Hens getting old but still laying some

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Hi y'all,

Here's a question I've been going over in my head for the last few days, and so far I'm stuck between the proverbial "rock and a hard place", so I'm putting it to the forum for your advice.

I have three seperate pens of hens, Pen 1 has Australorps - the hens are in two groups, the banded ones are the oldest at 2.5 years, the young ones are not banded. Pen 2 has Silver Wyandottes, same ages as the Wyandottes while Pen 3 has Buff Orpingtons, all 2.5 years old.

All hens are laying a few eggs, out of 30 hens, I got eight eggs today, but the day before I got 18. I want to put some eggs in the incubator and raise the chicks out over the winter so I will have young hens in the spring. Should I move the oldest hens into a holding pen, and feed them out (fatten them up some) for the freezer, while holding the younger hens in the same pens and let them keep laying and use their eggs for the incubator? Or should I just get the eggs from all the hens and put them in the incubator first and hope the older hens eggs are fertile. I know, I know, I probably have let the old girls go too long..but they've been such good girls. Does anyone who raises their own chicks have this dilema? I love the Wyandottes (they are consistent layers) but the Australorps have been somewhat spotty layers even though everyone gets the same feed and water. The buffs are the gentlest but least consistent layers as they are slightly older than the rest. What, oh what should I do? It doesn't get that cold here in the winter so don't have to worry about babies freezing. And I know the old hens will have to go and I wouldn't feel right selling them to someone as they are near the end of the laying period (you put more feed in them than you get eggs out of them), so the freezer is the logical choice (gosh I am never logical when it comes to chickens or goats..).

Can you give me some advice on this? Thanks for helping out,


-- Cindy (colawson@mindspring.com), September 29, 2001


All eggs whose hens have had recent access to roosters should be fertile. If you can identify which eggs are from which hens, and there are hens you want more of, then select those, of course. Otherwise, I'd be inclined to separate out the younger hens (consolidating older neighbours into same pens if necessary to make a free pen for the youngsters), give a fortnight or so for the ruffled feathers to settle and new pecking orders to be accomodated, then start saving eggs from the older hens for hatching. Straight-out Darwinian selection - the ones who are the best fertile layers at that age will produce the most chickens.

Feed/fatten them up as well (cracked corn is excellent), then when you've got enough hatching eggs, start working your way through the worst layers, leaving the best to produce eggs over winter. Before you make this decision, look back over your records (which you appear to have been in an excellent position to keep), or at least try and cast your mind back to the last winter. Did normal laying patterns change during winter - did it happen that during winter "those who were last became first" or any such pattern reversal?

Bear in mind that hens can easily live three times this long - maybe much more. While you've got to be hard-headed and realistic about things, it may also be that one or two favourite hens are so good that it's worth keeping them for their genetic contribution, even though their egg production may have fallen to a quarter of what the young birds manage. If you do have birds like that, it may make you feel better to keep them while disposing of the rest, as well.

-- Don Armstrong (darmst@yahoo.com.au), September 29, 2001.

'Old' means different things to different folks. I have some 4 year olds who still produce very well. Even 10 year olds will lay periodically.

I don't have and don't want an incubator. I do not add any lights or heat, but my hens lay all year around and I periodically allow them to hatch a clutch in the winter. I was really surprised the first time I did this 'cause the chicks spent a lot of time out learning chook things and playing. They tucked themselves under mom for their naps and at night. All the chicks have done this. I keep chicks penned until they feather up. I think these birds are hardier than folks give them credit for!

-- ~Rogo (rogo2020@yahoo.com), September 30, 2001.

Cindy, I understand your dilema. I keep the hens that lay well until they literally stop laying. I usually sell my nonproductive hens as stewing hens, if I can't bear to kill them myself. The ones that I am not attached to, I just dress out myself. Now 2 1/2 is not that old for a good laying hen and the size of their eggs make up for the dropping of production. None of your hens are too old to not use the eggs for hatching, provided you have a rooster in with them. I like to cross breed my chickens too and see what kind of layers and fryers I get. I have a wild assortment out in the backyard now, as well as my Australorps(mine lay really well.) My favorite big hen is a fat old White Rock that had a possum tear off her comb and I found her sitting in my stock tank one morning(thought she would die for sure that time). She will die of old age or get herself in a jam that she doesn't survive. I had my favorite dairygoat put to sleep when she got so old she could not get around anymore. I eat goat meat but she was too special for that. Have a great day and hatch out those eggs.

-- karen in Kansas (kansasgoats@iwon.com), September 30, 2001.

My Australorps also were excellent layers. And 2-1/2 doesn't seem old. Are you sure they are not in molt? Or even broody?

-- mary (marylgarcia@aol.com), September 30, 2001.

Your "girls" are not old, all the eggs would be as fertile as the next one. You should have no trouble at all selling the ones you don't want anymore, they can lay for another 10 years yet, just not alot of eggs! I never have trouble selling my 3 year old hens.

-- Annie Miller in SE OH (annie@1st.net), October 01, 2001.

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