Topic of the Week - Flock Development and Management

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by sumi, Jan 29, 2017.

  1. sumi

    sumi Égalité Staff Member

    Jun 28, 2011
    Rep of Ireland
    As time goes by flocks change. Birds get old, or sick. Some we lose. Chicken math strikes and we add birds. We all have our own ways of dealing with this and managing our flocks and found what works best for us, so this week I'd like to talk flock development and management. Specifically:

    - How often do you replace birds?
    - What do you do with the older birds?
    - When you replace birds, do you: hatch your own, buy local, order from hatchery, breeder, other?
    - Do you buy chicks or started pullets?

    Anything you'd like to add?

    For a complete list of our Topic of the Week threads, see here:
    2 people like this.
  2. JayColli

    JayColli Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 13, 2016
    Nova Scotia
    Very interested to hear what everyone does with their older layers.

    I plan to add 2 per year to my flock, hopefully through egg swaps and broody hatches. I have 5 now so that will hopefully keep me in a couple dozen eggs per week and less than 2 dozen birds through death by natural causes.
    2 people like this.
  3. azygous

    azygous Flock Master

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    Sumi, this one is going to stir up some controversy. I want to point out that how we each manage our flock is strictly an individual choice, involving individual goals and how we view chickens - livestock or pets or something in the middle of the two. When it comes to chickens, each of us has the right to do it our own way.

    - How often do you replace birds?

    I don't "replace". I add. This is an opposing philosophy to traditional chicken keeping. Some would liken it to buying a new car every couple years while hanging onto the old cars and allowing them to accumulate in the yard to rust and tires to rot off the wheels.

    I keep my old chickens instead of culling them because they are old friends.

    I add baby chicks every two years to keep the egg factory operating. I cull only when a chicken is sick and has no chance of recovering.

    - What do you do with the older birds?

    My chickens are pets, friends, even. They are team players, laying eggs to contribute to their upkeep, and when they no longer lay, they are allowed to retire with dignity. My oldest is nearly nine. The next to the oldest are eight and were still laying last summer.

    - When you replace birds, do you: hatch your own, buy local, order from hatchery, breeder, other?

    I usually talk an independent feed store owner into ordering a handful of day-olds for me. I have used My Pet Chicken in the past, and also corporate feed stores, the latter which I now deplore. I have also let a broody hatch chicks.

    - Do you buy chicks or started pullets?

    I buy day-old chicks. I like to have them imprint on me early, making for solid bonding and ease in handling

    As I stated at the top, this is an individual choice. Do not be intimidated by how other flock keepers manage their flocks. There is no right or wrong way. If you prefer to let your aging chickens stack up like old cars in the yard, that's okay.
    9 people like this.
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    As Azygous said, it depends on your goals and why you have chickens. My main goals are to raise them for meat and play with genetics, with the eggs as a very nice side benefit. I give a lot more eggs to a local food bank or friends and relatives than I eat or hatch myself. My chickens are not pets, they are livestock and a hobby.

    - How often do you replace birds?

    I replace my rooster every year or two because I play with genetics. I replace ½ my hens every year, partly to keep the eggs flowing and again, genetics. When I first moved here and before I got chickens I called my extension office, which hooked my up with an expert on chicken diseases and health. We discussed the prevalence of certain diseases in this area, vaccinations, and how I planned to manage my chickens. When I said I planned to not allow any chicken to be around after they were 3 years old, he said I’d have fewer medical problems because of that.

    - What do you do with the older birds?

    Eat them.

    - When you replace birds, do you: hatch your own, buy local, order from hatchery, breeder, other?

    Mainly I hatch my own from my own eggs. I have ordered chicks from a hatchery to get genetics I want and bring in new blood to avoid too much inbreeding. A couple of times I’ve gotten hatching eggs from people in this area, again to get genetics I wanted. Once, after a poor hatch, I got some cockerel chicks from a feed store so I would not run out of meat in the freezer.

    - Do you buy chicks or started pullets?

