Alternatives to Culling Chickens

Why Culling and Re-Homing Chickens Aren't Always the Best Options

culling-chickens

My oldest chicken is eight years old. She still manages to pop out a handful of eggs a year, but they’re usually wrinkled and a bit misshapen with thin shells. She certainly isn’t winning any awards for egg production and we can’t rely on her for breakfast any longer! But she’s still an extremely valued member of my flock, not to mention a treasured family member. I mean, she’s been around longer than our dogs have. Culling chickens isn’t on our agenda; we put our older hens to work.

Alternatives to Culling Chickens

I’m sure you’re wondering how long do chickens live? Although I would guess the average lifespan of the backyard chicken is somewhere between three to five years, and that is mostly because of predation, chickens that are well-protected and kept in tip-top health can easily live to be ten or twelve years old, and even older. There have been recorded cases of chickens living to be almost 20 years old, so I hope that Charlotte, my Australorp, has at least a few good years left in her.

Love Your Flock?Subscribe Now

Join Backyard Poultry today and let us help you take the stress out of chick season. With an All-Access Membership to Backyard Poultry, you can start reading tips and ideas from our experts right now!Subscribe Now

One of the most common questions I get asked both on my Facebook page and at the various fairs I speak at around the country, is “What do you do with your chickens once they stop laying eggs?” That question about culling chickens amuses me, and I generally answer with my standard tongue-in-cheek response, “Well our cat has NEVER laid us an egg and we keep feeding him!” After the ensuing laughter subsides, I go on to explain some of the benefits of keeping older flock members around – because like a good barn cat and other animals around a farm, even the older chickens serve a purpose. Here are lots of alternatives to rehoming older chickens or culling chickens.

culling chickens

Older Chickens Make Better Broodies

An older hen is likely to be a better broody hen. Since she has slowed down a bit, she’s more likely to be perfectly content to sit in a nesting box on a clutch of eggs for the three week period required to hatch them. Oftentimes a younger hen will abandon the eggs partway through the incubation period. Older hens don’t tend to do that. And remember, a hen will sit on eggs laid by other chickens, so even if she’s not laying at all anymore, you can just tuck some of your other fertile eggs under her. It makes no difference to her. And in fact, it might be best not to try to hatch the eggs from a hen getting on in years because the shells are often thin and the eggs have a great chance of breaking, although your older hens will tend to be your hardiest, healthiest chickens and you will likely hatch healthier chicks from their eggs. And if you have a hen who is an extremely good layer later in life, that’s the hen you want to hatch eggs from, hopefully, she’ll pass those genes onto her offspring.

Older Chickens Make Better Mothers

Older hens also tend to make better mothers. Sometimes a young hen will accidentally step on a baby chick after it hatches, thereby killing it, or on occasion even eat one of her young. Younger mothers will sometimes abandon their chicks once they hatch. An older hen; not so much. She knows the ropes and seems to know intuitively what to do. Not to mention if she’s actually done it before. I have found that a hen who has hatched two or three batches of chicks seems to have a far better hatch rate and survival rate among the chicks than a hen who is doing it for the first time.

The older hen has also been around the block once or twice and therefore knows the ins and outs of where to hide from predators, when various predators might be out, where the best berries and weeds are, what to eat and what not to eat. And she will teach all of this to her chicks. Just by virtue of having lived for six or seven or more years, she has learned various survival skills that she can pass down to the next generation.

culling-chickens

The Eggs of Older Chickens are Generally Larger

It’s an interesting fact about how do chickens lay eggs. Each time a hen goes through her molt, her subsequent eggs will generally be a bit larger than they were before the molt. The shells will be a bit thinner and the color a bit more muted. After all, the same amount of pigment and shell material has to cover a larger yolk and amount of egg white, but eggs from an older hen can approach the size of duck eggs. They can be more than 30 percent larger than eggs laid by pullets.

Eggs Laid by Older Hens Contain More Collagen

Eggs laid by chickens getting on in their years actually have more collagen in them for the simple fact that they are larger. Collagen is important in our diet because it keeps our skin elastic and healthy. It keeps wrinkles and sagging skin at bay. I spoke with Sandra Bontempo, owner of Free Range Skin Care (www.freerangeskincare.com), a company that makes all natural skin care products. She told me that she rescues battery hens from factory farms here in the United States and once they’re back to good health and laying, she uses their eggs in her products. Whether you ingest the collagen or smear it on your face, you’re reaping the benefits!

culling-chickens

How Long Will my Chickens Continue to Lay Eggs?

