Once you’ve made the choice to raise chickens, you now have a new decision to make: How old should the chickens be? Is it better to start from chicks, or is an older fowl a better decision? Depending on what you want, you might need to consider some of facts. Age can play a big factor in their usefulness, so here’s a quick guide to how old your chickens should be.
In the chicken world, once a bird has past a year old it is called a yearling, whereas before that they’re simply younglings. The younglings can be broken into even smaller groups, such as chicks, the youngest, and then pullets, which are slightly older hens that haven’t quite reached full adulthood. You could consider those teenagers I suppose. With a yearling, it’s a specific designation that they were born roughly one year prior, not that they were born this current year.
By one year old, your chicken’s usefulness will have become apparent. It can be really hard to determine the full strengths and weaknesses of your birds before they’ve aged a bit, so planning can be tricky. It’s just like the old saying that you shouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch. The same holds true for chicks. Not until they’ve grown up a bit can they be assigned real “jobs” on the farm.
You’ll find that the magic age for a lot of teenage chickens to really start showing their potential is six months, so at that point a cockerel can start fertilizing eggs and prove useful in breeding, and a pullet can start laying eggs, though they won’t usually start to display brooding tendencies just yet. Still, the magic age seems to be a bit past that six-month milestone.
Older chickens, however, aren’t always the solution either. Once a rooster hits age six, he loses a great deal of his virility and can’t fertilize eggs as effectively as before. The same happens to hens with laying, except they reach the limit of their prime at age five instead. Past then, they can still lay, though the speed is greatly diminished, so while they can still lay late into their life, they aren’t going to be nearly as useful as a younger hen.
Considering most chicken breeds can live to be between 10 and 15 years old, it’s somewhat startling to see just how quickly their best years hit them. In some cases it seems that only the first half of a chicken’s life has any usefulness beyond pets, and then only the first third in other extreme examples. That’s why when you want to get a chicken farm started quickly, it’s best to begin with birds that are already a year old, but no later. This puts you in peak laying and breeding time and it lasts the longest. A bird that’s too young is still an unknown. A bird that’s to old is on the tail end. Choose wisely!
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