How would you decide which hens to keep, out of many?


9 Years
Feb 28, 2010
Ok, I intended to get four laying hens for my backyard flock, and because of the wonder that is Craigslist, I now have 16! I have a small suburban backyard, I need to thin that number down quite a bit. I might be able to stretch and keep six, no more.

So what criteria would YOU use to make the selection?

I'll explain the limitations I have, and you can suggest any tweaks to my personal plan.

First of all, I have one flock of 12 given to me because one (or more) of them are egg eaters. I have a few empty rabbit cages. My plan is to put a few of those chickens into each rabbit hutch, and check eggs. If eggs can be laid and stay in the hutch untouched for 24 hours, that hutch doesn't have an egg-eater in it and those hens can go back in the run. If eggs don't seem to be laid or are laid and disappear, those hens stay in hutches and get separated more until I narrow down which one(s) are eating them. Those get culled.

Secondly, the second flock of 4 that I have, I was given because they were exposed to sick birds. (that may not be true, I got a few stories, but they're in quarantine to be safe.) But these are otherwise great birds. If it appears that all the first flock are egg eaters, then these four are going to be my flock. But if I can get 4-6 non-egg-eating birds from the others, I'll cull these because of the issues that can accompany the coughing they were exposed to.

Third - LOUD chickens get culled before quiet ones. This backyard is small and close to neighbors. No sense annoying them if I don't have to.

Next - after that, I would pick based on number of eggs laid.

Next - I was thinking about breeds. I have RIR, Buff Orps, and Barred Rocks, plus a couple I don't recognize. RIR are a winter-hardy breed that tends to lay through the winter. What about the others? I don't mind the RIR's more standoffish personalities, and I think they are beautiful birds. What are your experiences with the other two breeds?

Next - If I have multiple birds of the same breed and apparant age, would you choose based on the bird's size? For instance, the adult Buff Orps have quite the size range! Some are on the smaller side of average, while two are downright huge. Would you keep smaller ones or larger ones, or is that irrelevant?

I've assured my husband this decision-making process would take less than two weeks (down to 10 days left), and that all but 4 or 6 hens would be gone at the end of that time. So help with the decision making process please! I don't want to make a decision and learn something right after that makes me regret it.

Would photos help? I can take them if they would. Thanks in advance!
Sounds like you have a good plan ~

Orps lay well during winter too.
Here is a good breed chart:

I would keep the friendliest and/or your favorites
OK, for anyone who was curious, I have my 6 chosen birds now. I kept the four Orps that were exposed to coughing, and two Barred Rocks. All the other birds were either super-loud, egg-eaters, didn't lay eggs at all, or determined to get out of the run.

Separating them into groups and keeping track of egg laying and other factors really made it clear which would be the best to keep. I highly recommend it to anyone who ends up with a bunch of hens and has to choose between them. It only took one week for the answer to be obvous.

I think you have it nailed.

You have got me thinking there is a (Chinese?) method for solving the
puzzle of identifying an unknown individual by a process of separation
and combination. I'll have a look-see but I don't think I'll be able to do
it any time fast.

Your decision-making is the way I think I would have done it.
As long as you know that your flock most likely are still carriers of an illness. Though they don't show signs can infect other birds. It's all well if you don't sell them to others and cull for food when they have past their egg laying usefulness. Before bringing in any new birds, starting a new flock in years to come, you may think of culling and disinfecting too.
Yep, that's the plan. The flock is now "closed" until such time as I process all of them for food. Hopefully they will have a nicely long laying life before then.

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