This is our family’s story of how we transitioned through loving our backyard chickens to ultimately culling them
after they stopped laying.
For us crazy chicken people it’s *finally* time to place our orders and prepare for our hearts and homes to be overrun with cuteness and chicken poop. We pick up our new girls next week from EggPlant Urban Farm Supply and we can’t wait!
But this story is about our Old Girls, our first flock at this home, because although no one likes to talk about it- even those adorable baby chicks get old. My advice is to have a plan BEFORE you bring them home. It’s helpful to know what you’ll do once they stop laying, get sick, or just really old.
This was a more emotional experience than I was prepared for. Much more so than when I’d had them in a farm setting, or that one time we had to cull a nasty rooster. We had 4 hens in our backyard chicken flock which my oldest son named Netty, Betty, Stella, Bella. They were regularly carried around, hand fed and in general, doted on.
I need you to know that for our family,
two things can and do co-exist:
1. I loved raising and tending to my girls; from fluffy baby chicks, to their awkward adolescence, molting, bumblefoot, vent gleet, even on -15F days where I had to change their water multiple times a day. They’re really endearing animals. Tending to their needs and completely spoiling them was our pleasure. Getting those eggs was awesome too!
2.I loved knowing where this meat came from: When the time came, we knew the girls had enjoyed a life far better than any of their counterparts who end up in a grocery store come from.
Now, I still get an occasional emergency rotisserie from Costco- but on average I really like knowing where my food comes from.
So, for us- once we got over the emotional roller coaster, the answer was clear. We’d be butchering our hens before Winter set in.
How We Decided it was Time
My family hadn’t gotten more than an egg a week from the girls since the end of August. I think I was in denial for quite a while…
After almost 2 full years of happily laying in the nesting boxes I began to find eggs scattered in the backyard. This was likely related to the Japanese Beetle ‘feeder’ I had made for the girls. They became so obsessed with the beetles that they didn’t return to their nesting boxes to lay their eggs in fear of missing the next bug!
The Perfect Storm
Two of our four hens contracted bumble foot in late July and I figured the ‘no eggs’ was directly related to them taking their sweet time healing from that. Also a shout out to my dear friend, Nicole- a vet tech who helped with the initial backyard surgery. I owe you one girl!
Then one of the Ameraucana’s went into a full molt, then a Black Australorp followed. Hens usually slow down or stop laying while molting because feathers are all protein, and that takes A LOT to regrow your whole feather duster.
As I mentioned earlier, the hens weren’t going back to their nesting boxes to lay, so they were laying in the yard. Eggs laying around usually leads to one thing; egg eating. They were likely all eating eggs by the end. I only ever found a few remnant shells, but all four hens wouldn’t stop laying at the same time.
We tried many things to deter egg eating, and encourage laying in the coop. Replacing their finely crushed egg shells with oyster calcium in case that was the issue. Placing ‘false eggs’ for the nesting boxes and continuing to use the herbs that I grew to help promote laying and keep/get them healthy.
Since we had an egg eater, we couldn’t give them to a farmer to enjoy their retirement only to wreak havoc by teaching a new flock of hens to eat eggs…
It was Time
So, I guess once the molting was over, I had to ask myself a hard question. Was I going to keep a flock of non-laying hens through a cold Minnesota Winter? Cold winters can mean boredom for the girls. I’ve used lots of ways to combat boredom before- from scratch blocks, hanging cabbages, new roosts, swings etc., but this time it didn’t seem like a good trade off.
The idea of doing all that work without return didn’t sit well with my homesteader heart.it was time
Having “The Talk” with our Kids
We talked to our sons about it at length. My husband and I reminded them of our discussion back when we first got the baby chicks that they would have to say goodbye to our backyard chickens at some point. Our one son was fine with it, our other boy cried for hours when we first brought it up. He was sad about losing them for weeks.
Eventually, the butchering day came.
After a major refresher (thank you YouTube) we prepped for it and had a day when our boys were going to be gone for a 5 hour stretch…
Not going to sugar coat it; that was difficult. I was sad. I kept trying to remember that we gave them a good life. Then, as there was work to be done, I just kind of came to terms with it.
The birds have now all been stewed and souped on. Even my boy who swore he wouldn’t eat any of the meat, chose to and really liked the soup. And I have to say the bone broth was really amazing.
So, love it or hate it; that’s this Suburban Homesteader’s story.
This time around my boys are just as excited to get our new baby chicks. If anything, we’re all wiser, and if anything we will lavish even more love on this new generation of backyard birds because of our previous girls. We are definitely more appreciative of the meat we eat because of this experience.
If you are (still) interested in raising backyard chickens, read my Chickens in the Hood blog for more how to info.
One thing I know for sure; I’ll never judge another person’s decision on anything like this. It is such a personal choice. One that I am proud our family made.
Those girls will always have a special place in my heart, they were good teachers in so many ways.
I’m curious; if you have chickens, what are your plans for when they stop laying? Obviously, no judgment here 😉
I can’t wait to share photos of my new fluffy babies with you all!