Chicken Math: Subtraction?!


Apr 4, 2019
Southeast TN
Just wondering how you all keep your flocks at the optimum number, assuming that you want to add new birds every now and then, and at some point, have to stop building new coops and expanding your set-up. I have a plan for what to do if I ever end up with too many cockerels or a troublesome rooster. I am primarily interested in how to manage older hens, particularly after they stop laying.

I have a smallish flock of 13 pullets. Their coop is big enough for about 20 if using the four-square-feet per chicken rule, and the chicken yard is a little less than 64 ft L x 20 ft W. Still, for several reasons, I don't think I want a flock any bigger than I already have. Obviously, then, if I ever want to bring in more chicks, I am going to have to remove some of my current ones. I will certainly keep some of my favorites for their whole lives (hey, I'm sentimental); but if I kept them all it seems like I would eventually have a flock that didn't lay much (since all of mine are the same age).

I could be wrong, but I'm thinking that an older hen would not be terrifically good for eating, and I’m pretty sure that I would not want to process a laying hen.

So, what do you all do to keep your numbers in check? Do you keep your chickens for pets for their whole lives? Do you sell extra hens?—at what age? How do you pick who goes? Do you process them? Or are chickens so prone to predation and mishaps that their numbers are self-regulated?

Thanks for reading if you got this far! Am very interested in any feedback!


Sep 4, 2019
My Coop
My Coop
I have heard that refugees will except any kind of food donation, and are very thankful. I don't know what to do about old hens, as most of mine get eaten by predators.
I am very attached to my oldest hen (her name is Dana and she is almost 7 years old), she is still laying good, and I don't plan on getting rid of her anytime soon.

Folly's place

10 Years
Sep 13, 2011
southern Michigan
Here, it's 'all of the above'. Some birds die, because of predation or illness. Some I sell at one or two years of age, still laying, but not favorites. Some stay for life, and I do favor any hens who want to brood eggs.
Roosters; some stay for life, some are sold, and some die.
This spring our own dog got out and killed almost 2/3 of our flock, due to a fencing disaster. Horrible! Our worst predation episode ever, and so this year we are rebuilding our flock. Years ago a fox killed many birds one day, another disaster.
I wouldn't call either of those episodes 'self regulation', but they happened.
We've never had a major sickness, or had to cull the entire flock, thankfully. Biosecurity matters!
It's not a bad thing to eat your birds, or have someone else eat some of them. They will have had a good life until that last moment, unlike those poor grocery store birds!
Then again, 'chicken math' may claim another victim, and you might find yourself with forty or more birds one day...


Scarborough Fair
5 Years
Jul 3, 2016
WA, Pac NW
My Coop
My Coop
My plan was to build in anticipation of a flock bigger than I planned on having, and just grow the flock slowly, with the idea that some of the older ones will eventually pass away to make room for younger ones. So we built for 12 and are currently at 7 (three are 3.5 years old, four are 1.5 years old). Might add 3 more chicks next year but more likely going to wait out another year before adding more. And then probably not going to add on for another 2, 3 years past that.

I mentioned the possibility of meat birds in the future to my hubby but he was aghast at the thought of eating any of our birds. Mind you, I was the one who wanted chickens (at one point in our relationship he even said no pet birds ever again!) but he's the one that's too attached now!


May 27, 2017
I do all the above mentioned as well. I had quite a few I hatched last summer and this summer, and guess there were ton's of chicks around, though I had several calls and some that said they wanted some, they were no shows. So I had to process around 35 cockerels past 2 summers and I had some older girls. some of whom I really liked, still laying but not as much, so I put an ad out to see if I could get any takers for free 3&4 year old hens. Never had so many want them. All gone in 2 days. No one wants to pay for the young pullets it seems, but latched onto the old girls for free. My hands appreciated the break of not having to process the older hens. I have cooked the older ones for chicken and noodles etc. I also decided this summer when they were 6 weeks old, and I could tell the girls from the boys, I processed them. They were bigger then quail, Very easy to clean, and super tender to cook and eat. And It saved a lot on feed bill. I usually butcher at 14 weeks.

Mrs. K

Free Ranging
11 Years
Nov 12, 2009
western South Dakota
One can cheat a bit going into summer, but come the fall, you really need to fit into your coop, and extra space is best.

When birds are younger and active, it is hard to truly imagining them old and crippled. But old birds get crotchety, and limp and hobble around. Then an act of mercy can be just that.

Good husbandry depends on people doing it and keeping numbers in check. The feed bill will be nicer too.

If you can keep everything, more power to you, but if you can't, you can't. I keep a flock, the birds in the flock change, but I have had the same flock for years.

Mrs K


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