What Is a Pullet? – Everything You Need to Know

Portrait of two pullets or young hens

If you have been hearing a lot about pullet chickens lately, you may be wondering, “What is a pullet?” and “What does it even mean to call a chicken a pullet?”

This is especially true if you are new to the world of poultry. You may have heard about pullets in passing but need help understanding what they are, why they’re important, or how they relate to the rest of your flock.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about pullets. From identifying them to their health management and even buying tips, you’ll get all the information in one place. Let’s get started!

What Is a Pullet?

Pullet walking in the yard

A pullet is a female chicken or a young hen under one year of age, typically between 16 and 52 weeks old. It is not yet capable of laying eggs but is approaching this stage. Pullets are usually intended for use as layer hens, although they may be utilized for meat production in some cases.

The term “pullet” differentiates these young hens from their male counterparts, known as cockerels. Pullet chickens, however, are distinct in their development.

They’re nearly full-grown, but their bodies are still preparing for egg-laying. Yet, once pullets reach their “point of lay,” which usually happens when they are around 17 weeks old, they will lay their first egg.

Adding pullets to your flock can be beneficial if you’re seeking fresh eggs in the future. Remember, pullets lay small eggs at first, but as they transition from pullet to adult hen, they will begin to produce more eggs regularly.

Moreover, pullets have other unique characteristics, like their shiny new feathers that signify their youth. This feature can differ among chicken breeds, yet they all help identify a pullet in your flock.

Watch this video to see what a pullet looks like in action:

Our personal pullet pumpkin hatch

What’s the Difference Between Pullets and Straight Run?

The terms “pullets” and “straight run” refer to specific types of chicken purchases you can make at a hatchery or poultry farm.

First, the main difference between a straight run chick and a pullet is rooted in sex determination. Specifically, a straight run is a young chicken that was hatched without proper gender sorting.

In other words, buying straight run chickens means you get a random mix of males and females, resulting in uneven sex ratios among your flock.

Meanwhile, pullets are confirmed to be female chickens, typically under one year old. They are chosen by chicken growers looking forward to egg production once they reach sexual maturity and begin to lay eggs.

Lastly, pullets are typically more expensive than straight run chickens because they’re older, and these teens have already been through some reproductive development.

Life Cycle of a Chicken

Pullet walking on the grass

If you’re thinking about raising pullets, you may want to know the life cycle of a chicken first. After all, it’s a good way to get a sense of how quickly they grow and mature to plan your poultry coop accordingly.

1. Egg Stage

The first phase in the chicken’s life cycle is the egg stage. Here, hens lay fertile eggs that have the potential to become chicks.

This stage is critical in terms of the care and conditions necessary for the egg to develop appropriately, with ideal temperature and humidity levels crucial for healthy hatching.

2. Embryo Stage

The embryo stage occurs within the egg around the 14th day of incubation. The developing chick, or embryo, starts forming claws and positioning itself for the upcoming hatching process.

3. Chick Stage

After 21 days of incubation, the egg will hatch, marking the beginning of the chick stage. These young chicks are born fully feathered with a fluff which they lose within the first week, replaced by their first actual feathers.

However, note that around 7 to 8 weeks of age, they undergo another molting process and develop either cockerel or pullet feathering.

4. Pullet Stage or Cockerel Stage

Once a chick experiences its third molting, it enters the pullet or cockerel stage. This period is the same as the teenage phase in humans, where the chicken’s body changes rapidly, and its hormones are at a peak.

During this time, your chicken may start to show off either its crowing or egg-laying abilities, depending on its gender. Further, this phase lasts up to 52 weeks, which is around one year of age.

5. Rooster Stage or Hen Stage

After one year, a chicken has reached its most mature stage. At this point, the pullet has become a laying hen, ready to produce eggs.

On the flip side, the cockerels have matured into roosters, assuming their roles as fighters and protectors within the flock.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Pullet

Pullet looking for food

Before adding some pullets to your coop, you should evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of buying one. Doing so can help you decide whether or not this is the right investment for your farm.

Below are the pros of buying a pullet chicken:

  • Instant egg production: Buying a pullet means taking home a chicken that’s nearly ready to lay eggs. This eliminates the waiting period associated with raising chicks, as you get to enjoy delicious eggs almost immediately.
  • Lower mortality rate: Pullets typically have a lower mortality rate than chicks. This is because pullets have already survived the most vulnerable early stages of life, making them a safer investment for chicken growers.
  • Less care needed: Generally, pullets require less intensive upkeep than chicks. This makes them a good choice if you’re new to raising poultry or seeking a lower-maintenance option.

