"spent" hens?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by MojoWorkin, Nov 21, 2008.

  1. MojoWorkin

    MojoWorkin Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 3, 2008
    Upstate NY
    I was just reading an article about how commercially raised hens are considered "spent" at the age of 2? In other words, they don't produce as many eggs. And they can live to be about 10, but they are normally killed and replaced with younger hens who produce more eggs.

    I worry that I will be attached to my little backyard hens, and will want to care for them throughout their lives, eggs or not. But... I do want hens for eggs, primarily. What to do?

    How do you handle this?

    What has your experience been with hens of different ages? Is breed a factor? When hens "slow down" later in life, how much do they slow down? Do they produce 1 egg a week? 1 egg per month?

    Last edited: Nov 21, 2008
  2. newfmadible

    newfmadible Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 4, 2008
    North central Ohio
    I am interested in this too. I want to get my chicks for egg laying, and I don't think I have what it takes to butcher my own hens. But, that said, I don't think my husband will be thrilled with the idea that we are supporting a home for geriatric chickens who no longer lay any eggs![​IMG] Do you just gradually cull the ones who are hardly producing and just keep adding a few more at a time?
  3. greyfields

    greyfields Overrun With Chickens

    Mar 15, 2007
    Washington State
    You will continue to get eggs throughout their lives, although by age 8 (I think it's 8) getting an egg will be the exception rather than the rule. There should be some good charts out there if you google the subject.

    So, it's not that they don't continue to lay after the two year mark, it's just that they are not economically viable for farmers to keep beyond that point. They are then salvaged to animal food producers and other uses, like those barbecued chicken burritos you see at gas stations.

    So to continue a constant egg production, you'll have to add new hens every year to make up for your lost production and any losses. Chickens do just die for no reason, so you always have to factor mortality into your equations, too. And sometimes, you will never know why, you'll just find a dead bird.

    A cynic to your approach would argue keeping old hens around gives diseases weak targets to infiltrate your flock, then spreading to the wider flock as a whole. I use this approach as well and can't think of any birds I have around here over 3 years old. I send a batch of older ones to auction each year.
  4. Laskaland

    Laskaland ThE gRoOvY cHiCkEn

    Aug 2, 2008
    I am not an expert by any means, but the big companies do this based on an eggs to feed ratio. In other words, there comes a time when it costs more to maintain a hen than she is producing in eggs.
    However, the hen may certainly still lay eggs, just not as often. She can be used as in a breeding program or just become a pet [​IMG]
  5. rooster-red

    rooster-red Here comes the Rooster

    Jun 10, 2007
    Douglasville GA
    It just depends on your situation and how you view chicken keeping.

    If you keep chickens for egg production only, then you'll want to cull at about 2 years old.

    We got our chickens as pets with benifits, and considered what we would do when the 2 year mark was approached.

    The chickens have been a source of entertainment, therapy and egg production, and if they stopped laying any eggs I would keep them just for the entertainment and and therapy value, as long as they are healthy, for as long as they live.

    I have a 2 year old white leghorn that hasn't layed an egg in 8 months, and probably won't ever lay again. She is a beautiful example of the breed, and used to lay a huge white egg for us everyday. She is healthy, and as long as she stays that way I will feed her even though she isn't producing eggs.

    I know it makes no economic sense, but I didn't get into chickens to make a profit.
  6. cat

    cat Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 9, 2008
    I have a Marran hen who is 5 and she lays every other day through spring and summer and every thrid day through the whole winter, many more eggs overall than my Orpingtons or my friend's Silkies.

    You need to think about breed type as well as age, since an old bird laying every other day is still going to produce more than a young bird whose breed naturaly has a low egg production.

    Also there is a lot to be said for a flock with no rooster having an older hen around to keep the youngsters in check and look out for their safety, and if you want a foster mom (grandma) for your eggs they are ideal!
  7. hollyk

    hollyk Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 21, 2008
    Canton, Texas
    With my flock just beginning, there is plenty of time for me to decided what to do. I don't think I will be able to eat a bird that I have gotten to know. However, eggs are not the only benefit of chickens. I plan to have a "retirement" coop in another part of our little farm, we have two acres, for the ones no longer in production. They will still eat bugs and produce valuable poop. I use the poop in composting to fertilize my garden and to make composte tea. As far as I can see, these are still productive members of the farm. Not to mention the entertainment factor!

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