In part 5 we discuss pullets, hens and eggs.
What is a pullet?
When chickens hatch they are referred to as hatchlings and thereafter are called chicks regardless of their sex.
They are called chicks up to about 8 weeks old whereby the young females will be called pullets and the young males’ cockerels.
It is important to note that some farm suppliers of chicks will call younger female chicks that are egg layers pullets in order to differentiate them from males and or chickens that are going to be used for their meat.
At what age do chickens generally start to lay eggs?
Most pullets will start to lay eggs at around 6 to 7 months depending on the breed.
At first, their eggs may seem a bit small than they ought to be and thus the reason they are called pullet eggs.
But as they grow and lay more eggs the eggs become the size that is generally expected of that breed.
Is it best to buy pullets instead of chicks?
The choice is totally up to individual preference. For a first-time chicken keeper, it may be better to get chickens that are a little older and hardier than new-born.
For chicks you are looking at added costs for the brooder, brooding lamps etc. plus, they need a lot more attention and care.
Pullets still need a little extra work being young, but they can be housed in the coop as soon as you bring them home.
Although pullet mash and feed suited to younger chickens is advisable they are able to eat normal chicken feed.
They can still be trained and handled to get used to your and or your family.
The wait to get eggs or start to free-range them is a little less than with babies.
When do pullets become hens?
Chickens are classed as full-fledged hens from the around a year old. Their bodies, feathers and features will be more defined and filled out. Their egg laying will be more established, and they will have developed their pecking order and personalities.
Introducing a new flock of pullets/hens to their new home
Introducing a new flock to their new home is a lot less complicated than introducing a or a few new chickens to an already established flock.
Ensure that the coop is ready and has fresh feed, water and nice wood chips on lining their coop floor. The nest boxes should be stuffed with clean fresh straw and there should be a few roost posts around it.
The run should be covered at least for the first week or two and the pullets/hens should be kept confined to the coop and closed run.
After the first week, you can start letting them roam around the garden for an hour or so. When the time is up gently herding them back into the coop.
Allow the time for them to forage get a bit longer each day until they are happy to forage about and go home on their own.
This is a good practice whether they are going to be free-ranging in an open garden or a free-range pen.
Making them go back to their coop for the evening is good practice so they become accustomed to going home for the night and their food.
Introducing new chickens to an established flock
Our “Socializing chickens” article has information on socialize new chickens to an already established flock.
It covers socializing of all ages of chickens.
It is imperative to always have new birds checked out by the vet or kept away from your flock for at least 13 days. This is to ensure that the new chickens do not have any disease or pests that could affect your flock.
Once the quarantine period is over the best practice is to set up a dummy coop and run right next to the permanent one. This lets the chickens slowly get used to each other through the safety of the wire mesh.
After about a week you can start to let them wander the garden together slowly integrating them. You will need to keep an eye on them though, so it is better to only let them wander around together for short periods of time initially. Be sure to react quickly should any fights break out as the newbies have to get used and come to respect the established pecking order. Some will challenge this especially more aggressive breeds.
It should take no longer than 2 to weeks of socializing sometimes even quicker (once again dependent on the breed) for the newcomer(s) to be welcomed and able to be housed in the main coop.
We have articles that cover which breeds are best suited for mixed flocks.