Meanwhile, the following are the cons of pullet chickens:

  • Higher cost: In most instances, purchasing pullets can be more expensive upfront than buying chicks or hatching your own eggs. This is because the cost of raising a pullet is reflected in its purchase price.
  • Limited selection: There might be a limited selection of fowls when buying pullets from a hatchery. This can be a disadvantage if you’re looking for a specific breed of chicken to add to your flock.
  • Potential behavioral issues: Chickens bought as young adults may have behavioral problems due to previous conditions or handling. This might make mixing new pullets into a larger community or flock challenging.

In the end, the decision to purchase a pullet largely depends on your needs, resources, and personal preferences. While there are undeniable benefits, there are drawbacks that one should consider first.

Proper Housing for a Pullet

Pullet inside the coop

Proper housing for a pullet chicken can significantly contribute to its well-being, growth, and productivity. If you’re a DIY fan, you can construct the housing by yourself, keeping in mind some specific requirements.

Firstly, a roost is vital for your started pullets. Construct at least six tilted racks for each coop, raising from the floor to roughly 24 inches high on the wall. This design provides the pullets with a cozy place to rest and sleep.

Next, consider the space inside the coop. From around 15 weeks of age, each pullet needs up to two square feet of space. As they transition from pullet to hen, nearing maturity, this increases to 2 to 2 ½ square feet.

Remember to place a brooder inside the coop as well. Pullets can become stressed when the weather gets too hot or cold, so having an incubator helps regulate their temperature.

Consider the nesting boxes, too. Provide at least one box for every four pullets. Doing so gives them a dedicated space to lay their pullet eggs and helps maintain egg cleanliness.

Finally, don’t forget the outside run. When it comes to pullets, each requires 8 to 10 square feet to exercise and explore.

How to Feed a Pullet

Properly feeding a pullet is crucial to its maturation. Start with a grower feed, which contains lower protein and calcium content but is high in healthy fats. For the first few days, simply place this feed on trays for easy access.

As the pullets approach sexual maturity, around 20 weeks of age, introduce a laying mash. This type of feed, which you can find at your local feed store, is high in both fat and protein, essential for egg production.

Finally, if you’re raising egg-type pullets and some broiler crosses for meat, they will need a kind of mash with added calcium. You may also want to give them a feed that’s rich in biotin, selenium, and vitamin E.

Additionally, providing one gallon of drinking water per day will help keep your flock sound and happy.

How to Keep Your Pullets Healthy

Pullet on white background

One of the most pressing concerns among chicken growers is keeping their pullets healthy. Fortunately, this section will provide you with several tips for maintaining your chicken flock in tip-top shape.

1. Proper nutrition

Adequate pullet diets are crucial for your young hens’ health. For this reason, your pullets should have access to a balanced chicken feed that caters to their specific nutritional needs.

What’s more, ensure the meals you provide them contain the right amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals. This will give your pullets time to grow into healthy, productive adults.

2. Safe and comfortable shelter

Providing proper shelter is essential for the safety and comfort of your pullets. In particular, the coop should be predator-proof, adequately ventilated, and offer enough space for each pullet.

Nesting boxes should also be clean and cozy.

I remember once having to upgrade my coop as my pullet population grew. It made a noticeable difference in my female chickens’ behavior and egg production.

3. Access to clean water

Once a pullet chicken reaches the age of 16 weeks, it will need to drink clean water more often. This can be provided in various ways, including adding an automatic waterer into its enclosure.

Always bear in mind that moisture is essential for the health of your pullets and their eggs.

4. Routine health checks

Female chicks that have already reached sexual maturity are more likely to develop health problems than those still growing. The only way to prevent this is to perform regular health inspections on your pullets.

5. Vaccinations and parasite management

Undoubtedly, preventive health measures are crucial in caring for pullets. You can do this by consulting a vet for the necessary vaccinations and deworming schedules.

To add to that, regularly check for external parasites such as lice and mites, especially if your pullets spend lots of time outdoors.

6. Adequate exercise and socialization

Pullets, like all chickens, require space to move around and socialize. Hence, ensure they have a spacious run where they can exercise and engage in natural chicken behavior like dust-bathing or foraging.

All in all, good social interaction among pullets can lead to a harmonious flock and reduce stress, which, in turn, supports overall health.

What to Watch Out for When Buying a Pullet?

