Hens do not lay eggs forever.
They have their peak productive years and then they start laying sporadically or stop laying at all. At this point, you need to decide what to do when your chickens stop laying eggs.
Backyard chickens are productive for the first two to three years. Should you let them stay on, until their end of life or should you dispose of them? This is not an easy decision, especially when you have developed a tight bond with your champion egg layers.
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Life Cycle of a laying hen
Backyard hens may live for up to eight years, and most will have about two to three years of peak egg production.
Hens will lay eggs depending on the age and the length of daylight hours, and whether they go broody.
They start laying eggs in their first year, usually at around five to six months. At this young age, they produce smaller eggs compared to seasoned birds.
Young hens can lay eggs almost daily as long as there is sufficient light and usually have an average of 270 eggs annually. At their peak, egg size also increases in size and the shell quality is of top-notch quality.
However, as they age, the egg production, shell quality, and size of the egg will decrease each year, and as they become older, you may collect an egg from them once or thrice a week.
How can you tell if a hen is at the end of a lay?
With several chickens roaming in and out of the chicken pen throughout the day, it becomes almost impossible to tell which chicken is still laying eggs and which one has stopped laying.
The chicken will often still be laying eggs infrequently, like maybe once every few weeks.
Below we have some of the best ways to single out chickens that have stopped laying eggs from the rest of the flock.
- Comb color– A laying hen has a nice, rich red-colored comb. It has probably stopped laying eggs if it has a light-colored or pale comb.
- Vent moisture– A chicken not laying eggs should have a dry and dust-looking vent compared to the moist vent in an egg-laying hen.
- Keel to vent distance– The keel is found at the back of the chicken and the end of the breastbone. The distance between the vent and keel should be two fingers, but it’s four or more in retired hens.
- Abdomen– The abdomen of an egg-laying chicken is soft and supple, but it feels hard and tight for a retired hen.
What to do with hens that have reached the end of lay?
After 2-3 years, egg production declines significantly.
At this time, you will have to decide if they are still ready to continue feeding the chickens or if it’s time to find another alternative.
To ensure that the backyard chicken flock remains, small-scale chicken owners develop various plans to retire old hens every 2-3 years.
Below are some of the common ways to handle retired hens.
Let them live on the homestead until the end of their life.
A hen will only have 2 to 3 years of regular egg production. However, they may live for eight or more years under good care.
It’s important to understand that though older hens may not lay eggs regularly, they can still serve several important roles.
They can still contribute to your backyard chicken setting, and as such, you may not have to cull or re-home them once they are past their egg production years.
Below we have some ways you can allow an older chicken to contribute to your farm.
- Older hens are great at ridding your garden of bugs and weeds. You will notice a substantial reduction in insects such as mosquitoes and ticks, and they are also great at helping you control weeds in your vegetable garden.
- Unlike younger hens, older hens are great at hatching another generation. They are perfectly content sitting on the eggs all day.
- They make better mothers because they have more experience.
- They are better at watching and showing the chicks how to hide from predators.
- Older hens contribute to the production of nitrogen-rich manure.
Use them as stewing chicken
It is an excellent way to ensure you utilize your resources by providing your chicken with good chicken meat and broth.
It’s a great way of ensuring that your hen goes to good use instead of culling and throwing it away.
However, older hens tend to have tough meat and are more suitable for making broth. You can make several batches with a whole chicken and cook it thoroughly. A single hen can provide up to 4 gallons of healthy broth.
If you do not enjoy chicken broth or have more than you need, you can use the chicken meat as dog food.
Dogs enjoy raw food diet, and it’s a great way of utilizing your hen. Ensure your cure your chicken well by wrapping it in plastic bags and letting it sit in the fridge for a minimum of 10 days. This helps the meat to tenderize thoroughly.
Humanly cull the chicken
As challenging as it may seem, backyard chicken farmers often decide to cull the chicken that has reached the end of lay.
It logical for backyard farmers who need to retire old hens every 2-3 years to add young hens and keep their small flock producing.
Furthermore, even if you decide to keep your laying hen till they die of natural causes, you will eventually have to dispose of them.
If you need to end the chickens’ life, it’s good to ensure that it’s as painless as possible. Below are two simple ways:
- Wring the neck. To avoid causing pain, you have to do it quickly and forcefully. It’s not a commonly used method, but you can do it.
- Chop off the chicken throat quickly. It’s a simple old practice carried out with an axe or sharp knife. You need to apply tension on the chicken legs and stretch its neck to keep it in place. Then use the knife or axe. If you intend to use the chicken for meat or stew, let the blood drain by holding it up. Though the chicken will be flapping at this point, it’s dead and doesn’t feel any pain.
Backyard chicken farmers enjoy knowing where their food comes from, what it eats, and how it’s treated.
Whether your chicken is intended for the table or culled to end a production-less life, it’s important to note that it’s your responsibility to do the best for your birds.
Doing whatever your need to do well makes you a poultry keeper.