Meat Bird Advice.


Free Ranging
7 Years
Feb 16, 2017
Dietrich, Idaho

Ok, so I have a few questions. I have 8 golden sex link hens I raised from chicks starting February 2017, and I mainly raised them for egg production. Today, almost two years later, they have all stopped laying. I know that sex links lay for 1-2 years very strong, then stop, so this does not surprise me.

Now that they are not laying, I plan to switch them from egg production feed to meat bird feed, so I can fatten them up and butcher them when they are good and meaty.

Me and my family are moving anyway, and need to get rid of them by March.

First question, how long should I keep them on meat bird feed before butchering them?

Second question, what is a good weight to butcher a hen?

Any help with this will be appreciated.

Hi There. :frow

Most birds this age will be molting at some point this season, where they stop laying eggs and lose old feathers to regrow new ones. It usually happens around now when day light is diminished because that is what triggers the laying hormone. They usually return to lay in the spring.

The only main differences between "layer" and "meat bird" is two... protein and calcium levels.

Non laying birds do not need the added calcium. Usually around 4% total. Layer feed is often around 16% protein which is really about the minimum to keep a light breed laying bird in decent condition. Dual purpose birds will do better with higher protein levels.

Meat bird feeds are gonna usually be around 20-22% protein and 1% ish calcium.

I personally never feed layer and always use a 20% protein flock raiser. I offer oyster shell on the side free choice for the laying birds. Many people also switch to the "higher" (than layer) protein feeds when their bird are molting because feathers are made from 90% protein and it's amino acids.

Protein is required to build muscle and to grow. But to me... I'm not sure it will impact your birds weight because they will eat to meet their ENERGY need... meaning caloric. Energy comes from 3 sources fat, protein, and carbohydrates which includes fiber. Chicken feeds never contain caloric value information that I have seen.... And I'm not sure what impact extra calcium content will have on intake in that regards... since it should still provide the same calorie content but just be a little more bulky??

Really.. Butcher them when you are ready. They will only reach a certain size and shape according to their genetics. If you will be plucking... preferably when they don't have a bunch of pin feathers.

You may be able to "fatten" them up... by keeping them in a more confined space to limit movement... but you don't really wanna decrease muscle size either. Adding artificial light and access to feed during that time could help... but that might also bring laying back on. They can continue to lay... well even, for many years. ALL birds go through molt no matter their breed. But it's true sex links are known to have greater reproductive cancer type issues. So you may still have the right idea!

Now, my opinion... You are what you eat. ;)

Ride this train for a minute... :p 22% protein was shown to give the best hatch rates... which to me says more nutrients in my eggs.. which I would be consuming... and there by... *MAYBE* even more nutrients in my chicken?? Many non medicated "starter" feeds have 22% protein. :confused:

Some "meat bird" feeds might have other vitamin or mineral added to reduce bruising... as I have read could be a tactic when transporting (water fowl) to processing. And some laying feeds have things added to enhance yolk color...

Seriously though... it cost me about $2.50/ per month per bird to keep. They will be approaching their maximum mature size at the age you state. If you need more fat... add some butter when you cook. Reduce your feed cost and energy to keep them as SOON as you are ready! :drool

Remember... rest your bird. Not less than 3 days to let some process take place for a less tough bird. Then because of age they MUST be cooked slow and low or they will be tough. If you are used to market birds they will still be chewier... but worthy and delicious. We make enchiladas, tacos, shredded chicken blah blah..

That being said... there are other things that effect egg production as well... such as predator visits and parasites... but I do agree that it would be fairly expected... again at the age AND season.

Decide you method. For the hen(s) you will be processing, we put them in a kennel once they have gone to roost for the night, where they will be held so I don't have to do any chasing. It also helps to empty the crops and the intestines a little. With no experience and no real helpers... I can only do one or two at a time. Yesterday I had a helper with experience... but we are both a little slow, and it took us 4 hours to do 9 birds. I like doing less.. because I chill them in my fridge instead of the ice chest and just simply rinse them. They never see a bloody water bath really.

We also have a meat grinder... and use that as well. Seasoned correctly it cooks up yummy. It was a good way when we first tried skinning instead of plucking... due to the horror stories of the stench that would come.. okay, rambling now. :oops:

My final word... do it when it is convenient for you. Sooner is better than later... give ya time to eat them up before ya move. :cool:

Good luck! :fl

@EggSighted4Life, a lot of great advice! Thank you so much.

I'm still a little new to raising chickens, this is my first flock still. I don't know if they're not laying because of molting, the weather, or reproductive disease.

Anyway, We may still butcher them before we move. Depends on where we move to.

Thanks for the help!

Thing is, laying hens are not going to be like KFC. No matter what you feed them to fatten them up. They are built to lay eggs and will be scrawny underneath those feathers.

These will also be stewing birds, other wise they will be quite tough, but favorable. A pressure canner can be of help.

Mrs K
Thing is, laying hens are not going to be like KFC. No matter what you feed them to fatten them up. They are built to lay eggs and will be scrawny underneath those feathers.

These will also be stewing birds, other wise they will be quite tough, but favorable. A pressure canner can be of help.

