Thursday, September 20, 2012

From Chick to Hen.

When exactly does a chick turn into a hen? At a year of age if of course it's a she. Well the teenage era she is called a pullet. This time is when the hen is capable of laying and is becoming sexually mature. They are filling out adding their adult plumage and generally this is the time when their systems get going as well.

Most chicks start this process somewhere between 18 - 24 weeks of age. At this point a most people have a hard time telling them apart from adult birds.

One of my (not so) little hens Dusty, had a false start at around 20 weeks of age. She laid a single perfect egg. WOW! Small (as most pullet eggs are, but perfect. About a week later she laid another but this time it was very thin. A few days later she laid 2 and both were very soft. Neither of them were in the nest and both were broken. These are sometimes known as rubber eggs. Chickens can be culled (nice word for made stew out of) for continuously laying them. She laid 2 a day for another week and then...not. another. egg. Time passed and I was very concerned about her.

Was she egg bound?  I tried soaking baths, apple cider vinegar, adding extra protein, extra calcium, all sort of things. You see I was not concerned about the eggs. This particular bird is my girls pet. The other birds are egg layers, but this one? Not so much. This one is much more of a pet. She's a lap bird. I wasn't sure just how long she could go without laying again. 1 week went by and all was well. 2 slipped by and this was when I started to worry and the home remedies began. 3 went and that is when I started to think that I should possibly start looking for a replacement. Turns out right now isn't a good time to buy this type of bird (a Brahma) all the hatcheries are sold out!!! But, in my search I also noticed something else. She's not acting sick. After 3 weeks of not laying if she had a problem that was keeping her from laying she should be showing signs of some kind of illness. Upon further inspection I found that a few of her wing feathers had been replaced. Crazy chicken was MOLTING! Pullets (young chickens) aren't supposed to molt like that. But, she's a very heavily feathered bird and it is summer in Florida after all. Who could blame her? 4 weeks. Still no egg.

Then, just as I'd given up seeing an egg until Spring guess what I got? What?! You know the answer to this because I posted about it already! 4 out of the last 5 days I've had 3 eggs in the nest. I'm proud to say that the 5th day the third egg that was missing wasn't Dusty's egg.

How can you tell when a bird is getting ready to lay an egg? There are a few ways to tell, but the easiest way to tell is by looking at the development of the comb, ear lobes and wattle.

This is dusty:

Let me restate that. This is Dusty, NOW. Now that she is actually mature enough to lay regular edible eggs. On a regular basis.

Here she is at 18 weeks of age. Just prior to her false start:
You will notice that she had almost no wattles at all and no real comb. There are no ear lobes present at all. In addition to all those things (since not all chickens have combs or earlobes that stick out) the skin that can be seen is pink. This is a sign of one of 2 things. Either she is sexually immature and not ready to lay eggs or she is ill. We know this little ladies age and breed and can easily distinguish that she is simply young and ill equipped to lay just yet. But, she tried to lay only a few weeks later anyway. No wonder it led to disaster. Here she is 3-4 weeks later when she was laying rubber eggs, right about the time she quit laying:
She has little bitty wattles, some ear lobes and she is starting to grow her comb - but compared to what she has now, only one month later? What a difference. This girl has really stepped into her maturing while she took a little time off. It looks like that false start was a good time for her to rest her system up. Good thing. It's officially Autumn this weekend. That is when most hens start to slack off and since she's just coming into lay she should continue to lay all winter she may have a lazy day here or there but our weather is pretty warm here so I'm betting she'll keep laying 5 or 6 days out of 7.

It's the feathered feet that gave her the name. Can you see them there? I actually give her bathes! She has her own tub and she's the only chicken I bathe. Spoiled I tell you. Spoiled! The other 2 are Campbell (Barred Rock - think about it... Soup is good food!)  and Blondie the Rhode Island Red.

More stories later, but I thought I'd post this here. I can't tell you how many times I've searched and searched for people out there that had stories about their pullets going 4 weeks, or laying 2 rubber eggs a day looking for the outcome and couldn't find anything. So hopefully someone who needs this info will find it and they, too will watch as they figure out that their pullet just wasn't ready yet to lay that first egg.

Maybe it was just 'peer pressure' or group hormones because of the other hens. I mean women cycle together I'd imagine that animals together might as well, no? Possibly. And, if so her body just wasn't ready yet. Good for her to have gone for a mini-molt instead. She looks marvelous and will have a great warm layer to keep her warm for winter. *cough* Well. The nights can get cold and I have no intentions of heating the coop after all they do carry their own down blankets. ;-)

'Till next time!



  1. A lap hen, how very sweet. Love the happy smug look on the two girls faces!


  2. Wow this the first time I heard chicken like to have a bath.