Sunday, March 2, 2014

Culling the Laying Hens

First of all, everybody that I know of who has chickens culls their flock using different criteria. Goes to show that there is no right or wrong way to go about picking which hens to cull, which to keep. Most owners routinely remove all hens at the end of their second year of egg laying. A few people I know only lets them lay one year. Then there's me.....I go according to their laying record on my own homestead farm. After all, I'm not a commercial farm where the net profit is the main concern. I like my hens and enjoy having them hang around a while. Plus there's other jobs they can do to earn their keep, but that's another topic for another day. 

My first criteria is an odd one, but it fits my schedule. I prefer hens that tend to lay in the morning before noon. I never paid much attention to the timing at first, since I just would gather eggs several times a day. But with my present set up, the hens are confined in the morning and in the afternoon are released to go forage in pastures and areas specifically planted for them. I quickly noticed that some hens were consistent morning layers, making things much easier for me. So whenever I would sell a laying chicken, I'd always offer the afternoon layers or the inconsistent ones. By keeping a watchful eye on them, I could identify the morning layers, thus assuming the rest were afternoon layers. Now most of the eggs here get laid by noon. I seldom find one out in the forage pens.

Among my hens laying for the first year, I like to see at least five eggs a week during the good egg laying period. Many of the hens are pumping out 6 or 7 eggs a week. Any first year hen laying less than 5 a week will be a sale candidate. 

With hens on their second year I like to see 4-5 eggs a week. Some still do better, but some slip down to 3. If those 3 eggs are larges or extra larges, then hen can stay. But if they are mediums, she's on the sale list. 
Can you guess? Hen that laid the extra large egg on the left is a keeper even if she only lays 2 a week. The hen laying the mediums on the right is a candidate for selling. 

Older hens can still stay in the flock if they produce large or bigger eggs. I have one old hen that consistently lays a jumbo egg every 3-4 days. Since I can sell big eggs at a premium, that hen can stay. I have many older hens giving 3 large or extra large eggs a week. All keepers. But any hen that drops below 2 eggs a week is at risk of being culled. There has to be a good reason to keep a hen only laying one or possibly two eggs a week. A hen earns points if she has double yolkers, extra large or jumbos, or unusual colored eggs. Being able to put a pretty speckled egg, an olive colored or perhaps a chocolate brown egg in a dozen helps to sell the eggs. 

Do I sell all my culls? I try to. But some of the hens are rather old and end up becoming dogfood. First they go to make chicken broth, with the stringy meat being then added to the dogfood. I
I have plenty of meat sources so I don't have to use every chicken for our own table. But if I did, then even those old hens could be ground up for chicken croquettes. 

But then there are some favorites who I let hang around. They get alternate jobs, like scratching up the garden aisles to deweed them prior to laying down new mulch. Or scratching up and deweeding a growing bed before replanting. In this latter case they stay in their wire pens for several days, eating and sleeping there. The aim is to add their manure directly to the growing bed. Easy fertilizer application! I'll talk about this in an upcoming post. 


  1. We got a few questions: I haven't gotten a flock yet (long story, don't ask) bur I recall that you "run a herd" of something like 100 chickens (explains the egg sales!), and roos need not apply - are you buying chicks locally or from that hatchery on Oahu, or do you get live hatchlings from the mainland? Do you use leg bands to keep track of their age? Are you clipping wings to decrease "flight risks"? And, maybe in a future post, how can you tell which hens are early layers other than pushing them out of a nest box to gather an egg [could it have been there overnight, and the hens were doing a musical chairs dance]? Inquiring minds just wanna know...

  2. The flock numbers hover around 100. That's the number I can comfortably feed using my method of mostly grown or scavenged food. No Roos need apply for now, though I added three Roos to the community garden flock for breeding purposes. Not on my farm so I don't have to deal with the crowing.

    My chicks mostly come from McMurray on the mainland. I've had very good luck with them. In the past I've gotten meat chicks from Oahu and layers from Ideal hatchery in Texas. I'm thinking about getting some of Sandhill's Marans next year to add to the flock. Yes, leg bands are a must. Each year gets a different color on their left leg. I use the right leg for numbered bands in order to identify particular hens that I have a difficult time telling apart. The numbered bands will pull off if you don't use a tad of liquid nails to seal them shut. I haven't had to clip wing feathers on most of the hens. The leghorns are a bit flighty so some of them are clipped. And one of the Rhodies always wants the grass on the other side of the fence, so she's trimmed. If I start seeing hens popping over the four foot high fencing, it's because their preferred food is pau. Time to move them to a different grazing pasture and reseed the delectables in the used pasture.

    I had considered pinioning the day old chicks when they arrived but opted not to. I figure that if a stray dog should enter the farm, the hens that can fly might figure out that flying into a tree is safety. Maybe, maybe not.

    In another post I'll talk about how I dentifrice the layers vs the non-layers.

  3. "Dentifrice" !!!! Don't ya just love auto-correct spell checker! I meant to say ... Identify the layers....