Thoughts and best practices .. older hens

igorsMistress

In the middle
Premium member
6 Years
Apr 9, 2013
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So, you've never heard of the term, in which makes it so it makes no sense to you?
Fattening up is not building muscle. It's putting fat on an animal. I've heard of that, but putting more muscle on a 4 year old bird? No, hence why I'd like to know more about how you accomplished that.
 

CindyinSD

Free Ranging
Aug 3, 2018
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Black Hills, South Dakota, USA
I’m planning an experiment in caponizing and poulardizing for my meat birds this year. Caponization is the castrating of a cockerel at the weight of around 1-2 lbs. Poulardization is the sterilization of a pullet at around the age of 14-16 weeks. This allows the bird to grow a little bit larger and produce marbled meat (according to my reading) while the muscle tissue remains tender even though the bird reaches and passes the age of sexual maturity. It’s not a way to grow cheaper meat birds, but it IS purportedly a way to produce flavorful, tender meat without resorting to the creation of poor unfortunate freakish hybrids unable even to reproduce normally. I’m honestly fine with other people’s choices here, but I don’t like doing that. I did it last year... I want something more natural this year. We’ll see how it goes.

The surgery—the cutting part—from my reading doesn’t distress most chicks, though the fasting period and the restraints aren’t received as calmly. Once they’re through that, I guess they’re pretty mellow and they heal very quickly.

Because they have no sex hormones, they become too passive to be kept with other chickens (as often meat hybrids are as well), but the males, at least, do enjoy raising chicks. I don’t know about the females. I think they’re more of a rarity since most females are wanted for eggs and breeding. They do say though, that the poulard is the tenderest and best tasting of chickens.

I hatched some chicks (a little less than a week old now) to learn on. If some die in surgery due to my inexperience I will be sad, but it’s no worse than my killing them on purpose in a cone, and they’ll be as big as Coturnix quail at least, which people do eat. I will consider any boo-boos on my part as birds for the table. If you’re interested I’ll be posting at the https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/graphic-pics-of-my-day-learning-to-caponize.675898/ thread. It’ll be a while, though. Got to let these guys grow a bit first.
 

CindyinSD

Free Ranging
Aug 3, 2018
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Cindy in SD. I have never done this, so just passing on this idea. But when learning how to do the capon, a person on here, said at first he practiced so to speak on a culled chicken, just to figure it out.

mk
Yes, I’m hoping to practice on some Tom turkeys I need to slaughter—if it’ll stay warmish for a few days. I might take the opportunity to cull a couple roosters at the same time. Great point!
 

NatJ

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Mar 20, 2017
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2. Anyone have experience in rearing meat chickens and processing them? I don't know if I can stomach doing the slaughtering myself. But I rationalise that a chickens life growing up in my honestead would by likely vetter than that of a farmed broiler one.
I've done it. If you have a bunch that look alike, it's mentally easier, especially the first few times. (The one that's different always seems to turn into a pet, whether it's a different color, the largest, the smallest, etc.)

After the bird is truly dead (head off and flapping/twitching over), then the other steps don't bother me too much. In fact, I enjoy seeing how all the parts go together--but I only enjoy if after I KNOW the bird is dead, so it's not feeling pain. (This is how it is for me. You might well feel differently than I do.)

For the actual killing, I favor a single quick stroke with a hatchet or machete. I try to keep the setup calm and peaceful, holding the bird gently and securely. It ends up with the neck on the chopping block, the feet and wingtips held together in my hand somewhat up in the air, the bird calm (I keep trying until it is calm.) Then I chop hard one time. (Yes, then it flaps around "like a chicken with its head cut off," and the beak opens and closes and I feel bad for a little, but at least I know that this was a quick end, and it lived a good life.)

I've now got a flock of 12 heritage hens of different breeds at the moment.
Initally looking to just get eggs .. I'm also thinking of raising and extras for meat.
But I've got a few concerns:
1. What do I do with older hens ( will I end up with 60 hens that don't lay over the next 5 years if I retain them). I suppose it's naive of me to hope there could be some sort of happy medium win win.
3. Should I be more thick skinned and not be so emotional and not look at the chickens as quasi pets
I tend to view chickens as "quasi pets" that can also be eaten. So I wouldn't expect to eat my very favorite few, but I would happily eat one that was no longer laying AND was not one of those very favorites.

With 12 hens already, you will probably find that you like some better than others. With more hens in subsequent years, it'll be even more pronounced.

