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

When is the best time to retire a hen?

how to improve on the isolation coop design

We retired some old hens today.

They made it to the ripe age of 1.5.

We had some escapes during the process. I think that could be fixed by making the top of the kill coop so we could open only one half at a time.

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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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so what ARE your parameters for retiring old hens? Do they stop laying entirely?
Comment by Karen B Tue Oct 21 18:07:00 2014

Why did you "retire" the hen when they were only 1.5 years old? Can't hens continue to give eggs well past that? Are there any other criteria that you use to determine when to "retire" the hen? And I'm assuming the "hen" went into the stock pot? :)

Love your blog BTW.

Comment by Nayan Wed Oct 22 09:19:10 2014
Karen --- We're cold-hearted about chickens. We've found that egg-laying declines drastically the second winter, so we raise a new set of pullets each spring and retire the old ones once the pullets start to lay.
Comment by anna Wed Oct 22 09:58:15 2014

Nayan --- My comment above probably answers most of your questions, but I saw your comment after I posted mine, so here's a bit more. Since our chickens are livestock, not pets, we have to look at them from a cost-benefit point of view --- are they laying enough eggs to pay for their feed? A hen's second winter, she molts, which eliminates egg production for a few weeks. And, even after that, I've found that eighteen-month-old hens don't lay much their second winter. The old hens go in the freezer and turn into soups, chicken salad, etc, over the winter.

Of course, killing hens is unpleasant, so many people opt to take their hens through until they're 2.5 years old (or even older), putting up with declining egg numbers. But I'd rather have fewer hens over the winter to keep happy since that's a tough time on pastures, so if eight hens will feed us instead of sixteen, I'm willing to kill the old hens to make that happen.

Comment by anna Wed Oct 22 11:00:20 2014
You are way mean!
Comment by Jayne Wead Wed Oct 22 14:16:43 2014
Thanks for the info. Do you sell your eggs? Is that why you retire them after 1.5 years? It would seem to me that if someone was just getting eggs for themselves that keeping the hens for a few more years, despite the turn down in production, would make sense, especially if they're being "tractored" and most of their feed comes from foraging. After all, most people don't eat a ton of eggs every day, especially if they have more than a couple of hens. The number of eggs produced would be overwhelming, unless they plan on selling them.
Comment by Nayan Wed Oct 22 23:31:53 2014

I have had the same thought about keeping chickens - they are a lot to keep up with in the winter, and the fewer that you have to overwinter, the better. This is particularly true for me, because I'm a "weekend homesteader" and in the winter I generally end up feeding chickens in the dark, before or after work. Brrr!

On the other hand, my old neighbor recently gave me a dozen eggs that would be jumbo-sized in the grocery store, and he apologized for their small size "because they're just pullet eggs." His older hens give such enormous eggs that he has to tie the cartons shut with string.

Comment by Faith T Thu Oct 23 10:00:41 2014

Hi Anna and Mark and all,

I have read where the egg white can be measured for Brix (nutrient density).

So I am wondering if the eggs from older hens have a better mineral balance i.e.- are healthier? It would seem like that might well be true?

I suppose that depends on local soil, etc. as well.

But I bet meaningful stuff can be measured and/or discovered either by asking the right question or by making the right observations.

Comments please !!


Comment by John Thu Oct 23 10:30:17 2014

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