When buying chicks you may have heard the term pullets.
What are pullets?
Pullets are young hens that are not yet laying eggs, but will be soon.
They are beyond the chick stage but not yet fully grown adults. Basically, they are chicken teenagers.
Many hatcheries sell a wide selection of pullets in their catalogs. They are usually somewhere between 16-20 weeks of age and just about ready to lay their first egg.
Of course they do cost a bit more than chicks. For example Rhode Island Reds cost about $5 per chick, but a pullet will cost around $25. This is because the hatchery has kept them safe, fed and watered for that much longer.
Do you want to learn more about them?
Keep reading to learn how to tell the difference between a pullet and a hen and much more…
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What is a Pullet?
A pullet is a young, adolescent hen.
The term is only used for female chickens, young males are called cockerels.
Pullets are normally somewhere between 16 weeks and 52 weeks old. They have passed through chick-hood, have adult feathers and are in their first year of laying.
There is a further distinction about pullet chickens to know.
- Started Pullet: 16-22 weeks old
- Point Of Lay Pullet: 22 week old hen
- Pullet: 16-52 weeks old
There is however a difference of opinions among poultry folk about the strict definition.
Some will say that a pullet is a young hen under one year of age. Others will say she is a pullet until her first molt – which can actually be up to 18 months or so of age.
Regardless, you can assume when people use the term they are referring to young female hens.
Should You Buy a Pullet?
One of the biggest benefits of buying a pullet is that you do not have to go through the daily routine of chick care.
Caring for chicks is time consuming and messy.
Pullets are much easier to manage.
They do not require any special care like an incubator, and you can just put them into their coop when they arrive. If they are going in with other chickens then do not forget to introduce them properly.
Pullets are also cheaper.
This may surprise some of you but when you consider the costs associated with chicks (incubator, heating, bedding, feed etc) the pullets are actually cheaper.
We’ve saved the biggest benefit until last!
You will get eggs much faster too.
Chicks will not lay eggs for the first 5 months, whereas pullets should be laying within one month or so.
Pullets are less friendly than chicks.
When you have day old chicks they somewhat imprint on you.
Unfortunately pullet chickens are already teenagers when they first meet you. You may find them a bit flighty at first and they can even be scared of you.
Chicks that you have raised may come when you call them and eat from your hand. Pullets are not likely to do this for some time, if ever! Occasionally you will get the odd pullet who wants to be your friend but this is unusual.
Another disadvantage of buying a pullet is establishing the pecking order.
It is ugly but necessary.
The pullets will have to sort out who is the top girl and the order of succession.
You can expect some feather pulling and pecking for a while. Do not intervene unless it becomes bloody or one hen is being attacked unmercifully. Some breeds get along together really well and you may see little overt signs of domination or submission, but some breeds are not quite so harmonious! Pick your breeds carefully.
Pullet Identification Guide
You can use our pullet identification guide below to tell if someone is trying to sell you a pullet or an old, spent hen!
Her feathers are the first thing you should be looking at. They should be glossy and look like a new coat. There really should not be any missing/tatty or broken feathers. One or two is acceptable, but if she looks tatty then walk on by.
Next you should observe their personality.
Young hens can be bold and brassy or quiet and meek – each has their own personality but she should definitely be curious, spry and perky. You are basically looking for the difference between the young and restless and the older more experienced hen.
If any of the hens that you look at appear to be listless, dull eyed, bedraggled or you hear wheezes or rattles when they breathe, then do not buy them. They are showing symptoms of illness, not something you want in your flock.
Finally, you should look at their legs closely.
A pullet’s legs will be an even yellow color with smooth scales, and neat toenails. In an old hen the yellow tends to fade away during the laying season and never really returns to a vibrant yellow after the first couple of years. The legs will not be smooth and the scales may be raised. Toenails may be long or broken too.
In breeds with other colors on their legs you will need to look closely at the evenness of coloration and the smoothness and evenness of scales.
Faded colors and uneven scales are tell tale signs of older chickens.
Chicken Age Range Explained
All chickens start their life in an egg.
It takes around 21 days for an egg to hatch and during this time they are developing inside the egg. Some of the larger breeds may take a little bit longer to hatch and bantams a bit less time.
Chicks are born fully feathered and develop rapidly.
They can walk, run, and find food within a short period of time. Although they still look to their mother for protection and guidance they are almost self-sufficient a few short hours after hatching.
Their initial feathering is really a fine downy fluff designed to keep them warm. Within 7 days they will lose this fluff and develop their first true feathers. They will have another mini-molt between 7-12 weeks and after this molt you will start to see the differences between pullets and cockerels developing.
It is hard to pin down when a chick becomes a pullet.
However the consensus seems to be that at around 12 weeks of age, after their second mini-molt, the chick is a pullet or cockerel. This is what can be called the teenage period. The sex characteristics become fairly obvious at this time too, so you can separate them into male and female pens.
They will still require chick feed until 16 weeks of age.
Your pullet becomes a hen at around one year of age or after her first molt (depending on your point of view).
However, the most commonly accepted marker is the one year mark.
At one year of age her eggs should be approaching full size too.
She will be known as a hen until her dying day although many folks call an elderly, non-laying hen a biddy. Depending on the breed some hens can live up to 10 years old, but the average age for heritage breeds is around 8 years. Production breeds tend to die much younger as their high egg production wears them out.
You should read 3 Simple Ways To Determine The Age Of A Chicken for more.
When Will a Pullet Start Laying Eggs?
Pullets will start to lay between 16 and 24 weeks of age.
However the exact answer will very much depend on which breed you buy.
Cinnamon Queens, Black Stars, Golden Comets and Red Rangers should all start to lay somewhere between 16-20 weeks. They have been bred to be come into lay quickly and produce a lot of eggs in a relatively short life span.
Heritage breeds will generally lay fewer eggs per year but will lay for a longer period of time.
Just remember that pullet chickens should not be rushed into laying as this can cause health problems later in their life.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a chick and a pullet chicken?
Chicks are much smaller than pullets and do not yet have their big girl feathers.
Do pullets lay eggs?
Yes pullets can lay eggs.
However their eggs will be small in comparison to a regular chicken egg.
When does a chick become a pullet?
Your chick becomes a pullet around 12-16 weeks of age. This is considered the traditional period of transition.
What should I feed a pullet?
Your chick becomes a pullet around 12 weeks of age but should stay on chick feed until week 16.
At 16 weeks old you can move them from chick feed to 16% layer feed.
You should also offer pullets free choice oyster shell and grit to aid digestion.
Now you know the difference between a pullet and a hen.
You should be able to pick out the youngsters from the older hens and can look forward to getting some wonderfully healthy fresh eggs in the near future!
Hatcheries are usually very reliable when sending you pullet chickens. Local breeders and farmers are also usually good, reliable sources for both livestock and information and are willing to help you with any issues you may have.
However you should be very cautious about using the local classifieds.
There are so many unscrupulous folks out there!
You will have to decide from the information provided here whether or not you want cuddly, friendly hens or quick eggs.
Did you get pullets or chicks? Let us know in the comments section below…