When to Slaughter?

Aquatic_blue

Songster
May 14, 2019
303
580
173
Southwest USA
I hope I am putting this thread in the right forum. We got our production reds beginning of spring 2019. They have been absolute wonderful egg laying hens, they even laid eggs all throughout throughout that coming winter and didn't seem to miss a beat. I know that chickens slow down their production at some point. It has now been two weeks since they have laid one egg (we have 4 hens). Eggs are seeming rare...I have looked to see if perhaps they are hiding eggs somewhere, but not finding any at this time. Are we coming up to that point where egg production is at an all time low just because of winter or in general? Could it be something I'm doing or could the chickens just be slowing down? When are chickens normally slaughtered for meat?

Thank you for your time!
 

Carson213

Songster
Aug 31, 2020
699
1,048
171
West Coast
I hope I am putting this thread in the right forum. We got our production reds beginning of spring 2019. They have been absolute wonderful egg laying hens, they even laid eggs all throughout throughout that coming winter and didn't seem to miss a beat. I know that chickens slow down their production at some point. It has now been two weeks since they have laid one egg (we have 4 hens). Eggs are seeming rare...I have looked to see if perhaps they are hiding eggs somewhere, but not finding any at this time. Are we coming up to that point where egg production is at an all time low just because of winter or in general? Could it be something I'm doing or could the chickens just be slowing down? When are chickens normally slaughtered for meat?

Thank you for your time!
usually you would harvest them anywhere from 4-8 months old. however, you could do it now. i’d probably brine and sous vide the meat or put them in a crock pot for soup. you could also can the meat and make bone broth with the carcass. older birds are going to be more finicky to cook and the meat can be tough...but like wild game...do a little extra work and they taste great.

personally. after you process the meat, i would vacuum pack the chicken in brine, then either freeze or sous vide at 145°. If you can, put a wireless thermometer in the breast meat in the vacuum packed bag. let it sous vide until it hits 145°, wait 11 minutes, then pull out of the bag and throw it on the bbq at highest heat for 1 min on each side. From the research i’ve read, poultry has to cook to 145° and maintain that internal temp before it’s safe to eat according to the FDA.
 

Egghead_Jr

Crowing
11 Years
Oct 16, 2010
7,535
3,678
476
NEK, VT
At this age they are stew birds. Could be prepared in crock pot or pot on the stove never hotter than simmer. If it boils the meat will be tough.

Laying hens hit their first major molt in the fall of first laying year then annually thereafter. You're looking at nearly two months of little to no eggs during that time as they use the protein in feed to regrow feathers. Then they are diminished laying through the winter months to pick up again in spring.

Cycling out older birds to make room for chicks or pullets the next spring is best done when the birds enter molt. Reason being is you're saving on feed. These birds won't start laying again for two months. How people manage flocks is unique to them. A cost effective way is to cycle out the poorest layers each molt and all the two year old birds. Run a small flock through winter then add birds early spring. It's up to you how you set up your culling for food. Hens will lay a bit less each year after molt. True production won't start until longer days of spring unless you supplement light.

The gig with the production birds is they have a high mortality rate after first year of eggs. When restarting lay they've a propensity of becoming egg bound. I use to keep hatchery birds and had some sex links with that. Lost a few first spring, few more the following spring and not one made it to their second fall molt (2.5 yrs old). My experience of total loss by second molt is not the norm but does express the high mortality of production birds.
 

iwltfum

Songster
Sep 10, 2018
684
1,361
241
Maine
I second the one more year sentiment from @RoosterML.

This is all assuming you are in the northern hemisphere in a temperate or cold climate and at least 30deg north in latitude:
In a well suited backyard environment, you should be able to get 3 or 4 years out of production hens easily. Especially if you are not using supplemental lighting in the winter. Three days ago was the shortest day of the year, so you are correct in your thinking that they are at the low point of their winter laying this week and you should start to see a slow increase in eggs by the middle of January - with a large jump in production sometime in March. Without supplemental lighting, production can drop to less than 10%/day (meaning 10% of your hens are laying on any given day). It's a huge loss when it comes to feed consumption, but they should be able to make up for it when they are laying at 70-80+% for three or four months come spring time.
 
