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Chickens play an important part in our food chain, from the eggs they produce to their meat. Although their life span is short, it is interesting to observe, beginning with the egg and following it into a fully mature, feathered bird.
The Fertilized Egg
A chick's life begins once an egg is fertilized. A fertilized egg contains the yolk, amniotic fluid (egg white) and a small blood spot, which is the beginning of a new life.
The blood spot, which is the embryo, will develop into a chick over a period of 21 days until it hatches. During the 48 hours prior to hatching, the chick will pull the yolk into its abdomen and use it as a food source for its first few days of life.
Once a chick hatches, it no longer needs its mother. It does require water, special feed and chick grit to eat until it is 18 to 24 weeks old. At this time, the birds are considered mature and are able to eat adult chicken feed.
According to Murray McMurray Hatchery, adult chickens begin laying eggs when they are between 5-7 months of age. The first eggs they lay are smaller than they will be in the future. A chicken will lay eggs without a rooster, but they will not be fertilized without him.
Chicken Life Span
Chickens have an average life span of three to five years, although some may live longer. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy states that meat chickens can be processed when they mature, anytime from age 5 to 12 months, depending upon the breed. Older chickens may be eaten, but they are classified as "stewing fowl" because they have to be cooked longer to be tender.