When I first had the thought to enter my mind to become a flock keeper, to be honest, I thought chickens were chickens—male and female, hens and roosters. I was a city raised girl and had never spent any time on a farm or around chickens. I believed it was all pretty much cut and dried. I wasn’t the only one, though, as most often, that is how most city folks saw it.
However, it would seem that not everything is that cut and dried in the fowl world. By taking on my own backyard flock, my eyes were opened to a lot when it came to chickens. And the difference between hens and pullets was one subject matter I quickly became educated on.
What is a Pullet?
In general terms, a pullet is defined as a young hen, that is usually under the age of one-year-old that has not started to lay eggs as of yet, but will eventually become egg producers.
You can purchase pullets from a feed store or a hatchery, but be sure to ask for pullets and not straight run. If you don’t specify, after the course of a few months, you may receive a rude awakening in the form of crowing.
Although a full-grown pullet will present with a shiny new full coat of feathers, they have not fully matured to the state of being ready to start their egg-laying cycle. However, as the pullet ages and gets closer to the period where their particular breed begins to lay, they are then considered as being a hen, cut at “point of lay.”
As a rule, a pullet will enter their age of “point of lay,” which is when they will begin laying their first egg, typically somewhere between their 16th and 24th week. It is important to remember that the timeline can vary in depending on the chicken’s breed and can begin to happen in fewer days or more.
Are Chicks Pullets?
If you go by the above definition of a pullet, as most people do, the common thought is that a pullet is a female chicken that has not turned old enough to lay their very first eggs.
However, there are those chicken breeders, such as those in the Ohio Amish Territory, that consider a female day-old laying chicken—unlike the female day-old broiler chicken—as an example to be a pullet as well.
Who would have thought that a day old chick would be considered by some as a pullet as well?
The Value Of Pullets
Hatcheries sell their baby chicks as either pullets, cockerels, or straight runs. As a rule, pullets are more expensive than their counterparts of cockerels—or the straight run chicks—as they are considered more valuable as their future use of becoming egg layers. If you are looking to cut costs, you might want to consider purchasing what is referred to as started pullets rather than taking the time and extra expense of raising your chicks to hen age.
Ready To Lay Pullets
Some breeders will sell pullets that are around 17 weeks old and considered as “ready to lay.” They will be just on the cusp of starting their egg production at this age. It is vital to keep in mind that, if you add to an existing flock, pullets, just as any other fowl, could carry and transmit fatal diseases that will pass on to your flock. Ensure that they have been tested and vaccinated or follow a strict, predetermined quarantine period to prevent any problems.
Although many new flock keepers get excited at the prospect of their chicks growing up and becoming egg layers, it is actually more beneficial to delay that maturity when it comes to pullets. The delay will allow the pullets time to grow better and stronger before getting into the groove of their life-long egg production.
A chicken egg laying maturity is triggered by good ol mother nature—in the form of the days’ length. Those chicks that hatch between the months of April and August can be naturally exposed to the length of days, as the time of daylight becomes less and less during the last portion of their period of growth.
Once your pullets are at the weight of approximately three pounds, they are usually ready for their egg production. This period is when you will need to begin their light stimulation.
When it comes to a light schedule, the suggestions are at 17 weeks they will require 13 hours, at 18 weeks they will require 14 hours, at 19 weeks they wi
ll require 15 hours. After nineteen weeks, then you will increase the amount of light exposure to ½ hour per day per week. The best time for light is between 430 am to 930 pm. Although you can use a 60-watt bulb to achieve your light goals, natural light is the best when at all possible.
If you have done your job as a loving and attentive flock keeper, you can expect your pullets to start the journey into their egg-laying life at around 16 to 24 weeks.
They will require a change in their feeding at this stage, as extra nutrition will be required. For those pullets between the ages of 18-30 weeks, you will need to offer a layer ration that contains an 18 percent rating.
Pros And Cons Of Purchasing Pullets
If you are not planning on hatching your own chickens, having a rooster is not a necessity. If your goal is only to have eggs to sell or eat, then pullets are the way to go. This choice means you need to figure out how many pullets you will expect to need and not have the extra expense to purchase and feed any possible cockerels.
It is important to note that when you purchase strictly pullets, there may be an additional cost involved.
How To Tell If Your Pullet Has Matured Into A Laying Hen
There are a few tell-tale signs that your chicken is moving out of the pullet stage and into the hen stage, and will soon be producing delicious eggs.
- The chicken will have reached the age of 16 to 24 weeks old.
- It will have grown out its clean, new feathers with no hint of any remaining downy feathers.
- The comb’s and wattles on the chicken will appear to be both swollen and red.
- The pelvis bones of the hen have begun to separate. This separation can be easily checked by cradling the hen while holding their feet so they can’t kick you. You will then gently feel their rear end and determine if there are three prominent bones that feel close together. If these bones are positioned in this manner, the pullet will begin its laying cycle in a few more weeks.
The process of laying eggs can be somewhat stressful at any time in a chicken’s lifespan, but even more so when they first start. Your hen will need a private place to get the job done, with a comfy cozy nesting box filled with straw or wood chips. By providing her a safe, secure, and comfortable place to lay, she will, in return, be more productive.
As you can see, when it comes to looking at whether or not a chicken is a hen or a pullet, the main factor is that of age. If the chicken is under one year old, it is referred to as a pullet. Once it reaches the age of 16 to 24 weeks and begins its laying cycle, it is then referred to as a hen.