Mrs K
X2. "Fattening them up" will likely do that - add more fat deposits, not meat. However, if you cook them appropriately (low and slow in a crockpot or pressure cooker) they will have wonderful flavor. They're great for stews too.
the birds you have are not meat birds. you can eat them, but at this point, there is no way to make them anything like what you would expect from the store. virtually every commercially available bird at the grocery store is a cornish cross, they are a special, propriatary cross that grows amazingly fast and is harvested by 8-9 weeks. they eat way more food than the average egg layer and are harvested before sexually mature, while still tender. egg layers, at the end of their egg laying, are a completely different bird. they are tough, lean and efficient at laying eggs and that's about it. some will say the taste is better but in reality they won't yield much. that said, you can still stew them for a tasty meal, just adjust your expectations and make the best of what you get. if you switch to high protein food you won't likely get much more muscle than they have now, if you add more fat, it will make them more fatty, not more muscular. I'd just harvest them and make chicken sausage or stew.
Ditto ....will never make 'meat' birds out of GC's.
But you can eat any'll get more stock than meat.
I cull my older layers in the fall so I don't have to feed them all winter, they feed me instead.
This is good information. I was under the assumption that if you "fatten up" an egg layer with meat bird feed you would get more meat. Looks like I was wrong!

Oh well, learning experience.

Anyway, I have another question that came to mind. If they really have stopped laying, there's no way to get them laying again, is there? If there is a way, I would like to hear it. If there is not a way, I'll have to butcher them. Financially, I can't afford to feed them egg layer feed to lay eggs, then have them not lay eggs. They would be producing less than they cost to feed. I would be losing money.

But you can eat any chicken
That's right... we even eat our Silkies. Surprisingly, good size compared to other bantam breeds. And they look really cool on the table. :drool

I raise the birds I like. And I hatch them. Responsible hatching includes having a plan for all the extra boys. My white faced black Spanish are a scrawny breed... but they are still perfectly edible. It feeds my family, we just may not have excess left over's. If one bird isn't enough for your family cook two... like we do with fish. No different than people who cook quail and such, I imagine.

Yes it will be a little different... but what a worthy and rewarding goal! :highfive:
They would be producing less than they cost to feed. I would be losing money
Adding light and keeping nutrition high.. might help them return to lay sooner... but they will likely hold off until spring.

While what you say is true that it cost $ to feed non laying birds... You feed non laying birds EVERY time you raise chicks until lay which is *usually* not less than 5 months. When they do start laying as pullets.. they lay PULLET size eggs. Mature hens that have gone through molt lay Full sized eggs immediately upon return to lay. Of course replacement hatchery chicks are fairly cheap... and they do eat less during the time they are growing than once mature... but they also require heat... and shavings that I don't need to use in my coop.

So figuring out what makes sense to YOU is always best... It may depend on your breed, your situation (like moving), or other things.

For ME... I either sell off my older (healthy) birds for not less than $20-25, a little earlier in the season BEFORE they hit molt so the new family gets eggs for a while before the lull. However, I think it is more affordable to support them through their FIRST molt as the next year is still goo laying... and let them go before their SECOND molt, when production does decrease a little more... Or process before the second molt... I won't let ANY questionable birds leave my place... ie, ones who consistently get poo butts or something like that. But I do sell my birds on a regular basis and protecting my reputation is important to me.

To be quite honest... ALL my birds produce LESS than they cost to feed... relative to market prices for (cheap standard not organic) eggs and meat. Most of us don't do it for the $ but for KNOWING how our food was raised and treated.

My chickens DO also benefit ME in other ways... for example in the PNW, we get plenty of rain. Without having the birds to go tend to my life gets sucked away by the internet and this chair I'm sitting in right now. :oops: I sit inside thinking it's cold and the weather is ugly. BUT the instead I go out to hang with the bird under the covered run... we chat about the day and unwind... I get to experience LOT's of breaks in the storm, perfect for being outdoors that I wouldn't have noticed through the trees and darkened windows. I get to see sunrises and sunsets. And cool things like it raining on one side of the porch but SUNNY on the other! :eek: Taking care of their other needs keeps me moving and motivated instead of achy and slow... In other words keeping chickens helps to keep me physically active and mentally healthy... I NEED those things... instead of going to a gym or therapist. The cost is cancelled out by the MANY benefits that come with keeping chickens... in MY life. My breeding programs give a positive outlet for my mental energy instead of thinking about what pieces of crap my parents are and what they did to mess my life up. Plus both my kids are grown and doing their own things...which does NOT include grand kids... so no empty nesting going on here. This is partly the pet aspect... I don't NEED livestock and won't just keep livestock like that.. as it isn't motivating to me. I do this for myself and it's a hobby... most hobbyist spend WAY too much money and never see any return!

But if I were moving and had no real attachment to the birds... moving is stressful enough without the added thought of what to do with the birds. :barnie

What I would *probably* do... process these ones and try a different breed or variety of breeds after moving. Of course if you WERE able to get $20 each... I can put other food on the table for that cost. I suspect it may be hard to get that much for sex links, though.

Hope your move goes well, as well as whatever path you follow with your birds... heck you may even eat some and save some to lay in spring. Try eating one or two and see if you even like them before going all in. If you don't then giving away for free will still save you from feeding them all winter and you will have had the previous season eggs as your pay off. :fl
Thing is, laying hens are not going to be like KFC. No matter what you feed them to fatten them up. They are built to lay eggs and will be scrawny underneath those feathers.

These will also be stewing birds, other wise they will be quite tough, but favorable. A pressure canner can be of help.

Mrs K

Yep there’s nothing a slow cooker or pressure cooker can soften up.

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