Being able to assess a bird's age is a valuable skill as an unscrupulous seller may attempt to pass off an ageing hen as a young layer.
With male birds the length of the spur, which grows out of the leg above the foot, is a good indicator of age.
Actual lengths vary from breed to breed so it is hard to be specific. However, in most cases the spur does not start to grow until the bird reaches sexual maturity, which normally takes at least four months.
You would expect a six-month-old male to show a spur that is less than a centimetre long. On more mature birds it can have grown to anything in 3 to 4 cm in length.
Overall size of the foot is a useful tell-tale sign as far as hens is concerned. A pullet will have much smaller feet, with much tighter scales, than an older hen.
Also, the scales on older birds will tend to look rougher, particulary at the joints between the toes and the foot.
A new set of scales grows every year and, if the previous set is not completely shed, the build-up leads to roughness.
Spreading the wing is another useful thing to do when judging age. Most young POL pullets, aged between 4 and 6 months, will not have grown a complete set of wing feathers. Pointed wing feather tips on a chicken indicate a young bird. Mature feathers have rounded ends.
Chickens tend to lay larger eggs as they get older and they also lay fewer eggs as they get older.
The importance of good husbandry routine can never be over-emphasized; keeping birds well will make all the difference to their lives.
How long to chickens live?
Chickens have a potential lifespan of up to 10 years and, as such, represent a fairly long-term commitment. Egg productivity diminishes after the first year. It is still good the second year, but then declines rapidly. The productive life of a chicken is typically about 4 years. Many people tend to breed replacements anually.