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U_Stormcrow

Free Ranging
Jun 7, 2020
4,686
13,673
536
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
@Aquatic_blue not sure where you are located, but as others have said, we northern hemisphere types just passed thru the shortest (light) day of the year, when egg laying tends to hit its absolute minimum.

In terms of efficiency, culling as your oldest birds enter molt (to save feed costs while they aren't productive) makes the most sense normally, but your flock is small (4 birds?) and you've already made the feed investment. They are also (relatively) young. AND a replacement flock would have to be ordered, shipped, and raised to maturity. Best case, you aren't looking at eggs from them till May.

the birds are also at "stew/stock/sausage" levels of likely preparation - there isn't any further, really, for their tenderness to decline.

So the only thing you are giving up by continuing to feed till they come back into laying is more food. Offset by the expectation of eggs in the coming months, which you can't replace any other way from new birds. I'd leg tag them, continue to feed, and get your hatchling order planned. Come late spring/early summer as your replacements start laying, I'd cull your least productive two older layers, then take the next two when they go into molt next winter.

Repeat in future years, adjusting flock size for desired number of avg daily eggs...
 

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Feb 2, 2009
28,078
22,814
907
Southeast Louisiana
Could it be something I'm doing or could the chickens just be slowing down?

Not really either one. Before they were domesticated chickens developed instincts to lay eggs and raise chicks during the good weather months, stop laying and use the nutrition that as going into making eggs to replace worn out feathers in the fall, and not lay eggs and raise chicks until the days warmed up in the spring. The signal to stop laying eggs and molt is the days getting shorter. The signal to start laying in the spring is the days getting longer. From your post I assume you are in the Northern Hemisphere, yet another example of where putting your general location in your profile so it is always available might be helpful.

When we domesticated them thousands of years ago we started breeding them for certain traits. Some were bred to lay more, some were bred more for meat, and some more to be decorative. Today we tend to feed them well all year around, house them to protect them from the weather, maybe add lights or heat, and so forth. They still retain those basic life-cycle instincts but with breeding and how we manage them they don't always follow that cycle as closely.

Some pullets now do what yours did, skip the molt their first fall and continue to lay even without extending lights. A lot of that is due to breeding. Some people manipulate lights so they don't know when the days are getting shorter. Some hens even go broody in the middle of winter because the way they are managed, they don't know it is the middle of winter. From what you have posted it sounds like yours are going through this natural cycle and are currently molting. When they finish they should start up laying again.

Hens go through another natural cycle when it comes to laying. They tend to lay really well their first laying season. Those bred to be productive layers lay a lot, decorative and meat birds not so much. But all of them should lay as well as they ever will. After their first adult molt (which yours are now going through) they come back laying really well again, the eggs should even be a bit larger. But after their second adult molt (next fall for you) production drops. Ho much depends on the individual chicken. In the commercial egg laying flocks using the hybrids specially bred for egg laying, a large flock averages about a 15% to 20% drop. You only have four hens so averages won't mean much. Some individual hen's laying won't drop much at all, others will really drop. So I don't know what will happen to yours. After each adult molt after that production drops even more.

You have Production Reds. These are not the commercial hybrid egg layers that @Egghead_Jr is talking about. Commercial hybrids are small in body so more of what they eat can go to egg production instead of having to maintain a larger body so they have an excellent feed to egg conversion rate. Production Reds are were developed from dual purpose chickens. I've read different things on what breeds were used to develop them, some say Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshire, other sources say Leghorns were also used with these two breeds. The result is that you get a larger chicken that still lays really well but are not prone to the medical issues the commercial hybrids have. They are going to act pretty close to what dual purpose hens would, not those specialty egg laying hybrids.

The commercial egg laying hybrids have relatively small bodies for the size of egg they lay. Their eggs are a decent size usually grade A large. Their internal egg making factory is specialized in egg making and is fairly sensitive. I compare it to the Cornish X meat birds who are bred to convert feed to meat. Their bodies are fairly sensitive too, if you don't manage how you feed them they will break down. The commercial egg laying flocks are typically fed a 16% protein diet. That is the efficient feed for production. They lay a lot of nice sized eggs at that protein level. If they are fed a higher protein level the eggs get bigger and that delicate internal egg making factory is strained even further. They are more prone to prolapse, internal laying, and becoming egg bound than dual purpose to start with but like the Cornish X feeding them too well can just make it worse.

