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The Life of a Chicken: Chicken Life Cycle

Rooster with his hens

Chicken Life Cycle

So have you ever gotten an actual answer to the question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Yeah, me neither. But here, we will start with the egg and follow the little bird’s growth to adulthood.

So why is it important to understand the chicken’s life cycle?

Understanding a chicken’s life cycle can help you become a better chicken keeper and provide better care for them and improve egg production.

With the cost of food rising, and more interest in growing your own food, raising a small flock or a few of your own chickens is a great investment.

Or, raising chicks is a great learning experience for children or those who have never cared for birds or livestock.

So let’s get into it and learn what happens after a chicken lays an egg.

Chicken Life Cycle

Overview of the Chicken Reproductive Cycle

There are several distinct stages of the chicken’s life cycle.

  • The egg is fertilized by male chickens (roosters), and laid by a female (hen).
  • The fertile eggs are incubated (kept warm) by the hen.
  • The baby grows inside the egg, and hatches.
  • The young chicks go through different developmental stages: a hatchling, a chick, a pullet, then an adult.

Fertilization and Egg Formation

Going back to basic biology from school, in order for an egg to hatch into a chick, it takes both a male and a female.

If you don’t want to hatch a chick, you do not need to keep males in your flock. The female will still lay an egg even without a male around, but it can not become a new little bird without fertilization.

Fact Files: Chickens lay eggs

Many backyard chicken coops do not keep males, because they don’t like little surprises when they crack an egg in the morning. Or the rooster crowing at all times of the day and night. But having a male in the flock does have some benefits. The head rooster is usually tasked with the protection of the flock.

One of the most obvious benefits of having a male around is if you want to hatch some eggs.

Let’s talk about how it goes down: the chicken has to accept the rooster’s courtship. This involves a fancy courtship dance from the rooster.

He flares out one wing to impress the lady and hops on one foot and turns a quick circle. If she likes it, she allows him to fertilize the egg.

If she isn’t interested, she will usually run away quickly. But let’s be real. One rejection by the female doesn’t stop him from trying again.

So let’s say she is in the game. The sperm then enters the egg through tiny pores in its shell and then travels down to the nucleus, to the yolk, which contains the egg’s genetic material, or a chicken blueprint.

Once getting to the nucleus, the sperm fuses with the egg’s genetic material, which completes fertilization and creates a new embryo, or the beginnings of a new baby chick!

Chicken Files

Like many other species of birds, chickens tend to brood between four and seven eggs at a time.

The eggs take about three weeks to hatch. During this time, the mother will protect her clutch from predators and keep them warm in her nest.

Once hatched, the chicks can survive on their own by foraging for food and are independent within just a few weeks.

The cycle of egg-laying then repeats again!

Stage 1: Egg Development

The first step in the chicken life cycle is, unsurprisingly, the egg.

Although most eggs come from commercial operations, it is possible to purchase supplies and incubate your own eggs at home. Some people choose this route if they want a bird bred specifically for a trait, such as color, personality, egg production, etc.

So how does a chicken make an egg?

The process takes about 24 hours in total. The hen ovulates, releasing the yolk into her oviduct. Then it will travel through the oviduct, where it will be coated in albumen and several protective layers.

This takes over three hours and then takes another 20-26 hours to solidify into a hard egg shell.

Once complete, the hen lays the egg within 24 hours of starting this process.

Chicken eggs have a protective shell made out of calcium carbonate, which helps to keep the developing baby safe.

Inside the egg are several nutrients and an embryo, which will eventually become a baby chick.

Stages of an Embryo

The first part of a chicken’s life cycle is incubation. This is when the egg is fertilized and the embryo develops inside the egg. Mother hens will sit on the eggs to keep them warm and make sure the embryo develops until hatching.

However, if you don’t have a mother hen, you can use an incubator to keep the eggs warm. These can be made, but commercially made ones can be purchased for good results, and ease.

The Embryo Grows in the Shell

Once the egg is fertilized, the embryonic development of a chicken begins. Or, in other words, the baby chick starts to develop in the egg.

