When to cull a chicken from the flock

Pullet eggChoosing to cull a chicken from your flock is
seldom an easy decision, but without careful culling your flock will
end up full of non-productive birds.  Some chicken-keepers
simplify matters by starting a new batch of laying hens each year and
killing their two year old hens once the younger birds begin to lay,
while other people go to the other extreme and keep every chicken until
they die of old age.  I stick to a middle of the road approach,
but lean a bit more toward the latter method than I should if I wanted
the optimal laying flock.

Over-mated henIn my experience, a few birds should always be
culled immediately.  A rooster which is aggressive toward its
keepers should always go in the pot.  On the other hand, if your
rooster overmates your hens, chances are the fault is yours — check
out my tips on the
rooster to hen ratio
and decide whether you can change your system
and keep this rooster.

A sick or injured
chicken should be separated from the flock for up to a week to allow
her time to heal without being picked on by her sisters.  If she’s
unable to regain full health, you’re going to either have to keep her
in isolation for the rest of her life (which is cruel to social
chickens) or cull the injured chicken.  Chickens naturally pick on
birds that aren’t quite up to par, and I believe that it’s kinder to
put a chicken out of her misery than to return her to the flock for
constant harassment.

Older hens who aren’t
laying much are a trickier topic.  Even though egg production
begins to decline after a chicken’s first year of laying, we find it
worthwhile to keep our best hens around for a few more years. 
During the summer, good egg layers will nearly match their younger
sisters, and we can afford to let them take the winters off in order to
keep their optimal genes and good foraging behavior in circulation
through our flock.

Chicken tractorWhat if you think that one or two hens in your
flock aren’t pulling their weight but aren’t quite sure which ones they
are?  First, make sure that your flock’s not molting
— during the molt, chickens naturally stop laying, so you shouldn’t
make any hasty decisions on their future during this time period. 
If it’s spring or summer, though, you can test to see if individual
hens are slacking off by putting each one in a chicken tractor where
you can monitor her individual egg production for a week or two. 
Rotating your flock through the tractor will often be enough to pick
out which hen or hens are falling down on the job.  It’s worth
trying to perk your troubled chicken up with exra protein, calcium, and
greenery for a few more weeks before signing her death warrant —
again, the problem could be your fault and easily fixed.

My last piece of advice
is — once you’ve made the decision, don’t procrastinate.  We had
a loner chicken waiting for the guillotine for months, and every
morning I’ve spent time feeding her even though she wasn’t producing
any eggs.  It took us less than an hour to set up our
chicken-killing station and get it done, which will save me time and
lower our feed costs all winter.  Plus, it just feels good knowing
that every member of our flock has a use and is working hard.

Having a spare homemade chicken
on hand
makes it simple to isolate a problem hen.

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