Since yours are dual purpose a lot of this doesn't apply to you, I'm trying to explain why not.

When are chickens normally slaughtered for meat?

I assume you are talking about older hens, that's pretty obvious. We all set up different management schemes depending on our goals and conditions. Your flock is only four hens, that can affect your decision. Some people replace the entire flock at specific ages, maybe after one, two, or three laying seasons. I have more chickens so I replace half the hens every year. Say I have eight hens. During the summer I have four that have been through one adult molt, four that were pullets the last year with most skipping the molt their first fall, and four that are young pullets getting ready to lay. When they older ones start to molt I remove the four oldest and keep four pullets and four going through their first adult molt. Others use a one third scheme instead of half each year.

We are all different, this is something you'll have to work out yourself. Hopefully there is enough information in these different posts to help you with that. Jut be flexible, very few things work out exactly as planned.

You can eat any chicken regardless of age or sex. But their age affects how you can cook them. That's worth an entire different thread there are so many different options and requirements. People have been eating old roosters and hens for thousands of years. Hunters don't know how old fowl they bring home is. How you cook them can be important, they can be delicious or they can be inedible.

Good luck!
 

Newyorkrita

Crowing
11 Years
Sep 13, 2010
762
789
311
Long Island, New York
Could it be something I'm doing or could the chickens just be slowing down?

Not really either one. Before they were domesticated chickens developed instincts to lay eggs and raise chicks during the good weather months, stop laying and use the nutrition that as going into making eggs to replace worn out feathers in the fall, and not lay eggs and raise chicks until the days warmed up in the spring. The signal to stop laying eggs and molt is the days getting shorter. The signal to start laying in the spring is the days getting longer. From your post I assume you are in the Northern Hemisphere, yet another example of where putting your general location in your profile so it is always available might be helpful.

When we domesticated them thousands of years ago we started breeding them for certain traits. Some were bred to lay more, some were bred more for meat, and some more to be decorative. Today we tend to feed them well all year around, house them to protect them from the weather, maybe add lights or heat, and so forth. They still retain those basic life-cycle instincts but with breeding and how we manage them they don't always follow that cycle as closely.

Some pullets now do what yours did, skip the molt their first fall and continue to lay even without extending lights. A lot of that is due to breeding. Some people manipulate lights so they don't know when the days are getting shorter. Some hens even go broody in the middle of winter because the way they are managed, they don't know it is the middle of winter. From what you have posted it sounds like yours are going through this natural cycle and are currently molting. When they finish they should start up laying again.

Hens go through another natural cycle when it comes to laying. They tend to lay really well their first laying season. Those bred to be productive layers lay a lot, decorative and meat birds not so much. But all of them should lay as well as they ever will. After their first adult molt (which yours are now going through) they come back laying really well again, the eggs should even be a bit larger. But after their second adult molt (next fall for you) production drops. Ho much depends on the individual chicken. In the commercial egg laying flocks using the hybrids specially bred for egg laying, a large flock averages about a 15% to 20% drop. You only have four hens so averages won't mean much. Some individual hen's laying won't drop much at all, others will really drop. So I don't know what will happen to yours. After each adult molt after that production drops even more.

You have Production Reds. These are not the commercial hybrid egg layers that @Egghead_Jr is talking about. Commercial hybrids are small in body so more of what they eat can go to egg production instead of having to maintain a larger body so they have an excellent feed to egg conversion rate. Production Reds are were developed from dual purpose chickens. I've read different things on what breeds were used to develop them, some say Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshire, other sources say Leghorns were also used with these two breeds. The result is that you get a larger chicken that still lays really well but are not prone to the medical issues the commercial hybrids have. They are going to act pretty close to what dual purpose hens would, not those specialty egg laying hybrids.

