Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers
On sale this week:

Drinking broilers
5 Pack Avian Aqua Miser Original Kit With Drillbit
$45
$38

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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 optimal 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 waterer on hand makes it simple to isolate a problem hen.


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