Although Joel Salatin doesn’t
hatch his own chicks, over the years he’s noticed that the age of the
mother hen has a large impact on the chicks that arrive on his
doorstep. At one extreme, Salatin reports that pullets lay small
eggs that produce small chicks. More chicks from these young
mothers tend to die compared to when the eggs come from older hens, and
the chicks gain less weight.
Meanwhile, old hens lay
huge eggs that produce huge chicks. While that sounds good on
paper, Salatin sees a lot of inconsistency, with quite a few runts
mixed into the flock. When we visited
a friend’s Salatin-style pasturing operation a year or so ago, I remember she had a few
birds that were less than half the size of their siblings and that
didn’t seem inclined to grow — now I suspect her chick supplier was
trying to eke one more batch of chicks out of old breeding hens.
The good news with
chicks from old hens is that fewer chicks die than usual. On the
other hand, even though the majority of the chicks start out on the
large size, the average weight of the entire batch is below average
(probably because of those runts).
Why do I think this information
is important? If you’re buying in chicks, it’s handy to know that
not all of the problems you see are your own fault. And if you’re
the signs of an old hen can help you decide when to cull that bird from
the breeding flock.
I hope you’ve enjoyed
this peek into Joel Salatin’s chicken operation. If you missed
previous posts, check out the links below, and don’t forget to read the
post is part of our Pastured Poultry
Read all of the entries:
hydrated on pasture.