How do I know how old my chicken is?
The recommended way to buy chickens is to get them from a recommended chicken breeder as chicks and so you will know then how old your chickens are. However in the last couple of years we have witnessed a huge, exponential uptake in rehoming of ex commercial chickens. So then how can you tell how old your chicken is? It is also important from a health perspective to be able to gauge their age and also to predict their egg laying ability.
Many breeds of chickens will slow down their laying between 2-4 years, although some lay throughout their life, and this tendency gives rise to the enormous numbers of chickens being rehomed – commercial chickens will only typically stay in that setting for a maximum of a year as their egg laying prolificacy reduces and commercially they become less viable.
Feathering can take up to 6 weeks so any smaller birds with evidence of downy feathers are likely to be under 6 weeks of age. Tail feathers in cockerels will start to become apparent, while hens tail feathers are shorter and less remarkable. Cockerel’s combs will become fuller and deepen in colour from about 8 weeks of age. The vent (where the eggs come from) for a pullet who has never laid will be very small – either a slit or a small circle. Once she starts laying from about 20 weeks (but can vary by breed from about 16 weeks upto 28 weeks) the vent will become larger, more oval shaped and more visible on inspection. Another way to tell the difference between a pullet and hen is by checking the width between the pubic (or pelvic) bones.
You should be able to feel these bones either side of the vent. With a pullet, the finger width between these two bones will be around two finger breadth. In a laying hen, the bones are more distant and you should be able to fit three or four finger breadths between them.