Culling old laying hens is not the easiest task on the farm.
Heck, are there any easy tasks on the farm? (Shaye reflects… Shaye realizes that no, there aren't any easy tasks on the farm… Shaye moves on with her life.).
Heading into the thick of winter, if one has chickens, one must ask themselves: “Do I want to feed these old hens through the winter even though they won't give me any eggs?”
This is a new hen. She gets to stay.
It's a hard question, actually. When a hen reaches this point in her laying career, it's challenging to let her go. By now, she's most likely been on your farm for a few years and has earned her place in the coop. You most likely know her mannerisms and personality. She's given you many eggs through her time on the farm and it seems slightly selfish to cull her when the going gets tough.
But that's a decision we must face.
It isn't cheap to feed chickens through the winter. When grass and bugs are low, the chickens tend to hang closer to the coop, and thus, eat a lot more grain. High quality grain is expensive and even hens low in productivity will easily eat 1/3 of a pound of a day. That'll add up quickly.
And so, when the arrival of winter was eminent, we knew we had to take a few hours and work on culling the old laying hens. There's an input to output ratio that we hold to on our farm and these hens were long past their days of peak contribution.
Looking at a chicken's feet is one of the easiest ways to pick out young ones from old ones.
What To Look For When Culling Old Laying Hens
- Look for old hens that have any sort of physical disability that may hinder them from producing.
- Look for old hens that have succumb to pests, such as scaly leg mites.
- Look for hens with pale waddles, skin, and earlobes.
- Look for hens that are molting for a second (or more) time. Hens will molt each year and with each subsequent molt, their eggs will get slightly bigger but will come less frequently.
- Bad attitudes. This is a great time to remove nasty ‘ol hens that you won't want around your littles (and also those spare roosters you've been meaning to get rid of).
Culling old laying hens may seem like a mean task, but in reality, it's the best way you can ensure your flock stays healthy and producing. Old hens are much more susceptible to injury, disease, and pests.
Think of it like spring cleaning your closest. But in the winter. And with a wee bit more blood involved.
Our culled hens are quickly decapitated with a hatchet. It's possible to butcher the laying hens just like a meat chicken and process them for supper, but on this particular day, we had also butchered 15 rabbits, so I wasn't in the mood to pluck feathers. Rather, these ladies were packaged and are being utilized for natural dog food. After all, the pups gotta eat as well.
We were able to cull out old hens and process the meat rabbits right before the snow fell. Whew! Nothing like waiting till the last minute. This time last year, we were packing up our rental house, moving seven ton of hay in the worst winter our town had seen in a hundred years, butchering chickens and pigs in the midst of it all, preparing for baby number four, and trying not to lose our minds in the madness.
This year, it feels good to be cleaning out those closets… errr, coops.
Speaking of, I seriously do need to clean out my closets. Is it weird that I'm ready for spring cleaning and it's not even Christmas yet?
Organization is my love language.
Which is ironic, considering I'm not very organized.
At least my coop is full of youthful, producing chickens! That's gotta count for something.
More posts on chickens:
- Homemade Chicken Stock
- How to Butcher a Chicken
- What to do with Chicken Feet
- Building a Chicken Run
- Trimming Chicken Wings
- How to Cut up a Whole Chicken