A fertilized chicken egg goes through three distinct stages of growth before it hatches. As the embryo grows, so does its need for nourishment. The yolk sac in the center of the egg provides this nutrition until it is absorbed by the chick’s body.

  • Stage 1: The single cell that was formed during fertilization begins to split and divide rapidly. This cell division continues until the embryo develops into a recognizable shape and begins to form various organs, limbs, and feathers.
  • Stage 2: This is a period of accelerated growth, with more feathers and tissue being formed as well as the chick’s sharp beak and claws beginning to develop.
  • Stage 3: More feathers and facial detail grow while fat deposits also increase in size so that the chick can survive outside of its shell.

After three weeks of growth, the fully developed chick hatches from its shell and enters the world.

For a fantastic video on how a chicken grows inside the egg, check out this video from Poultry Hub Australia.


As the chick grows, its developing body absorbs calcium from the eggshell and produces an enzyme that helps it crack out of the egg.

New chicks will also develop temporary ‘egg teeth’, which is a sharp growth on the end of the beak that will help with breaking through the shell at hatching.

Generally, hatching can take anywhere from 21 to 24 days depending on the breed and chicken species being hatched. Most eggs hatch after about 21 days of incubation.

Once out of its shell, the tiny chicks will search for food by pecking at nearby protein sources. After about a month, the feathers grow in, and the chick is ready to live independently outside of its cozy incubator!

Stage 2: Chick (Toddler)

After the baby chicks hatch, they need to be kept in a warm and safe place, where they can eat and drink easily. They are definitely in the awkward stage, and their mother will continue to take care of them and keep them warm.

If you don’t have a mother hen, you can keep chicks in a warm, dry place under a heat lamp, with fresh food and water available at all times.

I have found that the baby birds I keep this way enjoy hiding, playing, and sleeping under a clean, new feather duster that I hang. The feathers seem to comfort the little ones.

During this stage, chicks grow rapidly and need plenty of food and water to support their growth.


From the moment they hatch, chicks start to grow rapidly. Newly hatched chicks will double their weight in just 24 hours and then triple it within 48 hours.

As they age, their growth rate will slow down but still remain quite fast overall.

In the first few weeks, roughly 4–6 weeks of hatching, the chicks will be starting to develop their true feathers (adult feathers) and behavior patterns.

By 8–10 weeks, the chicks will have become young hens or roosters called pullets.

From those small beginnings to fully grown adults can take up to 15–20 weeks depending on the breed of chicken.

Stage 3: Pullet Stage(Adolescent)

During this stage of chicken development, the birds have become fully feathered, and those fabulous tail feathers form on the males.

They have learned to forage for food. They have competed for the pecking order and started exploring the world around them, learning survival skills from their actions, fights with other chicks, and interactions with insects and other animals.

Chickens need a variety of foods, including grains, fruits, and vegetables, to help them grow properly. You can also get pullet developer mix sold in agriculture stores or a local feed business to help balance the needs of the diet.

The pullet stage lasts for about 7-10 weeks, and at this time, they start transitioning from a chick to a chicken. And the gender differences really become noticeable. The chickens change, the roosters begin to crow, and their behavior becomes more adult.

Stage 4: Hen (Adult)

Egg Laying

The next step in the chicken life cycle is being an adult. Adulthood brings new challenges, such as providing space for roosting, dust bathing for cleaning feathers, access to plenty of greens for nutrition, and protection from predators and the elements.

Once a chick has grown up, hens will begin laying eggs, but how many and how often eggs are laid varies from breed to breed.

Some hens can start laying eggs as early as five months old, while others may take one to two years.

I’ve noticed with my own chickens that most will start laying within the first eight months.

A good rule of thumb is a happy chicken lays more eggs. So make sure they have a well-balanced diet for laying hens, enough light exposure, and a comfortable living environment.

Stage 5: Maturity

The final stage is when they become older birds. Once the chickens reach maturity, they are still an important part of a homesteader’s life – not just for egg production but for meat as well.