How long do chickens lay eggs? Chickens only lay really well for about two years. After that, their production usually will drop to about half what it was at its peak and then gradually stop altogether a few years later. If you live in an area where you are only allowed a limited number of chickens and you really want fresh eggs each morning, then you have some hard decisions to make once you get four or five years into your chicken-keeping journey. When you start asking yourself why have my chickens stopped laying, and the answer is that they are of a certain age, of course culling chickens and eating your older hens is an option for some.

Alternatives to Culling Chickens

For me, culling chickens is not an option. I’m not there yet. I might never be. So I keep telling myself that an older hen would be tough and stringy anyway, and I let my non-laying chickens continue to contribute in other ways to earn their keep. And so far it’s working out just fine. Do you have alternatives to culling chickens? Do you keep your older hens? Let us know in the comments below.

200-fed-logo-with-signature

Visit me on Facebook for more natural chicken keeping!

Originally published in 2017 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

Anchor
Comments
  • All of my hens will have a place to live out their lives. They have served me well and by the time they have stopped laying, they are a part of my home and the daily joys they still bring.

    Reply
    • I SOO agree. My old girls have become friends, follow me everywhere, and love to “help” me garden. I am lucky enough to live on a farm, so number is not restricted and I cannot imagine taking their lives over a few eggs. I am always amazed at how much I enjoy them, and how much life they bring to my little farm.

      Reply
    • I’m glad every time I hear that im not the only one that keeps my chickens from hatch to heaven. I have only culled one chick in my 7-8 yrs of having chickens and I still have 7 of my original 10 hens. My current total count of chickens is somewhere around 60-70. It varries with chick count. I hatched some broody Silkies a few yrs ago and they’ve been multiplying ever since. Im a firm believer in bringing annimals/birds/etc into the family and not “getting rid of them “when theyre no longer deemed useful. I nurse every sick “family member ” back to health and the sick ones that arent going to make it, I prolong their life as long as possible and do whatever I can to give them quality of life….even if it means cooking them a steak!

      Reply
  • My oldest hen, Blondie, a rose comb Dorking, is eight years old. Like Charlotte, her eggs have thin and sometimes wrinkled shells. she continues laying and is an example to the flock. My other elderly hen, Lady Fanny, a Speckled Sussex, is the best mother. They have lived distinguished lives of service and deserve a comfortable home as long as they live.

    Reply
  • I keep my old girls. I consider them pensioners. They have earned their keep. This year I lost 2 old girls, one was around 8 years old and the other would have been 10 this summer. I have enough room. I would never eat ‘spent hens’. It would be like eating a pet

    Reply
  • I only have two older hens (9 years old) and wouldn’t think of culling them. They still eat bugs and are fun to watch. My younger ones lay enough for my husband and me and will also live out their lives with us. As the older ones pass on we will replace them, but not until then.

    Reply
  • My two oldest, a Buff Orpington & an Austrolorp, were 9 in March. They are from my first flock and they are great pals who hang together waddling around their yard and sleeping close.
    I have hens of varying ages – the youngest/newest are a year old. When I approach their yard with treats/leftovers- the other 20 members of the flock know who gets treats first.

    Reply
  • When my girls get three years of age I turn them in to crockpot sweat hearts. Namely chicken tacos, chicken and biscuits, chicken stew and of course soup! Yum! Then the joy of new breeds and old faves with new personalities become the new suppliers of eggs and entertainment.

    Reply
    • That is not an alternative to culling. That IS culling, thus, it is not warranted on this post. It’s an offense to those of us who actually love our birds.

      Reply
  • I have a farm. After 3 years old hens are butchered. They make great chicken and noodles.

    Reply
  • I could never take a chicken’s life, unless she was terminally ill or critically injured and had no quality of life. No way on earth. They’re family members and they’re loved ❤️

    Reply
    • Thank you! We need more people in this world like you who value life.

      Reply
  • Gary B.