The commercial egg laying hybrids have relatively small bodies for the size of egg they lay. Their eggs are a decent size usually grade A large. Their internal egg making factory is specialized in egg making and is fairly sensitive. I compare it to the Cornish X meat birds who are bred to convert feed to meat. Their bodies are fairly sensitive too, if you don't manage how you feed them they will break down. The commercial egg laying flocks are typically fed a 16% protein diet. That is the efficient feed for production. They lay a lot of nice sized eggs at that protein level. If they are fed a higher protein level the eggs get bigger and that delicate internal egg making factory is strained even further. They are more prone to prolapse, internal laying, and becoming egg bound than dual purpose to start with but like the Cornish X feeding them too well can just make it worse.

Since yours are dual purpose a lot of this doesn't apply to you, I'm trying to explain why not.

When are chickens normally slaughtered for meat?

I assume you are talking about older hens, that's pretty obvious. We all set up different management schemes depending on our goals and conditions. Your flock is only four hens, that can affect your decision. Some people replace the entire flock at specific ages, maybe after one, two, or three laying seasons. I have more chickens so I replace half the hens every year. Say I have eight hens. During the summer I have four that have been through one adult molt, four that were pullets the last year with most skipping the molt their first fall, and four that are young pullets getting ready to lay. When they older ones start to molt I remove the four oldest and keep four pullets and four going through their first adult molt. Others use a one third scheme instead of half each year.

We are all different, this is something you'll have to work out yourself. Hopefully there is enough information in these different posts to help you with that. Jut be flexible, very few things work out exactly as planned.

You can eat any chicken regardless of age or sex. But their age affects how you can cook them. That's worth an entire different thread there are so many different options and requirements. People have been eating old roosters and hens for thousands of years. Hunters don't know how old fowl they bring home is. How you cook them can be important, they can be delicious or they can be inedible.

Good luck!

Very informative post. Great explanations!!
 

Aquatic_blue

Songster
May 14, 2019
303
580
173
Southwest USA
Thank you all for your experience and expertise, I appreciate it.

Oh, right - I always forget how relevant location is to animals and their unique situations. I am in the Northern Hemisphere (Southwest USA - the desert). Winters here are generally sunny here so I can't imagine on how to add "more light" as it's there all day, but true, there is still less daylight hour because of winter since the sun comes up later.

My chickens started their first molt this past fall, but I'm pretty sure 3 of them are completely done and the 4th is almost done getting those nice, new feathers in because they started their molt later than the others.

I'm definitely good with stew chickens. I'm a big fan of bone broth and no stranger to the crock pot. I didn't realize people would do as early as 4-8 months, but that makes sense for a more tender meat, too. Thanks for the detailed cooking tips!

At the start of their first molt might not have been a terrible idea, either. Most of them were still laying during their molt, but the shells on the eggs were a lot weaker or there was no shell at all, but I suppose that's not too surprising.

It's still good to know they may have some good egg laying capabilities, too. They have always been wonderful egg layers up until now. I was always surprised at the amount of eggs we'd have from just 4 chickens (most times easily 2 dozen/week).

We're not totally do this for a living or anything so even if we had a point where we didn't have chickens for a few months it wouldn't be a huge loss, but of course it'd be nice to have a replacement flock already planned ahead in order to raise to maturity as was mentioned to keep the eggs going - those are always nice.

Yes, my flock is very small, only 4 hens. In 2019 we got them after our small city added in an ordinance that gave chickens the okay. My husband and I each read the ordinance and both came to different conclusions about how many chickens we could have - the wording is so weird and confusing and perhaps it's meant to be that way. We figured 4 was a safe number to start with. No roosters are allowed, either. However, our neighbor across the street has 6 hens and a rooster and no one says anything (he has neighbors directly beside and behind him. I hear his rooster throughout the day, but it has never bothered me - I like it), but then again - they were grandfathered in because that lot has had chickens before there were any type of chicken law. I think we could probably safely get away with 6 hens even with the size of our yard. Most people are generally fascinated if anything and like to see the chickens when they walk by. Plus, we also live in an old mobile home park and most of the old homes have been knocked down so we do not have any neighbors directly beside us or behind us. Our chicken law says we're not allowed to sell any of the chicken products - no eggs, feathers, etc. and that they are to be for personal use only so it kind of stinks. If we have more than we can finish, we usually give them away to family or friends who will try to pay us anyway. One day the plan is to live more rural and have more chickens and be able to sell their eggs.

I definitely will be considering all you have mentioned to make the best decisions we can regarding our birds :)
 

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