The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Culling old hens

Chickens in tractor

Tuesday was a bittersweet day --- we killed the two hens surviving from our initial flock of Golden Comets, purchased as adults in 2007.  The photo above shows some of those then-young ladies in an early chicken tractor that July.

Hens in tractorWe started with twenty hens, which was a crazy number --- we had moved to the farm not long before and soon the few local people we knew didn't even want free eggs anymore.  Two hens died of heat exhaustion when their old fashioned waterer spilled (the impetus for Mark's chicken waterer invention), and we gave twelve away to my father to slim down the flock even more.

Slowly, four more chickens bit the dust.  One was a casualty of us thinking we could keep a rooster in a chicken tractor --- he overmated our hens mercilessly and one girl was too injured to survive.  Another died last winter when her old bones could no longer take the cold.  And to be honest I can't remember what happened to the other two.

Chicken pecking orderI've written before about why you can't expect to raise chickens for eggs and not get your hands bloody, but I guess I just didn't feel like my words applied to these old girls.  They were our wiliest hens, the first to come running when I called them to a new pasture (and the first to find a hole in the fence.)  When people came to interview us about our chicken waterer, all I had to do was tap the chicken nipples and our old Golden Comets would obediently trot over and drink, whether they were thirsty or not.

But they were also laying very few eggs any more, at least after spring ended.  Last winter, we started having to buy eggs from the store to round out our diet, and the old hens never really picked up steam even when warm weather returned.

You just can't expect a four and a half year old hen to repay your expenses of feeding her over a hundred pounds of feed (at least $30) per year.  And you also have to figure in the wear and tear on the pasture (worst in winter) and the fact that your old hens are Carrying dead chickenprobably head of the flock and get to eat the best food, leaving your better layers malnourished while their elders get fat.  So we bit the bullet and turned them into dinner this week, along with a one-year-younger Golden Comet who was also past her prime.

I'd gotten used to slaughtering three month old broilers --- we've already processed 21 this year, and after the first few, I started enjoying chicken killing day as a break from the hard work of the garden.  But those broilers were raised from birth with dinner in mind and they hadn't really grown into their personalities yet.  The Golden Comets felt different.  Even though we hadn't named them, they almost felt like pets.

And yet, I can almost feel the pasture breathe a sigh of relief.  Three fewer chickens to scratch up the turf!  And this year's pullets and cockerel seem thrilled to have moved up a notch on the totem pole --- access to scraps!  It isn't always easy to do the right thing, but I'm glad we didn't let our farm turn into a rest home for chickens.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Top 3 things you have blogged about that help me in my daily life. 1. Homemade dog food. 2. Gardening tips. 2. Chickens, chickens, chickens.

Comment by Kathleen Olsen Thu Sep 15 11:33:29 2011
we're facing the same situation with our girls. a year ago, we had one dark cornish cross that decided to start eating her sister's eggs - so she had to go. and now, the two golden comets have stopped laying all together. so we're left with one dark cornish cross laying an egg every other day. we've been throwing money at them for a while hoping they'd come back around. i think it's time to make some stock.
Comment by kevin Thu Sep 15 14:39:46 2011

Kathleen --- So glad I could help!

Kevin --- I know exactly what you mean! It's so easy to put the difficult decisions off far longer than you should. That said, stay tuned --- I've learned a new method of cooking old chickens that's my favorite yet. :-)

Comment by anna Thu Sep 15 16:40:18 2011

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