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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Question from a Reader: Chicken Advice (updated)

We're considering some backyard chickens. We have raised ducks before and know the work that comes with it. Here is my quesion - if a hen can live about 10 years under good circumstances and will generally stop laying after age 2 or 3, does that mean that unless you have the hen killed for meat, you have about 7 years of having a pet chicken that does not lay eggs and is just like any other outside pet?? Any ideas if any backyard chicken owners have found a solution to this?? I know from having pet ducks that once you name them, eating them isn't an option for us - and if you have young kids, they get named pretty quickly. We'd love to think about a few chickens, but I worry that after they stop laying, we might start to regret having them.
I realize what a stupid question this email centers around... but since so many people are doing backyard/urban chickens these days... are they ALL slaughtering them after they stop laying? or are a lot of chickens ending up in some sort of humane society-type place? I wonder if what seems like a good idea at the get-go might get tiresome when they have a handful of birds that needs feeding and caring for, but isn't laying any eggs anymore. Just wondered your take on this.


I'm glad that you are thinking ahead before jumping into chickens. I'm afraid that I just took the plunge without looking. When my first hens reached the 2 year mark, they started eating their own eggs as well as the other hens eggs. We would go out to the coop and find half and egg shell and nothing else. We knew something had to be done. I prepared myself to kill them so we could make a chicken soup or something. But, when it came down to it, I couldn't kill my chickens. Then there was the debate as to what we were going to do with them. They were my first hens, and I loved them dearly. I love their personalities and I loved the way they looked. I loved that when I would yell "come on girls" they would all waddle over to me. I just couldn't kill them. But, I couldn't keep them either if I wanted to continue to get eggs. My uncle Dale has a Mennonite family that kills and cleans his chickens for him. I don't have that luxury. I found some Guatemalan neighbors that would complete the circle of life for them. I couldn't think about it without getting tears in my eyes, but I knew it was what I had to do (this might not be the option for everyone). It still makes me sad thinking about it.

So, in the end, you really have to think about what you want, do you want to keep your chickens for 10 years? If not, will you be able to kill them or give them away after 2-3 years?

Good luck with whatever you choose. I love having my chickens and I love the fresh eggs each morning.



It is coincidental that when I am read the comments below about chickens, I had a broiler that we raised, cooking on the rotisserie to celebrate my son’s birthday. I know the feeling you all have because I got very much attached to a turkey that I raised last summer. But our family has determined that the purpose for our poultry is for food. I admit that I have influenced this somewhat. But my children have not complained when they are eating that thanksgiving turkey or barbequed chicken. I think a key to this is to discuss it with your children right from the beginning and to reinforce the philosophy occasionally. I love my “ladies” but when I went out the other day to find one of them beheaded by a fox, I got emotional for about a minute and then buried the thing and haven't thought about it again (except to figure out how to protect the others.) When they quit producing or start eating their eggs, we will complete their circle of life. Or I should say, my Mennonite friends will. I do feel hypocritical not doing it myself since I feel this is the most healthy attitude. For those of you who do not have Mennonite friends, I think there are many people from various ethnic groups who will do it for you. One suggestion is just to give the spent layers away to people who want them for stewing chickens. Getting new chicks a few weeks before you get rid of the old hens also mitigates the emotional trauma. As you view the accompanying picture of my two sons ready to eat a barbequed chicken, I hope you see it as a positive thing. But if I have not talked you out of the “pet” mentality, I would still encourage you to get some layers. They are worth it even if you have to put them in the retirement coup for a few years.


Tea Rose said...

I often think about what I am going to do with my girls when they outlive their usefullness. I know that killing them won't be in our future so I think we have decided to build a larger simpler coop for the chickens that we are cycling through into the pet phase of their life. They will roam freely more (as we won't be as concerned about predators as we are with the active egg layers) but will still stay on our farm until the end of their life. I think this is a personal decision for everyone, this is just our plan. Also, I don't think many chickens hit that ten year mark. I have heard 4-6 years is more common, but I guess it is best to be prepared for the most. Good luck on your journey through backyard chicken ownership!

Amy said...

I know this is about chickens, but, growing up we had a cow and she had a calf every spring we would name it, pet it (without mom around of course), feed it, etc. and then came the time to go to "The House" & we would get our cow back in nice white packages. My parents from the very begining explained to us that this was for food and we were all fine with it. It is all how you look at it, but I think it would have to be clear to your children before hand so there are no tears later.

Elaine said...

tea rose - I just wonder, when the 'pet' chickens to pass on, do you plan to eat them then? Or is it too late to eat a chicken once it has lived it's whole life?

karisma said...

Wow! I just googled chicken advice and ended up here. Being the novice myself our chooks which we have no idea how old they were when we got them had not laid any eggs all winter, and now suddenly started up again! Well two of them have at least. Dh wanted to eat them a month ago but half our family are vegetarians so we were a bit outraged at the thought. I had no idea they only lay for 2-3 years. How sad. These poor girls I saved from a battery condition. Very small cage, hardly any feathers but laying. I fed them up and now they are beautiful. I can't imagine eating them. (Though I know some people round here who would have no problem with that!)

So my question is...Are they supposed to stop laying in winter (its not that cold here) and if I get some chicks would it be safe to put them in with the older hens?

Cheers, any advice would be much appreciated.

megan said...

Karisma - most chickens will take a break from egg laying in the winter. They respond to the shorter days so if you'd like to boost their winter production you can put a light in their coop. Also, putting young chickens in with older ones can sometimes cause a problem - they can be pecked to death if they are too young. You might want to keep them separated until the young ones are between 18-20 weeks and hardy enough to endure the pecking order.

karisma said...

Thanks Megan, I will do that. Im looking at waiting till it warms up just a bit more first before getting some anyway.