    Older chickens usually get the axe. Make great stewing birds

    Reply
  • Half my flock is older than 4, the 2 oldest I think are at least 8. Both of them are sentinels, very observant and aware when foxes or something is in the field that shouldn’t be. Both do lay in spring, neither are bothered by the rooster so they look very nice. I think they’re the oldes I’ve had in 35 years of keeping chickens – usually some predator or another keeps my flock trimmed. I haven’t had foxes in 2 years now, just hawks.,.,

    Reply
  • I have a question about feed consumption then. I feed my chickens organic feed and it doesn’t come cheap. Do you think when they slow down laying that maybe they would graze more and eat less grain?

    Reply
  • I keep all my girls they are all my babies and they bring me so much joy having them run to me and they are excellent mama’s to babies.

    Reply
  • Our hens are family and get to hang for life. My oldest girl (7 yrs or so) is sitting for the first time and am excited that she may hatch some chicks!

    Reply
  • We have two eight year old hens. We call them the Baldwin Sisters! Miss Mamie and Miss Emily!We lovewatchimg them and they have unique personalities! We have a new flock too but our old girls are our favorites!!!

    Reply
  • All my chickens have a forever home, with the occasional exception of an unexpected roo. I got one of those this year when I special ordered some pullets. So he/she became HenRoo and thus far is not fighting with my older roo, Cami. As long as that remains true, HenRoo will also have a forever home. I’m not goofy about eating chicken– I do and love it! I am goofy about eating loyal pets. Will never go there. I currently have 37 backyard feathered friends, all named, all loved. Even the older hens serve two extremely important purposes. They are my personal therapists and they are my living yard art!

    Reply
    • I special ordered some chickens in June. I wanted colorful eggs. I got my first green egg today (from my Favucana) My Americauna started looking kinda strange, big tail feathers and long feathers on her back. I love “her” regardless of her sex. But I paid almost $30 for a chicken that I was going to get BLUE EGGS from. I doubt they’ll give me a “replacement hen” so now I have 4 hens and 4 ROOSTERS. I just hope they don’t hurt each other…

      Reply
  • I keep my girls, one, Amber, had not laid an egg for almost 2 years, but last week I started getting some shell-less eggs, so I upped the calcium and phosphorus – three days later I started getting shelled eggs again – 5 in the last 8 days!

    Reply
  • I raised them from chicks. They will always have a place here to live out their lives.

    Reply
  • my oldest hen is 12 years old. last summer she laid a clutch of eggs over the length of a month, then went broody. needless to say her eggs were not good. I put bantam australorp eggs under her and she hatched out all 9 eggs. she is a good mother. since then she has moved herself into the house. so I don’t expect her to lay eggs this year, but we’ll see.

    Reply
  • I am keeping a flock of four as companions to give me a reason to get up and go outside every day. The eggs they give me are just a perk to go with the entertainment a pet can provide. I have a policy of never eating anyone that I know personally. I hope my girls will live good long lives and be happy to share my yard with me.

    Reply
    • This was my favorite comment! I’m newly retired and now have 8 chickens 3 months old. They will never be eaten! They are now some of my best friends.

      Reply
  • I have a 6 year old Australorp, Black Hen. She has survived 3 bear attacks that took all her companions at the time, hawks and raccoons. She’s smart and sweet and I love her. She will live out her life here with me as long as nature allows. She is always accepting of new additions to the flock and is a wonderful mother.

    Reply
  • They are also awesome for controlling pests/bugs in the yard! They have more value than just their eggs.

    Reply
    • I agree, I keep chickens mainly for bug control in the barn. I don’t have a fly problem thanks to my industrious little workers. The eggs I get (and can find) are a bonus

      Reply
  • My oldest girls are 3. The original plan was to raise babies, get eggs first 2to3 yrs. slaughter for meat. Each yr raise another flock so the cycle continues. Last yr with my brothers help I slaughtered 14 young roosters, as horrible as the experience was the meat was great. I like knowing where my food comes from. I currently have over 20 boys in the bachelor pen from this years chicks (hatched out over 400 chicks) sold a lot of them and gave away some to start up chicken keepers as that is how I got started with my first 26 chicks. I continue to strive to be that farmer who puts them in the freezer the 3rd year, I admit I’m not there yet, and can only pray I can see the plan thru, but it is harder when you raise them from eggs. Still determined to do it myself, but it’s the act of taking the life that’s hard for me, I thought it would be the eating them, I got over that after making the first pot of chicken stew. I feel empathy for them, but do not feel a personal connection to them as a pet. Maybe if I only had a few it would be different. But doing it on a large scale, seeing it as a business selling eggs, I don’t name them or see them as I would my dog. Realistically they make food or become food! They are also mean to each other, and I see cruel not loving acts from them everyday. As hard as it is for me to be the one to take their lives I feel it’s hypocritical to be ok eating the chicken from the store but not the one I raised just because it’s hard to be the one to slaughter, after all the point was to raise more healthy food for my family. Wish me luck!!!!! Determined to see the goal thru and be a real chicken farmer. (Still aren’t the babies the cutest of all baby animals?)