When chickens reach old age, extra care is needed to ensure they get enough rest and protection from the elements.

When older hens reach their fourth or fifth year, they have a good chance of being culled from the flock for meat or soup stock. This is a hard reality for most homestead chickens.

Some people love their little feathered friends, so the chicken keeper will let them live out their lives in peace.

Fact Files: Chickens are jungle fowl decendents.


Understanding the different stages of a chicken’s life cycle is essential to ensuring they receive the necessary care and attention throughout their life.

Whether raising chickens for egg production, meat, or as a hobby, knowing the different stages of their lives will help you understand how to care for them properly.

Regardless of a chicken’s age, providing them with adequate food and water, a clean living environment, and plenty of space to roam can help ensure your chickens stay healthy and content throughout their lives.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How long does a chicken live? On average, chickens live around 5-10 years, depending on the breed.Some more common breeds, such as the Leghorn, Plymouth Rock, and Rhode Island Red, can have lifespans up to around 8-9 years. Larger heritage breeds like a Buff Orpington can live up to 10 or 12 years.

How long do chickens lay eggs? Adult hens continue laying eggs for about three years. At this point, they may stop laying eggs altogether, or the eggs may become less frequent.

How many eggs does a chicken lay in a day? A chicken can lay 1 egg per day. It takes about 24 hours for an egg to develop in the chicken before it can be laid. However, a chicken doesn’t always lay an egg every day.

How many eggs can a chicken lay in its lifetime? A well-cared-for chicken can lay around 250-300 eggs per year during its peak laying period. However, this high production usually lasts for a few years, after which the egg production may decline.

Assuming a chicken lays eggs for about 3-4 years before the production decreases significantly, the total number of eggs can range from 750-1200 in its lifetime. It’s important to note that these numbers are approximate and can vary depending on individual chicken circumstances.

How often do chickens lay eggs? Chickens typically lay eggs about once every 24 to 26 hours. This means that most chickens will lay an egg every day or every other day. However, it can vary depending on the breed, age, and environmental factors. Some chickens may lay more frequently, while others may lay less frequently.

At what age do chickens start laying eggs? Chickens typically start laying eggs between the ages of 5 and 6 months, although this can vary depending on the breed and individual development. Some early-maturing breeds may start laying as early as 4 months, while others may take a bit longer and start around 7 to 8 months. As a quick note: it’s important to provide the chickens with proper nutrition, a suitable environment, and enough daylight hours to stimulate egg production.

Rooster with his flock of chickens

Do all chickens lay eggs? No, not all chickens lay eggs. The ability to lay eggs is limited to female chickens, known as hens. Roosters, which are male chickens, do not lay eggs. Their role is to fertilize the eggs laid by hens. However, it’s worth noting that some chicken breeds are specifically bred for meat production rather than egg-laying, and may have reduced or no egg-laying capabilities.

What are the signs that a chicken is ready to lay eggs?

There are several signs that indicate a chicken is ready to start laying eggs:

  1. Comb and Wattles: The comb and wattles, which are fleshy growths on the chicken’s head and neck, will become larger and redder in color as the hen nears the point of lay.
  2. Squatting Behavior: When you approach a hen that is ready to lay, she may squat down low to the ground. This is a submissive behavior, indicating she is preparing to lay an egg.
  3. Nesting Behavior: A hen about to lay eggs will show nesting behavior, such as scratching at the ground, creating a nest, or seeking out secluded spots in the coop.
  4. Vent Enlargement: The vent, which is the opening where the egg is laid, will start to enlarge and become more moist and pliable as the hen prepares for egg-laying.
  5. Vocalizations: Hens may display specific vocalizations or “egg songs” before or after laying an egg. These can vary between individuals but often indicate their excitement or satisfaction. And it can be loud.

It’s important to note that not all hens will exhibit these signs in the same way, so it’s important to watch individual behaviors and monitor any changes in their physical appearance or habits.