Buying a pullet requires careful consideration. The following are some key points you need to watch out for:

  • Health Condition: Healthy pullet chickens are often active, alert, and playful. Thus, signs of sluggishness, obvious sickness, or abnormal behavior should not be ignored.
  • Age: Generally, pay attention to the different pullet ages. Young pullets are not yet at their laying stage, but older pullets may already be laying eggs. Understanding the age of a pullet can help manage your expectations for egg production.
  • Vent Health: Since hens are prone to egg binding, where eggs tend to become stuck in the uterus, doing a vent check before purchasing is highly recommended. This can help you avoid buying pullets that will suffer from reproductive-related problems.
  • Feather Quality: Good feather quality is one of the vital characteristics of a pullet that’s well-bred. So, look for pullets with full, shiny plumage. Dull, missing, or rough feathers could indicate health issues or malnutrition.
  • Breed: Certain breeds are better egg layers, while others may be preferred for their meat. If you want good egg-type pullets, research the breed in question’s productivity and suitability for your farm.
  • Timing: My experience has shown that chicks hatched between April and August tend to mature early. In short, the timing of your purchase could influence the pullet’s development and productivity.
  • Reputable Seller: You should prefer to buy chicks or adult hens from a reputable seller. Young hens need to get the proper care and attention, so it is important that you choose someone who knows what they are doing.

Ultimately, purchasing a pullet chicken is not a task to be taken lightly. Yet, with due diligence, you can ensure that you’re starting with a healthy, productive fowl that will provide eggs for many years.

When Does a Pullet Start Laying Eggs?

Pullet after laying eggs

Typically, pullets between the ages of 16 and 24 weeks will start laying eggs. Still, this timeline can vary depending on the chicken’s breed, diet, and environment.

It’s also important to note that you don’t need a rooster for a pullet to lay eggs. However, unless you want fertile eggs for hatching, you may want to consider purchasing one as soon as possible.

On another note, recognizing signs of readiness in your pullet can be helpful. The symptoms of a pullet being ready to lay include:

  • Darkening of the combs and wattles
  • Producing unique chicken sounds indicative of stress
  • Sudden interest in nesting boxes

In addition, remember that the first egg a pullet lays can be smaller than expected. Yet, don’t worry — once the sexual maturity of pullets is reached, they will eventually produce normal-sized eggs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Pullet side view on white background

Can a Pullet Be a Rooster?

No, a pullet cannot be a rooster. Pullets are young hens, not yet fully matured, while teenage roosters are called cockerels.

If you’ve ended up with a rooster when you bought a pullet, it’s possible you were misled by an unreliable source.

So, when buying chicks or adolescent pullets, it’s best to purchase from a reputable hatchery or poultry farm to avoid such mix-ups.

At What Age Does a Pullet Become a Hen?

A pullet becomes a hen when it reaches one year old. While the terms of the age may be a bit tricky, keep in mind that pullets are young, not-yet-mature hens.

Thus, even if they can start laying eggs when they’re about six months old, pullets are only considered hens once they have reached their first year of life.

Yet, to check for maturity, try cradling the hen. You can do this by grasping the pullet by its legs and placing your hand on its abdomen. You should feel three pronounced bumps underneath.

Can a Pullet Chicken Lay Eggs?

Yes, a pullet chicken can lay eggs. They usually begin to yield eggs between 16 and 24 weeks old. Yet, the exact age can vary depending on factors like breed and environment.

In short, when pullets are laying unexpectedly, it’s a clear sign that they are approaching sexual maturity and transitioning into adult female chickens.

Note, though, that while pullets can already produce eggs, they do not lay nearly as well as mature hens.

Will a Rooster Try to Mate With a Pullet?

Yes, a rooster may attempt to mate with a pullet. This typically happens when you add new pullets to a larger community with male chickens. Simply put, the presence of roosters can encourage mating behaviors.

However, remember that it’s essential to monitor such situations attentively. Unfortunately, if a rooster tries to breed with an incredibly young pullet, it could harm her.

Pullets rather enjoy being kept separate from the roosters for at least a few months.

Final Thoughts

Overall, pullets are young hens that have yet to experience laying eggs and sexual maturation. They’re basically the “teenagers” of the chicken world.

If you plan to own one, remember that caring for pullets isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it requires a thorough understanding of their needs, from diet to socialization and environment.

Buying pullets isn’t as easy as it may seem too. Of course, knowing the right breed, timing, and hatchery is crucial to ensuring that you get a healthy and productive flock for your backyard coop.

Nevertheless, once you’ve taken care of these factors — and made sure the pullet chickens you bought are happy — you’ll have a fantastic time watching them grow into mature hens.

Hopefully, this article has guided you in caring for these young fowls. Drop a comment if you have any more questions, or perhaps you’d like to share your experiences with a pullet chicken.

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