    Reply
  • And don’t forget all of the bugs they’ll eat on the farm! Chickens are such fun to watch, -I never get tired of watching chickens run down a hill towards me- too funny! And, yes, cats don’t lay eggs and we still feed them

    Reply
  • I only have three hens and they are pets with the added benefit of providing fresh eggs. Chickens are very smart, clever and entertaining. And affectionate. They amuse me with their antics. I love my girls and they will be valued members of my family until they cross the Rainbow Bridge from old age.

    Reply
  • I love this. This is my first year with chickens and went in with NO intention of ever culling. I am not sure what I will do as they age but one thing is for sure they will have the best care and lots of love until their day naturally comes. Chickens are not “just” producers…they are sweet little lives that deserve love, proper care, and respect. God created and gave man dominion…not to use, abuse, exploit and destroy but to use with care and respect. I love my girls and agonize when one is under the weather. I could never just “dispose” of one because they no longer provide eggs!

    Reply
  • I keep my old hens, although I usually lose them to predators before they hit elderly status. We had a nine-year-old hen who laid an occasional green egg and was a grand old lady.

    Reply
  • I started with older hens for fly/pest control and they are great for fly control in my barn yard. I have very few flies or wood ticks in my yard. I have a retirement home for chickens, egg laying is optional, bug eating in mandatory! LOL

    Reply
  • We would NEVER rehome or cull our chickens. They just live out their lives with the others.

    Reply
  • I love all of my girls! They make great garden buddies as they eat insects and overall, just keep me laughing and entertained. Their droppings are an important component to my compost making operation that I put back into my gardens.

    Reply
  • Thanks for the great article on a subject that I often talk about. The main purpose for my chickens is to to scratch the weeds and eat the bugs. I like the older and smarter birds for that. The older ones are more aware of the dangers of being out of the nice and safe coop. Thanks, again.

    Reply
  • I lost the last of my original flock last fall. Big Momma was also an Australorpe and 14 years old. Out of my 26 ladies over half of them are over 5 years old. My youngest are now two. This fall egg production has vastly decreased, but I love them just the same. They bless me everyday with their sweet sounds and antics! I often tell them they’re fat and lazy, but I’m smiling when I say it ‼️ ❤️

    Reply
  • Guenter P.

    We have silkie chickens for fun and sell the offspring an hatching egg all over Europe (we live in Austria). All of our flock live their life without the threat of culling-our oldest died this fall with 9 years. And our customers/chicken friends have them not only for a breakfast egg but as a family menber , kids love them because they can be cuddled :-). We have so round about 160 silkies including 27 cockerels plus the offspring.

    Reply
  • We don’t harvest the hens, the roos on the other hand…lol. Got a bunch of boys right now so its time to sharpen up some knives and eliminate 8-9 young roos.

    Reply
  • All of this sounds the same, in my experience, to Muscovy Ducks. I had an older hen, who constantly escaped the pen to lay. We made a side pen for her, and she successfully hatched 11 eggs. The lay was late in the season, and we wouldn’t have enough room in the barn to overwinter 11 + our flock. She had segregated herself from the group as well, but was by no means the strongest of the flock, so was not doing great. I sold her, with all of her babies to go repopulate another homestead. I like to think that she would be happy there. I also wanted to mention that the same goes for drakes. I have Papa – father of almost every duck we have so far. Old and tough. Guaranteed not to be good meat unless making a soup. Has survived two attacks. We keep him because he is grandfathered to the farm. He teaches the young how to act. I once saw him scold one of the baby’s who had caught. and was holding on to, a mouse. My guess is they are not good for ducks to eat, because he chased her, grabbed her by the back/neck until she dropped it, stomped on the mouse, grabbed its head/snapped its neck and left it there. Although he pretended not to care, he was also a great snuggeller to the young.