    Because of biosecurity, if I do not hatch the eggs myself, I never buy anything other than chicks from a major hatchery with that one exception for those meat cockerels from a feed store. I have my standards but occasionally you have to be flexible when dealing with reality.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2017
  5. Zoomie

    Zoomie Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 6, 2015
    Mora, NM USA
    My ideas about these things have changed a lot since I first got chickens, and may continue to change as I learn more. For one thing, some of my goals have changed. But OK:

    Quote: Originally I just wanted a few chickens for fun, and did not really have any goals. My original flock was all one type of purebred bantam, and I relied on the hens going broody and raising the occasional batch of chicks for replacements. Back then, I did not know how to tell the age of a chicken, and I had never tagged or marked my birds in any way. About the only thing I did was to catch and cull roosters I did not care for. The rest I simply left alone, and collected eggs. The flock was free range. Then they were all wiped out by a raccoon.

    I had started with chicks, originally, but next I got a couple hens that were POL, after first building an impervious coop and run. We did not know the age. Then one died, of old age apparently (she had ceased to lay) so I got a couple more adult hens but this time, I know their age, and I can tell who's laying and who is not.

    In addition, I decided to start breeding purebred Svart Höna, so now I actually have a goal and that changed things. The SV have their own coop and I plan to build another one, so I can keep two independent breeding groups that are separate from one another. I now know to keep chickens in a covered run, so the various groups can not get in with each other, and I have very tight coops, so I don't need to spend all night worrying about raccoons or whatever. I plan to raise chicks with broody hens. I will also be hatching eggs. I think if I need to add more birds at some point, I'll probably hatch eggs, as long as I'm confident the person with the eggs knows how to ship properly. These SV I will band and keep records of who is who, who hatched which day etc. and I will also be keeping track of how they lay. With the two independent groups I can from time to time change out roosters with the other group, or otherwise manage the birds so they do not get too inbred, while at the same time attempting to breed birds that look like the standard they have for them in Sweden. I've never done this with chickens before, although I have with canaries, rabbits, goats etc. so this will be an interesting and fun goal.
  6. sumi

    sumi Égalité Staff Member

    Jun 28, 2011
    Rep of Ireland
    Exactly right! There is no "right" way or "wrong" way to do things, as you said, we each have our own ways and for the benefit of the members and visitors reading these discussions, I'd like hear everyone's views and how they do things and hopefully that information will help shape new and older chicken keepers' plans for their own flocks by letting them know how others do things and what works for them. I personally value everyone's opinions, whether I agree with certain methods or not, there are a lot of different ways to do things and it's good to hear what everyone's up to.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2017
  7. I Love Layers

    I Love Layers Overrun With Chickens

    Apr 25, 2015
    North Dakota
    I would just like to say that this title is vague is this in terms of breeding birds, layers, pets, or whatever else you are keeping your birds for.
    So I am going to do layers

    [COLOR=333333]- How often do you replace birds?  [/COLOR]
    Since laying hens generally reach full production at 30 to 34 weeks and decline at about a .5% per week until they molt. So the ideal time to replace birds is at 72 weeks. And by replace I mean have birds ready to lay.

    [COLOR=333333]- What do you do with the older birds?  [/COLOR]
    I sell any breed that is not dual purpose and if they are dual purpose I will try to sell them and if they don't butcher.

    [COLOR=333333]- When you replace birds, do you: hatch your own, buy local, order from hatchery, breeder, other?  [/COLOR]
    I hatch my own.

    [COLOR=333333]- Do you buy chicks or started pullets?[/COLOR]


    [COLOR=333333]For a complete list of our Topic of the Week threads, see here:[/COLOR]

    1 person likes this.
  8. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon
    - How often do you replace birds?

    Pretty much constantly. I'm always evaluating who I need or want to keep.

    - What do you do with the older birds?

    I usually sell mine. I butcher cockerels, but I don't like to butcher hens. I'm usually getting rid of them when they still have a few years of laying left and have no problem finding buyers for them. So, maybe not a really accurate answer, as I don't really keep birds to what I consider "older". The exceptions are my broody hens. I treat them as queens and keep them as long as they'll brood for me. If/when they totally give up, I'm not sure what I'll do. I'm attached to some and probably don't want to eat them. They'll probably go to compost or be buried under a fruit bush.

