Small Farming Definition: Pullet

Hens, Chickens, and Pullets...Oh My!

Organically and Sustainably Raised Farmed Chickens
Ben Miller/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The term pullet refers to a young hen, usually under one year of age. The definition of pullet can refer to a laying hen or a meat chicken but is more typically used in reference to a laying hen.

Many people are adding chicken farms to their farms or backyards, and these coops likely have a few pullets. What should you know about raising a pullet in comparison to an adult hen?

The Basics on Pullets

Healthy chicks that are raised under sound feeding and management practices will produce healthy hens.

Purchasing the right type of chick is important when starting or managing a chicken coop. If you want the best type of hen for egg production purposes, choose the small-bodied commercial White Leghorn strains. There are a few commercial brown egg-laying strains available that lay nearly as well as White Leghorns and are satisfactory for small-flock production. Consider raising both some good egg-type pullets and some broiler crosses for meat, instead of using a dual-purpose breed that is not ideal for either purpose.

When you are purchasing chicks for egg production, choose sexed pullet chicks. You don't need males unless you want fertile eggs to hatch; they consume feed and take up space that you could more profitably use for hens.

You may be excited for the pullet to become mature so it can begin production, but it's better to delay the sexual maturity of pullets. This will allow them to grow better before egg production.

Increasing day length triggers early sexual maturity of the pullet. Chicks hatched between April and August can be exposed to the natural day length because the day length goes down during the latter part of the growth period. When they are ready to produce, they can do well with more light stimulation.

If you have a small flock, consider starting chicks after March because you will require less heat in order to brood them.

Are Your Pullets Producing?

If your pullets are well taken care of, they can start laying eggs when they are between 16 and 24 weeks old. When they begin laying, they will need extra nutrition, so be sure to choose the right feed for hens.

Here is how to tell if your pullet is a laying hen:

  • The chicken will be between 16 and 24 weeks old
  • It will appear to be full grown with clean, new feathers
  • The chicken's combs and wattles will be swollen and look red
  • The hen's pelvis bones will begin to separate. You can tell if this has happened by cradling the hen and holding its feet so it cannot kick you, then place your hand gently on its rear end, and see if three prominent bones feel close together. If so, it will be a few more weeks until she begins to lay eggs.

If your pullet is ready to start laying eggs, make sure to give her some privacy. It's vital to have nest boxes in place before the first egg arrives. Line them with straw, wood chips, dried grass, or shredded paper to make sure the eggs stay clean.