    All in all culling is not always needed. As more farms spring up, selling of livestock can also be an option. The trick is always financial, grow to certain size and sell. The longer you hang on to them, the more they end up costing you to raise.. but profit can be made if done right.

    Also – The age of the bird doesnt make a difference to fertilizer – old birds are just as good at this – and better at pest control — most definitely worth keeping a flock! 🙂

    Reply
  • My thought is, I spend so much time and energy keeping them safe and healthy, why on earth would I harm them? We have an arrangement- they give me eggs, I keep them alive .

    Reply
  • My oldest hen is 6. I could never get rid of them after they are finished laying. They are usually tame and keep the younger unruly hens in line :). I just let them retire. I have a small flock and they are pets for me with the bonus of fresh eggs. I am fortunate that I don’t have to worry about getting rid of them.

    Reply
  • My flock consists of pullets who are almost a year old, four-month old chicks, and one old girl, Lotus, who hasn’t laid an egg in ages. When 2 of the pullets went broody at the same time last year, I got some fertilized eggs for them to hatch. Right around the time that they decided they were done being moms, Lotus found her joy in becoming a granny. She was so sweet trying to get those giant chicks tucked underneath her out in the yard and in the nest box at night. She is just the sweetest thing and I could never cull her!

    Reply
  • I’ve had chickens for 28 years, and the flock is often multiple ages. In the beginning we would get 30-40, at a time but now that the kids are grown, i order somewhere around 6-8 every two years or so. The older hens are great. They talk to you and follow you around. i often sneak the oldest ones out for the day in the yard and then let all out later for supervised foraging. Only the older ones get real names unless they have some sort of noticeable character lol..we don’t eat them… after years of good eggs, the reward is life. Even the oldest hens, gives an egg now and then…

    Reply
  • Katherine N.

    My previous batch of 15 hens has dwindled to 7. A month ago I added 7 new ones, who have begun to lay eggs, now that the old girls (4+ yrs old) have diminished production. But I too am against slaughtering… they are my pets; they feel safe; they run to the back door as soon as they so much as hear the familiar sound of it being opened; they allow me to stroke their backs; they are NOT afraid of me… The older ones had died natural deaths and were buried in a remote corner of my garden. The remaining oldies have amazingly adapted to the new ones, albeit different breeds (common reds and pure white angelic Leghorns)…. I love them all… they free range everywhere, but I also feed and water them properly, so I am pretty happy and confident that their nutritious eggs can be safely fed to neighbours’ infants and children…

    Reply
  • June H.

    When you have 75 to 100 hens and you start to see the egg to grain ratio start dropping we either offer them for sale or stew pot. Dogs are pets chickens are egg layers or meat sorry way of the farm since the beginning of mankind.

    Reply
  • Been a vegetarian for 13 years so my hens are my egg laying pets. But I always say: “eat them all or eat none, but at least if you do, know where they came from”

    Reply
  • Martin B.

    My old girls have always given me lots of eggs over the years. I feel they’ve earned a retirement so I always keep them.

    Reply
  • Chickens haven’t been around since the beginning of mankind, so somebody had to start the process of killing and eating them. Why don’t you find another protein source that is cheaper, better for you and a lot easier on the planet (think plant based) for the rest of your fellow humans and give your chickens a chance to live out their retirement peacefully? Just an idea

    Reply
  • My chickens get to live out their life, whether they produce or not. They served me when they were young, and the least I can do is repay them with a happy, healthy life.

    Reply
  • Of course we keep them! That would be some “thanks”, to cull them in the end once they are “useless”. Our hens (or roosters) don’t have to earn their keep or anything, like we don’t keep the dogs to guard the house or something. They are pets, more precisely family members, and there is no need to “pay” us in any other currency than their precious company.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Credit Card Identification Number

This number is recorded as an additional security precaution.

americanexpress

American Express

4 digit, non-embossed number printed above your account number on the front of your card.
visa

Visa

3-digit, non-embossed number printed on the signature panel on the of the card immediately following the card account number.
mastercard

MasterCard

3-digit, non-embossed number printed on the signature panel on the back of the card.

×
Enter Your Log In Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.

×

Send this to a friend