You’ve got your chicken coop built, everything is where it should be and you are ready to begin the first stages of developing your flock. If you’ve never wondered how long it takes for a chicken to grow, check it out here so you can organize your brood in the most optimal way.
Life of A Chicken
The life cycle of a chicken starts when the egg is formed within the body of a hen. The entire laying process takes about 25 to 26 hours per egg, and once it has been laid it will take approximately 21 days until it hatches into a fully developed chick.
Baby chicks shed their down and begin developing their feathers between 3 and 6 weeks of age, while also sporting new deep red combs and wattles. Since the growth rate can vary depending on factors like breed and genetics, talk to your veterinarian if you sense any problem. Normal growth rates show anywhere between 90 to 100 days before you can proudly say you have a fully grown feathery pet. A normal chicken’s life expectancy is between 8-10 years, but some make it even further.
On the contrary, chickens who are bred for meat have a quite different method of being measured. For them, it’s all about being bigger and growing faster to satisfy people’s demand for more and more food. This chicken’s growth rate is calculated by how long it takes for it to reach market weight, a value which is calculated to be around 56 days.
As you can see, “commercial” chickens are bred to be fully developed in about half the time that a regular one would be. The reason for this is because in the past few decades people have become more aware of their health and the demand for light meat has increased tenfold, with certain studies projecting a further 50% increase by 2050.
They Grow Up So Fast
In general terms, chickens are said to be adults when they reach sexual maturity and begin the process of laying eggs. This will typically happen when the birds are between 16 and 24 weeks of age, depending on the breed. However, the time might also vary from individual to individual, as some will develop more quickly or slowly than others.
If you need a ballpark figure, a young chicken can usually be considered mature when it reaches 18 weeks of life. Since hens have nowadays become productive and useful pets for a lot of people, it’s important to know what to expect when it comes to their lifespan.
The ancestors of these bundles of feathers were wild birds and, as such, their life expectancy was short and meager, those who managed to live up to 3-4 years considering themselves lucky. In the mid to late 1800s, man got the idea that collecting chickens and using them as a way to fulfill some needs was a pretty good one and thus their lives were irrevocably altered.
By interacting with humans, many of their wild behaviors were suppressed, productivity was increased and chickens became one of our most popular food sources. However, this interaction has also led to the development of two different types of birds: Heritage and Hybrid chickens.
Heritage hens have been raised and bred naturally with their own kind and as such they enjoy a longer lifespan by average, being expected to live for up to 8 years. Their breeding is aiming to make them “natural” layers so their laying period can cycle over 2-3 years and even longer. The reason for the longer expected lifespan is because their bodies haven’t been changed as much.
To the American Poultry Association, a heritage bird will mate naturally, have a slow growth rate and a longer outdoor life, come from pure stock and also meet their breed standards. So if you are looking for a chicken that grows at a slower, more natural pace, this is what you should focus on.
Hybrids, on the other hand, are the ones who have been manipulated by mankind to increase their productiveness. Their laying cycle is basically over after the second year since they were created specifically for the egg laying industry that got its start during the 1940s.
Hybrid hens are looked at as a way to maximize production and get a little meat after their cycle is over by sending them to the slaughterhouse. Because of the increased rate of egg-making, hybrids are also much more likely to die from causes such as reproductive tumors or egg yolk peritonitis.
As you can see, your chicken’s breed will contribute substantially to its lifespan, so this is why it is important that you become very informed before starting to raise the little birds in your backyard.
Factors That Can Affect Growth and Life Expectancy
Nowadays, diseases of poultry are much better understood and as such the caretakers can do a lot of preventive things in order to keep the hens healthy.
We know that parasites such as mites, lice, and worms are all things that can severely disrupt the health of our flock. Mites will suck blood potentially causing anemia, lice can cause skin irritation and worms can even kill a hen.
Preventive actions can be taken against this kind of events such as dusting and worming. Even if your time will not allow you to do a close inspection of your flock on a weekly basis, it is recommended that you do regular dustings to fight against infestations.
Housing – A Factor For A Longer Life
When it comes to housing chickens, things have certainly come a long way since the old days when they would be put together with the other animals and would have to make their living from whatever space was available to them. Freezing to death or being trampled and hurt by bigger animals was something very common back then.
These days, however, the chickens are sheltered from the weather and the predators by specially-built coops that are designed to keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Free from drafts, warm, dry, and safe, their life expectancy has also improved so housing is a big factor in the 8-10 years a domestic chicken is expected to live.