Thoughts and best practices .. older hens

CindyinSD

Free Ranging
Aug 3, 2018
2,587
9,984
742
Black Hills, South Dakota, USA
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.
I can see why it’s hard, particularly if you have only a few birds. When you have many, it’s not personal. Still (to me) the unrivaled most unpleasant of chores, but not personal.
 

Foristers

Songster
Jul 23, 2016
138
78
101
northwestern South Carolina
I don't know if someone has already replied this because I have not read all 4 pages of posts.
I sell the older hens on Craiglist of Facbook marketplace and I always have buyers. I only keep hens up to about 4-6 years old before I sell, with the exception of a flock mother - a hen with particularly watchful eye, good leader for the flock, even tempered, and a good egg layer that also goes broody at least every other year. Sometimes I'll have two older hens if leadership of the flock is balanced like that.
As far as meat goes, I also raise chickens for eggs and meat but I only cull the roosters. I have never eaten a hen. The reason is because I let the hens grow up from chicks to about 4-6 years before I sell them and by that time they are not good for meat. At least that is my experience - older chickens, whether male or female, have tough meat.
So the best breeding plan that I have come up with, to get both eggs and meat and keep the hens young, is to start with an all-purpose chicken breed - one good for meat and eggs and with natural instincts to forage for food and with a high likelihood of going broody.
At the start of the year I'll have one rooster - the biggest and best of the flock. He fertilizes the hen eggs during the spring and once new chicks hatch, he too gets culled for meat (usually).
In my flock at least two hens go broody every year, so they sit on fertilized eggs in the spring. Often times there are three hens broody in the springtime and sometimes there are four. What chicks they hatch out will be, obviously, about 50% male and 50% female. There is no sexing chicks when nature does its work. You get both male and female equally, but it works out very well if you want both meat and eggs.
Chicks hatched in the late spring/early-summer grow up through the summer and fall. By Oct, when the males are starting to show signs of aggression and sparring, it is time to start thinning them out (culling). A flock my size only needs one rooster once they hit full maturity. Any more and the hens will suffer, as well as the weaker roosters. So the plan I use is to go about culling roosters for meat through intentional selection.
At this point you can chose what traits you want to carry on through your flock because you are going to leave one rooster alive at the end of it and he will fertilize the next year's eggs. I cull the weak and small ones first, before they get too beat up by the larger ones. I then select for good leadership traits and a fair temperament. I make my selection for "breeder" by the end of the calendar year and I cull the rest. One year I actually had two really good roosters and I could not decide which to keep so I divided the flock and kept both, and breeded both.
Every year I not only get several males for meat, but I get several females to keep the flock young and the egg production high. That means that every year I have to part with the older hens, as mentioned, by selling them online. If I wait until the hens are 7-10 years old not as many people want to buy them. Older hens do not lay as many eggs and I always post the age of the hens that I want to sell.
So by January I have one strong rooster left and the process repeats itself for the rest of the year. That last rooster gets culled once a new brood has hatched. There has only been one exception to that rule - Boromir, son of Aragorn - the best darn rooster I have ever had. He lived 3 years but died by some still unidentified predator.

So you asked also about being more "thick skinned" and not looking at chickens as "quasi-pets". To this I will only be able to relate how I am able to name all of my birds and still carry out the culling needed. I do see my chickens as 'pets', or quasi-pets. Obviously I am closer to my hens than I am my roosters, as the later have a short life spanned. As mentioned, I have only really ever 'liked' one rooster. Roosters are actually easy to dislike. They make it easy with how they treat each other, how they treat the hens and sometimes how they treat you.
The main thing about raising chickens, when culling for meat is involved, is that you have to primarily see yourself as a caretaker of the flock as a whole - not the caretaker of an individual bird. When you think like a caretaker of a flock - the flock being the organism - you make decisions regarding overall flock health. So when you hatch out, let's say 30 eggs to chicks, you'll know that there is no way that 15 roosters will be healthy for your flock. (You can consider that about half the chicks will be male and half female.)
Now YOU have to manage that. Taking care of the whole flock is our responsibility, even to the demise of an individual, for the sake of the whole.

I hope this helps. Sorry so long.
 

