sickle feathers.
This process repeats yearly, and your chickens will grow their adult feathers back once they’ve molted the old ones.
Related: Why chickens lose feathers
Retirement and Old Age
As your chickens age, they’ll start to slow down and undergo a few changes.
For one, you might notice them slowing down in their everyday lives.
It’s an effect of aging present in almost any animal.
You’ll notice some physical differences too.
Your chickens might have heavier eyes, larger backsides, and even wrinkles on their faces can all show signs of a chicken reaching an elderly status.
Another sign of older age in hens is when they stop laying eggs.
You’ll likely see this as a dwindling laying consistency rather than a hen suddenly never laying another egg again.
The vibrancy of the colors in their legs, beaks, wattles, and even sometimes on their feathers also tend to fade.
How Long Do Chickens Live?
On average, chickens live about 6-8 years, but this can vary depending on a few factors, including their health status and breed.
If you have a healthy chicken who has always received the proper care, they’re more likely to surpass this average age than a bird with more severe health issues.
Your chicken will start to slow down and show signs of seniority when they get closer to the end of their life cycle.
How Old Do Chickens Need To Be Before Telling Gender
When adding a chicken to your flock, you probably want to know whether you’re bringing on a rooster or a hen.
So, how can you tell?
You might think a chicken’s sex is discernable from the time they’re born.
Even experienced chicken breeders may have trouble telling whether a baby chicken is a male or female chick right after they’re born on occasion.
However, there are a few ways to start to guess what your full-grown chickens might be, but it’s difficult sexing chickens with complete accuracy.
Pullets and Cockerels
The differences start to crop up when your chickens are about 2-3 months old.
This is at the developmental stage where cockerels and pullets show noticeable differences.
The timeline for this stage of life may vary depending on the breed of chicken you have.
Differences in Appearance
When it comes to appearances, look towards your chickens’ wattles.
Brighter, bigger wattles usually go to cockerels and roosters, not pullets and hens.
Alternatively, look toward the hackle feathers on chickens.
Hens boast round, short feathers, while roosters tend to have longer, sharper hackle feathers.
Another note on feathers, if you see saddle feathers at all, you’re looking at a rooster.
Their tail feathers often seem longer and more voluminous than hens as well.
If you look at your chickens’ legs, you’ll notice hens tend to have thinner legs too.
Roosters sometimes feature spurs on their legs, but this isn’t necessarily the case for all roosters.
Hens are more likely to gain spurs as they reach seniority.
Differences in Development and Behavior
The best indicators will start to crop up around the age your chickens might start laying eggs.
Of course, if they lay an egg, they’re a hen.
If they skip this step but love to crow, you’re looking at a rooster.
A behavioral difference you might notice early on is stance.
Cockerels and roosters tend to stand with their chest on display more than hens.
This usually leads to a taller stance as well.
At What Age Do Roosters Start Crowing?
One sign you have a rooster on your hands is their tell-tale crowing.
This distinctive sound isn’t one they make as chicks, though.
Rather, young roosters won’t start to crow until they’re about 6-8 week-old cockerels.
You may hear your rooster crowing for various reasons, ranging from their circadian rhythms to the threat of predators or even just to announce their presence.
Hens do not exhibit this behavior.
How Old Are Chickens When They Get Their Feathers?
When chicken eggs hatch, they don’t give way to a fully-feathered bird.
Instead, these feathers come in later, and they spend the first bit of their lives with downy fluff.
You’ll notice your chicken getting their first feathers rather early, at about 5 or 6 weeks old.
Until these 4 and 5-week-old chicks have the protection of feathers, many chicken keepers opt to keep their chickens in the coop.
This way, they’re more protected and in a controlled environment until their feathers come in, allowing them to better regulate their body temperature as they age into adults.
How Do Hens Show Signs of Old Age?
As discussed, the most obvious sign of aging in your hens is a decrease or cessation in egg production.
In all likelihood, your hens aren’t going to produce eggs throughout their entire life.
Similarly, if you have a rooster, they will stop mating attempts as they reach their seniority.
You’ll also start to notice your chicken showing less energy than they once did without an explanation like illness.
Like any other animal, a chicken often comes with a bit more lethargy, and they may not spend as much time exploring and playing as they once did.
Visually, you’ll also see some signs of aging in your hens.
This can include a rounder rump and fading colors in areas like their legs, wattles, and combs.
As for their feathers, they might start to loosen.
This can result in a slightly more disheveled appearance.
Your older chickens may also need lower perches to nest on them comfortably.
The last thing you want is for a senior, arthritic chicken to struggle to reach their perch to rest!
How Long Does It Take for a Chicken to Grow to Eating Size?
You probably won’t keep your chickens into seniority for those raising chickens for their meat.
Rather, the goal in raising chickens for meat is usually for the bird to reach maturity.
Generally speaking, it takes about 6-8 weeks for a chicken to reach full size and the proper age for this purpose.
Yet, this can vary depending on the breed of your chicken and its health.
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