Best age to cull and start a new flock

jamie551

In the Brooder
Sep 12, 2015
9
6
39
I have hens for egg production, they are not pets. They live a great, happy life, don't misunderstand. But they're purpose on the homestead is egg production. So I know that their production will slow as time goes on, and at some point they basically would become pets. So my question is, when do most people cull and start a new flock?
 

ChickenCanoe

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Nov 23, 2010
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If I was adamant about raising only for eggs and I didn't want to feed non-producing birds, I would do it like commercial egg producers do. Cull going into the second autumn when they'll molt and stop laying till after they recover.
If you do it that way, you'll want to start chicks in February or March so those begin laying by slaughter time.
Keep in mind that the mature birds will resume laying around winter solstice and lay like gangbusters till the following fall.
What breed/s of layers do you have?
 

jamie551

In the Brooder
Sep 12, 2015
9
6
39
I have:
6 RHODE ISLAND RED
3 BUFF ORPINGTON
3 BLACK AUSTRALORP
3 BLACK LACED SILVER WYANDOTTE
They're about 14 months old now.
 

RWise

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Dec 25, 2012
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If you are on the northern side of the planet, the days are growing shorter, to short, most will shut down or at least slow down for the winter. I use lights to keep my girls laying, I dont sell eggs so I only up the hours to 13.5 per day. This keeps enuf girls laying to keep me in eggs. Some will go 14-15 hours per day.
Winter set in early this year and my girls do not like that!
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
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Nov 27, 2012
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I hatch or purchase new chicks every spring, slaughter cockerels at 12-16wks and older hens in the fall to get down to winter housing numbers. So I have 2 or 3 age groups at all times.

Right now I have 3-2016 birds, 4-2017 birds , and 10-2018 birds plus a cockbird.
I use supplemental lighting to help keep them laying thru the winter, just under 13 hours now and will bump at to 14+ at Solstice.
 

press1forenglish

Chirping
Nov 20, 2018
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Northeast Pennsylvania
I've given things like this some thought and while I have no issues to slaughter, an 18-24 month laying hen should bring you the same or more money sold live than it can butchered (and without the labor). I see prices anywhere from $9.50 (Moyer's) to $39.99 (Stromberg's) for 4 month old pullets. I see Craigslist ads for $12-$25 usually advertised as "under 2 yrs old". Besides, the old birds just aren't as tender and tasty as the young ones. Just a thought.
 

aart

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an 18-24 month laying hen should bring you the same or more money sold live than it can butchered
No one, well not many, who knows better will buy that age bird in the fall when they are molting and won't lay all winter. Much can depend on why you have layers and how you want to, and can, manage your flock. Winter housing is my limiter, and I'm not in it to make or save money.

A 4month old bird is a much 'different animal'... haha!

Old birds might not be as tender, but they are plenty tasty!!
 

Ridgerunner

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There are different ways to go about this, just like there are different ways with everything to do with chickens. If eggs are your only concern you might consider the hybrid commercial egg layers like ISA browns. They are bred to lay a lot of large eggs in season and have fairly small bodies so more of what they eat goes to egg production instead of maintaining a large body. That means they have a good food to egg conversion rate, which is more important if you are buying most of what they eat. They were developed by selective breeding, no GMO there. Their genetics are so fine tuned to producing lot of large eggs they are prone to more medical problems, especially if you overfeed them.

Hatcheries sell two different types of sex links, the commercial hybrids and just crosses of dual purpose chickens. The commercial hybrids are egg laying machines, the dual purpose crosses are like the dual purpose hatchery birds. They also lay a lot of eggs but may not lay quite as many. Also the eggs tend to be a bit smaller. They are still a good choice for eggs.

The commercial hybrids have been highly studied so they know how to manage them for greatest efficiency. That includes housing, lights, even down to how much feed a single hen eats in a hen house with 5,000 hens roaming around. We tend to not manage them that tightly. Heck, I would not know how to. Their egg production follows a certain cycle. They start out laying tremendously but over time egg production starts to drop in a predictable way. The longer they lay without a break the more egg production drops, number of eggs as well as quality. Usually after a year to 15 months of continuous laying the production drops off enough they have to make a decision to maintain profitability, either replace them or feed them through a molt to get another season of great egg production. Some choose one some the other, depending a lot on how well that flock produced the previous cycle. They have it down to a science.

After the first adult molt egg production does not drop much if any plus the eggs are a bit larger. However after a second adult molt the egg production will drop an average of around 15% across the flock. That is enough so it is not profitable so the entire flock is replaced.

Our dual purpose backyard flocks have not been studied nearly as much, who will pay for it? They will follow the same general patterns of decreased egg production after a second adult molt and a drop-off in production the longer they lay without molting to recharge their batteries. Another issue is that we don't have 5,000 hens in a hen house, we generally don't have enough for averages to mean much. Just one or two hens that perform really poorly or really great can skew our results. Ours is more of a feel than real science. Hopefully this explains a little of what is going on so you can observe yours and make a somewhat informed decision.

Often, but not always, a production breed pullet (which yours are) will skip the molt their first fall/winter and continue to lay until they molt the following fall. Mine usually do and I do not extend lights for them. I'll say it again to try to be clear, not all production breed pullets will lay through their first winter, but many do. Production can still drop during periods of severe weather.

You can totally clean out your older birds and replace them. I'd suggest about the time they start to molt and production drops. You can eat them, give them away, or sell them. Cull can mean different things to different people. You can start the replacement pullets whenever you wish to manage when you get eggs.

I use a different system that suits my goals better. I mainly raise mine for meat and to play with genetics. Unlike you, the eggs are just a nice side benefit to me. My main laying/breeding flock is 7 to 8 hens and a rooster. Every year I hatch a bunch of chicks and select maybe 4 replacement pullets to keep. I also keep 3 or 4 of the ones I overwintered the previous year, and butcher the 3 or 4 from the year before that.

This cycle means I overwinter 3 or 4 hens that are not laying until they finish the molt plus some pullets that give me some eggs to eat. The next spring and summer I have 7 to 8 hens laying regularly. When the pullets that hatched that spring start laying I'm flooded with eggs. I butcher the pullets I don't select to add to my laying/breeding flock and the oldest hens and start the cycle over.

I hope you are not reading this on a tiny handheld device, I know it is long. But maybe you can get something out of this to plan how you want to approach it. Good luck!
 

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