ChasesChickens

In the Brooder
Feb 2, 2020
33
64
40
Sydney
I don't know if someone has already replied this because I have not read all 4 pages of posts.
I sell the older hens on Craiglist of Facbook marketplace and I always have buyers. I only keep hens up to about 4-6 years old before I sell, with the exception of a flock mother - a hen with particularly watchful eye, good leader for the flock, even tempered, and a good egg layer that also goes broody at least every other year. Sometimes I'll have two older hens if leadership of the flock is balanced like that.
As far as meat goes, I also raise chickens for eggs and meat but I only cull the roosters. I have never eaten a hen. The reason is because I let the hens grow up from chicks to about 4-6 years before I sell them and by that time they are not good for meat. At least that is my experience - older chickens, whether male or female, have tough meat.
So the best breeding plan that I have come up with, to get both eggs and meat and keep the hens young, is to start with an all-purpose chicken breed - one good for meat and eggs and with natural instincts to forage for food and with a high likelihood of going broody.
At the start of the year I'll have one rooster - the biggest and best of the flock. He fertilizes the hen eggs during the spring and once new chicks hatch, he too gets culled for meat (usually).
In my flock at least two hens go broody every year, so they sit on fertilized eggs in the spring. Often times there are three hens broody in the springtime and sometimes there are four. What chicks they hatch out will be, obviously, about 50% male and 50% female. There is no sexing chicks when nature does its work. You get both male and female equally, but it works out very well if you want both meat and eggs.
Chicks hatched in the late spring/early-summer grow up through the summer and fall. By Oct, when the males are starting to show signs of aggression and sparring, it is time to start thinning them out (culling). A flock my size only needs one rooster once they hit full maturity. Any more and the hens will suffer, as well as the weaker roosters. So the plan I use is to go about culling roosters for meat through intentional selection.
At this point you can chose what traits you want to carry on through your flock because you are going to leave one rooster alive at the end of it and he will fertilize the next year's eggs. I cull the weak and small ones first, before they get too beat up by the larger ones. I then select for good leadership traits and a fair temperament. I make my selection for "breeder" by the end of the calendar year and I cull the rest. One year I actually had two really good roosters and I could not decide which to keep so I divided the flock and kept both, and breeded both.
Every year I not only get several males for meat, but I get several females to keep the flock young and the egg production high. That means that every year I have to part with the older hens, as mentioned, by selling them online. If I wait until the hens are 7-10 years old not as many people want to buy them. Older hens do not lay as many eggs and I always post the age of the hens that I want to sell.
So by January I have one strong rooster left and the process repeats itself for the rest of the year. That last rooster gets culled once a new brood has hatched. There has only been one exception to that rule - Boromir, son of Aragorn - the best darn rooster I have ever had. He lived 3 years but died by some still unidentified predator.

So you asked also about being more "thick skinned" and not looking at chickens as "quasi-pets". To this I will only be able to relate how I am able to name all of my birds and still carry out the culling needed. I do see my chickens as 'pets', or quasi-pets. Obviously I am closer to my hens than I am my roosters, as the later have a short life spanned. As mentioned, I have only really ever 'liked' one rooster. Roosters are actually easy to dislike. They make it easy with how they treat each other, how they treat the hens and sometimes how they treat you.
The main thing about raising chickens, when culling for meat is involved, is that you have to primarily see yourself as a caretaker of the flock as a whole - not the caretaker of an individual bird. When you think like a caretaker of a flock - the flock being the organism - you make decisions regarding overall flock health. So when you hatch out, let's say 30 eggs to chicks, you'll know that is no way that 15 roosters will be healthy for your flock. (You can consider that about half the chicks will be male and half female.)
Now YOU have to manage that. Taking care of the whole flock is our responsibility, even to the demise of an individual, for the sake of the whole.

I hope this helps. Sorry so long.
HI @Foristers,

Thanks so much for the reply.
I neglected to say that our council does not allow the keeping of roostes so unfortunately I'll have to get rid of any roosters when I get new chicks

But the idea of selling older hens on fragility really is appealing so I will try that avenue.

I haven't named my chickens yet, my favourite hen is possibly a Roo ... and I'll have to figure out what to do later. It's quite funny because there are some hens I'm quite find of, and others that dont really register a second thought. My welsummer is so independent but ironically she's one of my favourites.