    - When you replace birds, do you: hatch your own, buy local, order from hatchery, breeder, other?

    Mostly hatch my own, but I do order from hatcheries from time to time. and of course, the feed store bins catch me every spring!

    - Do you buy chicks or started pullets?


    My flock is not just a small, one pen for eggs type of thing. They're my genetic playthings [​IMG]. I have multiple pens, multiple breeding projects going. So, I'm always revising my plans. Hatching, growing out, butchering, selling, it's a constant ebb and flow here. This winter has been the most stable my flock has been for quite a while. I've not hatched for months. Still growing cockerels out and waiting for those point of lay pullets to ramp up.
  9. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    - How often do you replace birds? Older hens are replaced at 18 to 24 months. My avatar roo is my original flock master. This spring will be his third breeding season. I hope to keep him until his fertility starts to wane. He easily covers 24 hens, or at least has done so in the past.

    - What do you do with the older birds? They are usually sold. Though I have given a couple away. The ones that I give away, I don't consider to be valuable flock members, they might have a defect that makes them not desireable as a breeder. Most recently, one of my older gals who has a crop that is a bit pendulous went to join an other hen who's flock mates had been lost. She immediately bonded with the other hen and the 2 gals are BFF. My friends gifted me with some maple syrup, and a nice spaghetti squash. Win/win for all concerned!!! I remove older birds from my flock, simply to make room for the new pullets. I am a strong advocate for keeping chicken math under control. Math includes subtraction, just as it includes addition. I think it's important to bring flock size down before winter to avoid behavior issues associated with crowding. My coop, by the numbers will easily hold 30 birds, but, I've found that my ideal winter flock size is about 18 or less.

    - When you replace birds, do you: hatch your own, buy local, order from hatchery, breeder, other? I love to hatch my own birds. Last year, I set some shipped eggs. Had a dismal hatch, but one of the pullets from the shipped eggs has been my favorite bird of that season. I occasionally buy hatchery birds to bring more variety into my gene pool. This year, I have 25 day old chicks coming mid April. I will also be setting my own eggs with intent to brood all of the chicks at the same time. Then, I will keep the best of the best, and sell the rest. Cockrels go to the freezer.

    - Do you buy chicks or started pullets? I have a closed flock. I will not bring any thing other than eggs or day old chicks into my flock. I prefer not to deal with feed stores due to poor management in several of the local stores.

    Anything you'd like to add? I urge all poultry owners to know what their flock goals are before starting their first flock. Goals can, and will change over time. But if you don't have a goal in mind, you are more apt to get hung up in chicken math issues, and end up with birds that you may have never chosen except for getting swept up in the moment of seeing those cute little fuzzy peeps. My goals: Small combs that do well in my cold climate. Non feathered feet. Colorful egg basket. Hybrid vigor. Chicks and pullets that will sell well in my area. And the flock genetics to be able to breed sex linked chicks with small combs, non feathered feet, and colorful eggs.

    If you are breeding your own birds: have an exit plan for all cockrels. Have an exit plan for all pullets that don't meet your breed standards. Be willing to cull any birds with health issues, whether it is a deformed chick, or an older hen who simply is not thriving. Realize that nutrition plays a vital role in the health of your flock. Ensure that your birds are in good health before collecting hatching eggs.
    1 person likes this.
  10. Beekissed

    Beekissed Flock Master

    I allow broodies to hatch out chicks each spring and then cull from that hatch in the fall.

    Older birds are evaluated for their laying and good genetics and either kept for the following year or culled and consumed. Some are such good layers and/or mothers they get to a ripe old age before they are culled and eaten. I've had birds up to 7 yrs of age and many up to 5 and 6 yrs of age, so they don't all get culled simply due to age.

    I hatch my own here but am not averse to the opportunity to improve the flock's genetics or laying productivity by taking on adult birds from other sources.

    I've done both but nowadays I just use from what I hatch.

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