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What is a Spring Chicken?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Agriculturally speaking, there really is a creature known as a spring chicken, although chefs may call it a Cornish game hen or Poussin. Bred primarily for eating, it is a very young bird with a high ratio of white to dark meat. The meat is said to be much juicier and more tender than older chickens raised for the dinner table. During the earliest days of poultry farming, it was impossible to raise chicks during the cold winter months, so a chicken brought to market in the spring was prized for its youth and fresher flavor.

Metaphorically speaking, a spring chicken could represent a person in the prime of his or her youth. Such a person may be a little naive or unseasoned at times, but he often makes up in physical agility and personality what he may lack in worldly experience. A young college student may be described with this term by others who envy his or her youthful appearance or unclouded worldview.

It is often more common to see the negative form: "no spring chicken," in print, because the speaker wants to emphasize his or her non-youthful status. A character may apologize for his or her slowed performance, citing the fact that he or she is no longer young. The reference is more of a self-deprecating remark than a criticism of younger people. Being considered a spring chicken by an older person is not usually taken as a pejorative, but rather as a comment on one's youth and vitality.

Some restaurants still promote the freshness of their poultry by calling it spring chicken, although modern advances in poultry farming make that designation less significant. The same features which made the original young bird so prized can now be duplicated all year round. Chicks can be hatched in staggered batches and housed in heated incubators, which means a chicken under the age of 10 months should be ready for market at any time of the year, not just the spring months.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon1004268 — On Jan 01, 2021

This article is sort of right. And sort of wrong. Spring chickens could be Cornish Game Hens. And they could be other chicken breeds. The common practice in bygone days before mass production was that a farmer would slaughter the majority of his chickens for food for the winter and keep just one or two roosters and a dozen hens or so. Then in the early spring, they would mate, lay eggs, brood chicks, and multiply the flock. So the first chickens were Spring Chickens of whatever breed or breeds the particular farmer had in his flock. Most breeds were what we call "dual breeds", good for egg production or meat. You would sell off one or two hens, but not too many, or risk losing your flock.

Interesting point about Cornish Game breed is they were originally called "Indian Game" birds. They were bred in 1820 in an attempt to develop a better fighting cock - the rooster, which is the male chicken. That didn't work out, but the heavier birds turned out to be delicious. Nowadays they have been replaced by a hybrid called the Cornish Cross, which can be ready for market in as little as 8 weeks.

By Markus — On May 19, 2011

@elleferris – Add some thyme to your recipe the next time and consider using bacon instead of butter. The bacon seeps into the bird and gives it a sweet smoky flavor.

I’ve used leftovers from bacon flavored chicken before and made a wonderful spring chicken salad.

Whatever ingredients you use with your regular chicken you can pretty much do the same thing with these guys.

One of my favorite chicken marinades that I now use on my Cornish hens is teriyaki and pineapple. It’s such a quick and easy Asian meal that’s so delicious.

By ellafarris — On May 18, 2011

I use my crock pot for cooking chicken whenever possible. The other day I bought two Cornish Game Hens and wondered if they could be cooked in the crock pot too just like any other chicken. My family loves them but I’ve always traditionally baked them in the oven.

I did a quick Google search for spring chicken recipes and was I amazed? Not only can they be cooked in the crock pot but they are even more tender and moist than they are in the oven.

The first recipe I used called for very few ingredients of just rosemary, garlic, melted butter and mushrooms. I was really just testing the cooking process but, I did want them to be tasty.

It was fall off the bone delicious. My family loved it and I can’t wait to experiment with more ingredients next time.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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