Procrastination Pays Off – For the Chickens

Each fall we butcher part of our flock of layers to end up with about six to overwinter. We have a flock that is always in a state of rotation.   Each spring we get a few new chicks and each fall we cull older birds and poor layers to get down to our optimum number of six.    It works great as chickens lay best in the first two years.   After that they start to slow down.   That two-year limit also works good you as far as eating goes as well, as after two years they really limited in their use to stewing and stock.

This year we procrastinated our last butcher cycle.   We knew we wanted to get rid of three birds, but were having troubles deciding who was on that last list of the year.   The hens were laying unusually well even though the days were getting shorter.  We only had one poor layer who was on the short list.     We only had one hen was on the too old list.   We kept on talking and debating who the third one should be.  No single bird rose to the top of the list of the remaining birds.  We thought with time it would become obvious to us.

We were lulled into thinking we had plenty of time to get down to our magical number.   This fall was unusually warm.   It seemed like  winter was a long time away.    So we continued to put off the decision who to put on our final list of the year.  We did not feel the clock ticking because as long as we can run a hose, we can butcher.    I know Grandma’s from years gone by probably butchered year round, but I am not quite as tough as her.

Finally we went from late summer to a full-blown winter.  Cold sub-zero and lots of snow.    We had a snow storm that gave us the most snow in a single snow fall in 10 years.   It seems that our procrastination paid off big for our birds.   That debate on who should be number three, resulted in us having nine birds for the winter this year.

6 comments on “Procrastination Pays Off – For the Chickens

  1. We’ve only had chickens for about a year and a half, but our two older girls are almost four years old (we adopted them from a lady in the city who had to get rid of them). We’re giving them this winter because they were still laying strong all summer (Liesl is amazing – she just keeps producing and producing), but I’m hoping to get a couple new girls in the spring, so we’ll have to make room in the coop.

    I am nervous about butchering. We’ve never done it before. Do you live in the city? I’m thinking we may take them out to our friend’s farm to butcher because I’m not sure how messy it’ll be. Technically, backyard chickens are illegal in our city, but we have kind neighbours who don’t mind (plus, we bribe them with eggs).

    • Jamie,

      I live in the country, but have lived in the city before as well. I would recommend you butcher where your city neighbor’s can’t see; take them to the country. You will get less grief and more support. I always get frustrated when folks get outraged by butchering, especially small flocks. People act as though you are murdering their kids not your flock. It is the cycle of life and it is done so much more respectful and clean than any factory can do it.

      I will not say even all this time later, that the moment when I take a hen’s life isn’t hard, because it is. On the other hand I think doing my own butchering is an honorable thing. I know my chickens have been treated well and they have gone full circle and provided substance to us. Once they have been killed the rest of the butchering doesn’t bother me one bit. I actually take lots of pride in how clean my birds end up. My husband who was born and raised 100% city and never been part of this in his life has finally moved to the point that he can put them down as well.

      Good luck when it comes to butcher the first time.

      • Thank you for the advice.

        I agree – my hens have given me so much that I feel the least I can do is give them a decent, honourable death. They certainly have a much better life (and death) than any factory farmed hen.

        I know people would get upset over the butchering, and then I wonder, where do they think the chickens in the grocery store come from? I have friends who refuse to eat our eggs because they think they’re unsanitary, and others who excitedly tell me after eating them, “They taste just like grocery store eggs!” As if the grocery store eggs are coming from a cleaner, healthier place, when just the opposite is true.

        We have a friend who has a small farm 30 minutes out of the city, and he raises hogs, chickens, and cattle. He offered to help us out with the butchering, and I think we’ll take him up on the offer. I don’t want to make a mess of it the first time, or make it more traumatic than it needs to be, for myself or for the girls.

  2. I’ve got three hens that aren’t laying at all. I just got them in October and one laid a few eggs, then they went into molt and haven’t laid since. I plan to put a light on them in February or so and, hopefully, they will do their thing. Meanwhile, I’m buying free range eggs at $4/dozen 😦

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