Hen Up® Articles

How do your chickens grow? Six key stages of hen life.

Us humans love to celebrate milestones in life: birthdays, graduations, weddings and anniversaries, children and grandchildren, retirement. While your hens won’t be blowing out candles or asking you for the car keys, they’ll have their own life milestones — and different nutritional needs as they reach them.

Here are the six stages of hen development and what they’ll mean for the birds in your backyard flock:

Stage 1:  Adorable Chicks (Weeks 1-4)
Like baby humans, baby chicks are just all sorts of cute. Similarly, they have different nutritional needs than full-grown hens. A starter feed like Hen Up™ Starter Grower Crumbles will provide balanced nutrition and all the essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids your chicks need from the moment they hatch. The tiny crumbles are also bite-sized for little beaks to make sure they get all the good stuff in every bite. A chick’s first weeks of life are critical to their development into healthy hens, so keep a close eye on them to make sure they’re eating, drinking and growing.

Stage 2: Awkward Adolescents (Weeks 5-15)
Your chicks will grow fast from the get-go, but you’ll start to see some real changes around the 5- or 6-week mark. Primary feathers will begin to come in, and your young flock will start to establish its own pecking order. (To find out more about the pecking order and how it can change, check out New Chicks in the Flock.) These changes will become more and more apparent from weeks 7 through 15.

The technical term for an adolescent hen is a pullet. The technical term for an adolescent rooster is a cockerel. But if it turns out you have one of those, he should be sent on his way back to (or on to) a farm where he won’t wake up your neighbors or give you more chicks instead of just eggs. In all seriousness, most cities have regulations against keeping backyard roosters and you don’t want to, uh, run afowl of the authorities.

Throughout this stage you should still be using a starter feed. But even bigger changes are just around the corner.

Stage 3: First Egg (Weeks 16-17)

Once your birds hit the 16-week mark, start checking their nesting boxes for that long-awaited first egg. When it finally arrives, you’re ready to start the transition to a layer feed like Hen Up™ Layer Mash or Layer Pellets. A layer feed has less protein and more calcium than a starter feed, and that extra calcium is key to egg production.

Stage 4: Let The Laying Begin (18 weeks)
Congratulations! Your biddies have now reached henhood and are on their way to illustrious laying careers. From a food standpoint, you’ll want to transition slowly between starter and layer feeds to prevent upset tummies and other digestive distress. When it’s time to make the switch, start by sprinkling a small amount of layer food on top of your birds’ current food.  Add a little more to the mix every day.  After about 7 days, you should be giving your hens 100% layer food. But go at a pace that you feel comfortable with — you’re not going to “break” your girls by going too fast or too slow with the transition.

Stage 5: The First Molt (18 months)

After a flurry of growth and change over the first 4 or so months of their lives, things will be slow and steady for a while. The next big milestone will be marked by a coop floor covered with increasing amounts of feathers. Welcome to molt season!
You can expect the first molt to happen in the fall as the days become shorter. In addition to shedding feathers, your ladies will take a break from egg-laying. This is a 100% natural part of hen life, and you can expect it to happen annually. Things will return to normal after about 8 weeks.

There’s no need to change your flock’s diet during this time — just something to expect and be ready for.

Stage 6: Retirement From Laying

This one’s a little harder to put a specific time on. Generally, you’ll see egg production start to drop off more significantly when hens are 6 or 7 years old, with full retirement from laying coming not long after. All told, a hen’s average life expectancy is about 8-10 years.

As with molting, there’s no need to change your feed when a hen stops laying. It’s just another life stage to be aware of, and perhaps a sign that you may want to add a new bird or two to your flock in the not too distant future.

Even if keeping backyard chickens is all about the eggs for you, a hen that’s past her laying years is still important to your flock — and a pretty bird who brings joy and entertainment to your family. Besides, after years of literally making you breakfast she’s earned a relaxing retirement.

Got a chicken question? Send it our way