Practically I will endeaver to sell off my older hens to good homes.h But still very much toying with the idea of culling for meat. The fact is that i enjoy eating meat, and I would prefer to consume meat where the animal has been well cared for and not suffered a like of being commercially farmed

Thanks once again thank you for your thoughts.. it's nice to try to get different perspectives so I can work out a practice that I'm most comfortable with
 

NatJ

Songster
Mar 20, 2017
396
889
146
USA
It's quite funny because there are some hens I'm quite find of, and others that dont really register a second thought. My welsummer is so independent but ironically she's one of my favourites.
The ones that don't register a second thought--those are the ones to eat, after they're old enough that they don't lay as well.

The fact is that i enjoy eating meat, and I would prefer to consume meat where the animal has been well cared for and not suffered a like of being commercially farmed
Just remember that an old hen has a great flavor but needs long, moist cooking to be easy to chew (or chop it up small). What chicken dishes you like to cook/eat can help you figure out whether it's better to eat your old hens vs. sell them to someone else.
 

Cindy in PA

Crowing
11 Years
Jul 8, 2008
2,567
801
321
Fleetwood, PA
I've been selling my flock every 2-3 years for 27 years. Sometimes I get nothing on Craigslist for a week or so & then I get inundated. I sold my flock last spring & it took a week or so, but finally found the right couple. I don't usually deal with the ones who want 2, or want the broody, or are coming from 2 hours away. I sell them cheap like $10 for 12, but I usually am able to keep the flock together.
 

Mrs. K

Free Ranging
10 Years
Nov 12, 2009
7,370
7,244
536
western South Dakota
I've been selling my flock every 2-3 years for 27 years. Sometimes I get nothing on Craigslist for a week or so & then I get inundated. I sold my flock last spring & it took a wee
Do you buy the same breed of birds back? Is this so you don't have integrations issues? I am starting over, and hating it. I would hate being without eggs while I wait for the chicks to grow up.

Mrs K
 

CindyinSD

Free Ranging
Aug 3, 2018
2,587
9,984
742
Black Hills, South Dakota, USA
Wrong Cindy answering ;) , but I did add a bunch of half-grown pullets to my hens last summer. They were two groups, each with its own tractor coop, moving around the upper (non-flooded) pasture in poultry netting paddocks. I got tired of setting up two paddocks every time I moved them and one day I just pulled the youngers' tractor into the olders' new paddock. After that they were all together, no problems. They mixed up the tractors they slept in as though they were old friends. Maybe the big yard they had to run around in helped, or maybe the two large groups coming together all at once made a difference.
 

Mrs. K

Free Ranging
10 Years
Nov 12, 2009
7,370
7,244
536
western South Dakota
Cindy in SD - it was probably a combination of your techniques, but definitely adding more is better. Personally, I have had very good luck getting chicks at 4 weeks integrated into the flock. So integration is not an issue for me. I am just curious why she would sell the entire flock at one time.
 

Cindy in PA

Crowing
11 Years
Jul 8, 2008
2,567
801
321
Fleetwood, PA
Do you buy the same breed of birds back? Is this so you don't have integrations issues? I am starting over, and hating it. I would hate being without eggs while I wait for the chicks to grow up.

Mrs K
I always send one flock out when after my new chicks are 6-8 weks old & ready to go into the coop. Breeds are whatever I feel like at the moment. And yes, because of integration, LOL. My first year I kept 9 of the 12 I bought & ate the 2 extra roosters. Then I added 6 new pullets & I guess integration went well, don't remember. I then had 3 times when my sons brought home chicks hatched at school. One time a leghorn pullet got murdered & I got away from adding. I am hoping to add 4 pullets this year. I only have 10 in a coop made for 16 & I may try, so I am never without eggs for months again. I have a 4 by 6 tractor coop that has been stationary for 10 years, housing guineas. My last one died a few weeks ago, so I finally have a place to quarantine or hatch, for the first time in my life with chickens. May look for local pullets instead of chicks. 4 could also live in there as a separate flock, although it has no electricity & no auto door, so winters are tough.
 

Latest posts

Top Bottom