Although Florida does not have a large commercial poultry industry, there is much enthusiasm for small flocks and backyard flocks. The information below contains answers to the most common poultry questions that we receive.
You may also be interested in a set of newsletters dedicated to small poultry production and poultry information. The newsletter, Feathered Facts, can be accessed by clicking the titled link.
Please also look at the the sidebar to the right for additional poultry information that may be of interest to you.
Poultry Questions & Answers
Interest in small flocks of poultry has been on the rise for a few years. This has been enhanced by the fact that many municipalities now offer a permitting system for residential homeowners to have small flocks solely for egg production. For more in depth information about poultry, please visit the Feathered Facts archive or contact the UF/IFAS Extension Baker County Office with your questions.
General Poultry Q & A
- What is the average lifespan of a chicken? Chickens can live for several years if their living conditions are correct. It is not uncommon for a chicken to live from 6 to 10 years. However, this does not mean that the animal will stay in peak production for that amount of time. Most commercial laying hens are kept between 2 and 3 years.
- How old are chickens when they begin to lay eggs? Under ideal conditions (nutrition, day length, housing, and management), hens should begin to lay eggs at around 20 weeks of age (5 months). There may be some that start a little earlier than this, and some that start a bit later, but 20 weeks is the average age.
- My hen just hatched some baby chicks. What is the male/female distribution? How can I tell if my chicks are male or female? Under normal conditions, a random mating will result in a 50:50 ratio of male to female offspring. There are no tricks or procedures that occur during incubation that will change the clutch of eggs to majority female or majority male. Determining the sex of newly hatched chicks is very difficult. There are some crosses that result in differences in feather length of male and female offspring, but these are accomplished under controlled conditions. In most cases you will have to wait until the chicks are older to determine the sex.
Incubation, Embryology, and Egg Q & A
- Which part of the egg develops into the baby chick, the yolk or the white? Acutally, neither the yolk nor the white develop into the baby chick. There is a group of cells on top of the yolk called the germinal disc. In an unfertilized egg, the cells look like a small, pale dot. In a fertilized egg that has been incubated for a few hours, the disc has a doughnut shape due to cell division. It is these cells that will eventually become the baby chick. The egg white (albumen) contains many antibacterial elements that help protect the developing embryo, while the yolk is the nutrient source.
- Will a double-yolk egg develop into twin chicks? No. While both germinal discs may start to develop within the egg during incubation, there is not enough room inside the egg to support the development of two chicks. Even if they are fertilized, double-yolk eggs almost never hatch out; and if they do, only one chick will have developed.
- I've heard that changing the incubation temperature will influence the sex of the hatching baby chicks. Is this true? The incubation temperature has no influence on the sex of the baby chick that hatches. In chickens, the choromosomes that determine sex are ZZ for male and Z0 for female (compared to XX for female and XY for male in humans). It is the combination of these chromosomes that determines the sex of the baby chick. Thus in chickens, it is the female chromosome donation that determines the sex of the baby chick, compared to the male chromosome donation in humans. Temperature fluctuations outside of the normal range may cause embryos to stop developing, resulting in few to no chicks hatching.
Poultry Meat and Egg Products Q & A
- Are hormones used to produce poultry meat? No. Hormones are not fed to or administered to commercial poultry. Federal law prohibits the use of hormones in poultry meat and egg production and has since the 1950s and 1960s. The rapid growth rates, high egg production, and excellent feed efficiencies that are seen in today's poultry are the result of selective breeding, excellent nutrition, and good husbandry practices. Please note that poultry labels cannot contain claims such as "No Hormones Added" unless that statement is followed by another that states "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry production", or the like.
- Why do some chickens in grocery stores have yellow skin while others have white skin? The yellow color of some chicken skin is caused by the ingestion of yellow and orange pigments in the poultry feed. Corn is an example of a feed ingredient that has yellow pigments. These pigments are absorbed from the feed and produce the yellow skin. This also happens in egg production and is why the yolks can have varying hues from light yellow to almost orange. There is no nutritional difference in these eggs, only differences in pigmentation.
- Why do chickens and turkeys have light and dark meat? As with other animals, different muscles in these birds perform different tasks. Muscles that are used a great deal and over long periods of time require a lot of oxygen to perform well. There is a compound in these muscles that helps store oxygen for use during periods of increased or long-term use. This compound is called myoglobin. Myoglobin is similar to hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells and carries oxygen throughout the body. Each of these molecules contains iron, and when they are loaded with oxygen, present a reddish color. Muscles that are used extensively contain a lot of myoglobin, which results in their reddish, darker hue. Muscles that are used less frequently or only for short periods of time have much less myoglobin and are lighter in color. This is why chickens and turkeys have darker meat in the legs and thighs (muscles which are used a lot) and lighter meat in the breast and wings (commercial chickens and turkeys don't fly often or for long periods). Other fowl that fly, such as ducks, will have dark meat in the breast and wing area as well.