Can you incubate and hatch chicken eggs at home? Yes, you can incubate and hatch chicken eggs at home. It can be a rewarding project for those interested in growing their backyard flocks. The incubation process typically takes around 21 days. To successfully hatch chicken eggs at home, you would need to maintain a consistent temperature of approximately 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5 degrees Celsius) throughout the incubation period. It’s also important to ensure proper humidity levels and turning the eggs regularly for optimal development. However, it’s recommended to follow a detailed guide or seek advice from reliable sources to make sure your little chicks have a successful hatching process.

Can chickens reproduce without a rooster? No, chickens cannot reproduce without a rooster. Biology illustrates for fertilization to occur and for the eggs to develop into chicks, a rooster’s contribution is necessary. When a hen mates with a rooster, the rooster’s sperm fertilizes the egg inside the hen’s oviduct. However, it’s worth noting that hens can still lay eggs even without mating with a rooster. These unfertilized eggs will not develop into chicks and are typically what we find in grocery stores for consumption.

How long does it take for a chicken to hatch from an egg? On average, it takes about 21 days for a chicken to hatch from an egg. This duration can vary slightly depending on the breed of the chicken and the specific incubation conditions. During this period, the egg is kept in a warm and controlled environment, such as an incubator or under a broody hen, to provide the necessary conditions for development. It’s important to ensure the right temperature, humidity, and turning of the eggs during the incubation process to increase the chances of successful hatching.

How long does it take for a chick to grow into a mature chicken? The time it takes for a chick to grow into a mature chicken can vary depending on various factors, including the breed and the desired purpose of the chicken. On average, it takes about 5 to 6 months for most chicken breeds to reach maturity. However, some slower-growing heritage breeds may take up to 7 to 8 months or even longer. Factors such as diet, living conditions, and overall health can also influence the growth rate of chickens. It’s important to provide appropriate care, nutrition, and space for the chickens to ensure healthy growth and development.

What is the average lifespan of a chicken? On average, the lifespan of a chicken is around 5 to 10 years. However, this can vary depending on factors such as breed, living conditions, and overall health. Some chickens may live longer, while others may have shorter lifespans. Commercially raised chickens, bred for meat production, tend to have shorter lifespans compared to heritage breeds or chickens kept for egg-laying purposes. Proper care, nutrition, and protection from predators and diseases can help extend the lifespan of chickens.

Are there any health concerns or diseases that can affect chickens during their life cycle?

During their life cycle, chickens can be susceptible to various health concerns and diseases. Here are some common ones:

  1. Bacterial Diseases: Bacterial infections, such as colibacillosis and salmonellosis, can spread rapidly among chickens and impact the entire flock.
  2. Respiratory Diseases: Infectious Coryza is an upper respiratory disease caused by the bacteria Avibacterium paragallinarum, leading to poor growth and reduced productivity in chickens.
  3. Parasitic Infections: Chickens can suffer from external parasites like mites and lice, as well as internal parasites, including roundworms and tapeworms, which are often a result of poor management and soil contamination.
  4. Liver and Kidney Issues: Chickens may develop problems with their liver and kidneys, including conditions like Fatty Liver Haemorrhagic Syndrome (FLHS).

It is important for chicken owners to provide proper care, hygiene, and regular veterinary check-ups to minimize the risk of such health concerns and diseases.

Flock of Chickens

Works Cited

“Chicken.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, kids.brinannica.com/kids/article/chicken/352949#. Accessed 9 July 2023. https://kids.britannica.com/kids/article/chicken/352949#

“Egg Tooth.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/science/egg-tooth. Accessed 9 July 2023.

Sweet, Lanella, “The life cycle of the chicken.” Investigating: Australian Primary & Junior Science Journal, vol.12, no. 3, Aug. 1996. Academic Search Premier, 08159602.

“Types of Poultry.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/topic/poultry-farmin/Types-of-poultry#ref326329. Accessed 4 July 2023.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “sericulture”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Dec. 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/sericulture. Accessed 2 August 2023. https://www.britannica.com/topic/poultry-farming/Types-of-poultry#ref326329

Poultry Hub Australia YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PedajVADLGw

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