So I suggest that you butcher any hen that causes problems to the point of irritating you (bully or victim, escapes the pen regularly, spend all winter molting and resting while the others lay nicely, etc.) Basically, if you're tired of dealing with a particular situation--consider the stewpot as a solution.

I also suggest that you evaluate all of your hens at least once each year (maybe at fall moulting time), and butcher some of them. Keep only the "best"-- the best layers plus a few pets/favorites.

The favorites will probably change a bit from year to year. I've had birds that were favorites because they were so pretty (Spitzhauben springs to mind) But over time, I decided I didn't like the temperament. So I would expect to butcher even former-favorites if they were no longer favorites.

Over time, if you get 12 new ones each year, you might end up keeping 20-30 at a given time, mostly under 3 years old, but including a few that are quite a bit older than that.

I'm sure my way is not for everyone, but that's how I would handle it.
 

NJL

In the Brooder
Feb 2, 2020
10
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30
1. You can’t keep all your old hens once their egg production dropped off (unless you can and want to continue feeding them with little return). You can advertise them free to anyone who’ll come and get them (I’m told people actually do answer such ads 🤷‍♀️) or you can slaughter them and cook low & slow & moist.
2. I feel the same about raising meat chickens. Killing them is tough, but it’s part of the deal.
3. You can either have pets or livestock, or some of each. The livestock can’t be pets, though, and it seldom works out for pets to be livestock. We don’t eat our pets, at least in ordinary circumstances. I enjoy my birds but I have no need for them to jump into my arms or onto my lap. That’s for pets. If I make them pets, I can’t eat them. But yes, you will give them a better life than they would have in a chicken factory, and probably a better death as well.
I have been on the Farm 60 yrs...I am a smush..the girls gave their all for me SO...they can live out their days..JUST WHO I AM... HAPPY TRIALS Nancy
 

Judy Todd

Chirping
Dec 27, 2017
84
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Yacolt Wa.
Hi everyone,
I'm relatively new to chicken keeping. When I was younger I had a flock of Rhode islands for about 6 years but never really was concerned about culling. When I had roos, I would end up selling them at the local markets stall.
I got back to chicken keeping because I wanted to give my chickens the best life .. I am concerned about the mass produced egg farming industry and also pf broiler chickens
I've now got a flock of 12 heritage hens of dufferent breeds at the moment.
Initally looking to just get eggs .. I'm also thinking of raising and extras for meat.
But I've got a few concerns:
1. What do I do with older hens ( will I end up with 60 hens that don't lay over the next 5 years if I retain them). I suppose it's naive of me to hope there could be some sort of happy medium win win.
2. Anyone have experience in rearing meat chickens and processing them? I don't know if I can stomach doing the slaughtering myself. But I rationalise that a chickens life growing up in my honestead would by likely vetter than that of a farmed broiler one.
3. Should I be more thick skinned and not be so emotional and not look at the chickens as quasi pets

Any thoughts or experiences would be most appreciated View attachment 2017555utchered
Over the years, 18 now, I have butchered my old hens. They make the best stock and chicken stew you will ever taste. Just cannot justify keeping all the old layers for ever. Trying very hard to be as self sufficient as can be at my age 80 plus.
Must admit need help butchedring a hen now and then so sometimes I give then to a gal who is raising 6 hungry boys. Makes me feel good that they were used their whole life, but that is just me.
 

PlatinumEggs

In the Brooder
Apr 17, 2017
5
3
28
Held on to my first 3 hens for several years until they started getting sick on me and dying since I have no vet near me who could/would handle poultry. Their lives are comparatively so short, the process of losing them was heartbreaking and awful.
I then began getting 2 hens a t a time, keeping them for max 2 yrs, and then turning them over to some friends who have a huge farm and don't care about egg production.
I know I'm lucky with this because there is no way I can bring myself to "twist their necks" (among other "helpful" suggestions from friends) and cook them. Frankly, I'd love to be able to, since I agree with an earlier post, that it's great if one can make full use of a hen.
 

starryhen

Songster
9 Years
Apr 24, 2010
97
38
126
We have chickens for eggs only and I feel a sense of accomplishment when our chickens get older than 8. Many die of old age. It has never been a problem for us. What you feed them has a lot to do with how long they lay. Our older chickens still laid an egg every once in a while. About flock members for meat. Many chickens are just trouble makers. Makes it easier to cull those. People who eat their own livestock say a quick dispatch is essential. Preferably the animal is dead before it knows what's going on. Makes it easier for the animal, of course, but also for the person doing the deed. Hope that helps.
 
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