Managing old hens with a chicken-attached daughter

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by ralleia, Dec 19, 2014.

  1. ralleia

    ralleia Songster

    Mar 22, 2011
    Omaha, NE
    We've had chickens ever since my daughter was born, which was about ten years ago.

    A few times we have raised some heavy standard breed cockerels to be processed into the freezer, but our daughter came to view the hens almost as "pets." I've wanted to process the old hens for a couple years, but haven't been pressing the issue since we have been busy with all the other chores around the acreage.

    Now the hens are of an age where they are starting to decline and die just of old age, and she is starting to see why it might be a good idea to deal with them before they become old. Also, starting fresh with a new flock would prevent disease and parasites from building up.

    So is there any way to *ease* her into the processing of the familiar hens she has grown up with?

    I plan to make an entirely new coop--a mobile one for the warm months, and a stationary coop for the cold months, perhaps attached to the hoophouse where we grow veggies.

    I would also like to raise a batch of cornish cross for processing and a separate batch of laying hens.

    Any suggestions for how best to manage a young one's separation from her childhood "friends?"

    I don't even want to imagine how she is going to deal with the idea of eating them...
  2. spitfirecream15

    spitfirecream15 Chirping

    Dec 3, 2014
    In the Boondocks
    This will be hard for her and she will definetly be upset about the whole idea of eating her pets. You could offer to save one or two for her ??? but maybe that wouldn't work. I know of someone who had a pet lamb when she was young, and her mother butchered it. The girl became a vegetarian after that, since she was so disturebed about the death and eating of her pet.
    Other than that I'm not sure what do say!!! Hope this helps.
    1 person likes this.
  3. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Crossing the Road

    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.
    It depends on your child. For us, it was a very matter of fact thing, but I have sons and we are farmers. Our chickens have never been pets, and they grew up knowing that some animals we eat. Talking to her about it would definitely be the first place to start. Explain the facts, let her know there will be more chickens. Tell her it's kinder than letting them just up and die of old age as they become unhealthy and suffer. It's hard, but kids are resilient and usually handle things better than we think they can. Much of it depends on you, though. If you make it sound like it's going to be a tragedy to butcher your hens, she will pick up on that. Maybe wait until you have your next chicks in place so she can concentrate on them. It won't leave as much of a hole for her that way. It might be a good idea to let her know that in the future, "we will keep our hens for x number of years and then we will be starting over" Or, if you have room, you can rotate your flock. New chicks every spring, the 1-2 year old hens lay through the summer, 2 year old hens go to the freezer in the fall. So many options.
    3 people like this.
  4. ralleia

    ralleia Songster

    Mar 22, 2011
    Omaha, NE
    I think that the rotational idea is an excellent one.

    She could somewhat "attach" to the new pullets while getting slowly used to the idea that we will process the remaining hens (the few that are going to survive this winter.)

    In the meantime we will raise a batch or two of the cornish cross in order to re-familiarize her with how we eat chickens!

    I never approached it as a tragedy, so I was pretty taken aback the first time she responded to my matter-of-fact statements with tears. But thinking back, even as a young teenager I was very sad when I accidentally stepped on and killed a crab that had escaped our tropical fish tank and was in the middle of the living room floor.

    So I think emotionally distancing from the hens is doable, but will be a slow process.

    It would be a great tragedy if she responded by becoming a vegetarian!
  5. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon
    Excellent post!

    Don't plan on eating those hens right away. Even myself, I like some time between butchering and eating. Put those birds in the freezer and wait a month or so, then when you pull it out, it's just meat, not an animal you knew. I wouldn't mention "we're eating our own hens" or anything like that. It's just chicken for dinner and don't make a fuss over it. I think kids pick up on lots from the parents and things can easily get made into a big deal when the child wouldn't have made an issue on their own. Matter of fact is the best way to go.
    3 people like this.
  6. centrarchid

    centrarchid Free Ranging

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I went though process myself with rabbits, hogs, Holstein calves and gameroosters and it was tough each time in the begininig. Involve child in process being careful not to reward being upset nor trivialize it. Explain process and importance. Get her into helping with handling the meat as it is made into something she likes.

    I recently did this with two groups of about 25 kids that also learned how to catch and dress trout and crayfish. Parents proved to be the biggest plus or minus in getting kids to do as they needed without undo stress.
  7. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Crossing the Road

    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.
    I have to admit - it's always been harder on me than the kids when we've butchered our animals. I do it, there are no tears, but I still feel a little sad. It's easy for me to have some attachment to my layers. I was a city kid, (raised with the attitude that "animals are our friends) and then married my farmer and here I was - having to deal with it. For the longest time, I wouldn't let him butcher "the pretty ones, just the ugly white ones". Then I told myself that if I really wanted to be a responsible chicken-keeper, we need to approach this differently. Now we're rotating out the spent hens and eating the excess roosters. They're not as meaty, but I won't raise the cornish cross anymore. I did raise freedom rangers last year. They're more like a regular chicken. I realize I'm not a 10-year old girl, but I do have some understanding of how she feels, even if my chickens aren't pets. (I did recently have one hen, however, that was close - she'd come to me, stand there and let me pat her on the back if I wanted to and was a great broody. I thought I'd keep her for a long time. A raccoon took care of that for me this summer.... [​IMG]) When I mentioned treating it like a tragedy, I was thinking about some posts I've read on the Incubating and Hatching section. ("A chick died and I'm just devastated, and so are my kids") If Mom is "devastated", of course the kids will be. If Mom can say, "Yes, it's sad, but they don't all make it" the kids will accept it better. I have no doubt of that. They react how they think we expect them to. It's OK for your daughter to have some tears. Understandable, really, but I think she'll be fine - especially if she has some cute, fuzzy little chicks to pay attention to when it's time to process the old girls. [​IMG]
    1 person likes this.
  8. ImNotYogi

    ImNotYogi Songster

    Dec 8, 2014
    Eastern NC
    A coworker of mine grew up on a farm and grew attached to a calf (was 5 or so at the time). At some point her family butchered it and as they were getting ready to eat they said, "guess who we're eating, Becky". Needless to say shes been put off of beef ever since. Shes in her 50s now and eats it once a year, if at all.

    This isnt a helpful post but it came to mind as I was reading.
  9. I really can't address the issue of your daughter except to be as understanding a parent as you can possibly be. I am about two weeks away from butchering my first batch of roosters and it will be the first time I have ever butchered anything. To be honest I am dreading the whole thing but I am also aware that part of my commitment to our farm is this whole killing and culling process. I am not at all sure how I am going to react and when the time comes to deal with my older hens I may just throw it all to the wind and go off the deep end. As for your daughter, help her to understand the process and the roll it plays in farm life. Do not expect her to assist in any way and do not let anyone (family member or friend) tease her about it. Best of luck to you.
  10. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Crowing

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    Acknowledge how hard it is to kill something. She will follow your lead, most likely. Start distancing yourselves, I start weeks ahead, these are the ones we are going to cull, these are reasons we have to cull. It helps.

    Getting new birds help, predators in a way help, cause with them you do lose birds, and one learns how to move on. Buy some chicken, and mix it up with the butchered ones. That can help too.

    Mrs K
    1 person likes this.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by: