Everyone has a chicken coop in their backyard these days, and like I’ve said before, I think it’s a good thing.
Sure, it might be considered a “fad” by some, but hey- you can bet I’ll be the last one to complain about more people waking up to the issues with our current food system. And if that awakening means that folks are bringing home chickens in their mini-van, then good on them!
But, I recently came across an article that disheartened me, and it inspired this post today.
According to this article on the NBC News website,
“Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters from California to New York as some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive.
“Many areas with legalized hen-keeping are experiencing more and more of these birds coming in when they’re no longer wanted,” said Paul Shapiro, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States.”
Let me start off by saying that I have no idea what a “hipster” is, but I am fairly certain that I’m not one.
And I’m not quite ready to call this an epidemic, since “hundreds of chickens” stretched out across the entire United States really aren’t that many.
However, this article still bummed me out, and here’s why:
First off- this is poor animal husbandry. It’s not the chicken’s fault that the people who brought them home as fluffy baby chicks didn’t fully understand the commitment involved in keeping a flock.
Secondly, this reflects poorly on the modern-day homesteading movement as a whole, which is evidenced by the following quotes from Mary Britton Clouse, the owner of one of the chicken rescues mentioned in the article:
“People don’t know what they’re doing,” Britton Clouse said. “And you’ve got this whole culture of people who don’t know what the h*** they’re doing teaching every other idiot out there.”
“It’s the stupid foodies, we’re just sick to death of it.”
I’ll be honest. When I first read those quotes, my hackles definitely stood up (and I wanted to send her the link to my open letter addressed to homesteading critics!). But then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this particular person doesn’t get to see all the incredible, responsible people (like you, my dear readers!) that make up the thriving homesteading movement. She probably only comes in contact with the few that probably had no business owning chickens in the first place.
But I think this article brings an important issue to light– we need to make sure that we are being responsible in our homesteading endeavors.
How to Avoid Contributing to the Homeless Chicken Problem
Chickens don’t lay forever.
But the question remains– What DO you do with an unwanted chicken that is no longer providing eggs for your table? I see two main solutions to this issue:
1. Don’t buy them in the first place. Usually, I am the one encouraging folks to take steps towards homesteading. BUT, I ask that you think long and hard before adding any animals to your homestead. Whether it is a chicken, a goat, or a beehive, adding living creatures to your daily routine takes commitment- and it’s a commitment that still must be honored when it’s cold outside, or when the cute little baby is all grown up, or when you want to go on vacation. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, then steer clear of the chick aisle at the feed store.
2. Eat them. I know… Some of you are saying “Duh!” to this, while others are recoiling in horror.
To those who are horrified at such a thought, let’s think about this for a second: A huge part of the attraction to the modern-homesteading movement is the romance of the old-fashioned lifestyle. And if we want to be authentically old-fashioned, then we need to plan on sticking those older hens in the stew pot.
I guarantee that Great-Grandma wouldn’t have dreamed of keeping a non-productive hen around until she died a natural death at ten years of age. That would have been considered a serious waste of resources. Older hens who were past their prime of laying were used to nourish the family through chicken soup and stocks.
When my current flock stops laying, I will most definitely be processing them into nutritious chicken stock for my pantry, as well as meat for stews and soups.
There are lots of tutorials on line for butchering, processing, and stewing older hens. It’s a time-honored skill that is good to have in your repertoire anyway. I recently picked up a copy of this book (affiliate link), and it has a fantastic how-to chapter all about butchering chickens, including tons of color photographs.
(For those of you who are squeamish about butchering animals that you have raised, you will probably enjoy this post I wrote about my feelings about home butchering after we processed our steer.)
But Can’t I Just Keep Them?
Well sure, if you’ve developed an attachment to your hens and can’t bear to see them go, the Chicken Police won’t show up at your house if you decide to keep them.
Most hens peak in their egg production at around 2 years of age. That doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily stop laying after that, but it might not be quite as cost effective to feed them as it was when you were getting a steady egg-per-day. If you are a massive commercial egg-producer, this will definitely be a problem. But if you are a small flock owner, then only getting a couple eggs per week per hen might be ok. (Especially if you are free-ranging or feeding kitchen scraps to help supplement their diet and reduce feed-costs.)
If I came across harsh in this post, I didn’t mean to. But I think it’s important for folks to be aware off all the responsibilities that come with keeping yard birds–responsibilities extend beyond just the “fun stuff.”
I think we need to consider ourselves ambassadors for the homesteading-movement. It’s our job to show others all of the positive things about homesteading, or backyard farming, or urban chicken-keeping.
There is already enough adversity that comes with trying to homestead, (regulations, HOAs, covenants, laws, etc…), the last thing we want to do is cast our cause in a bad light.
So, let’s follow Grandma’s example by appreciating the hens for their egg-laying abilities, and then appreciating the nutritious, home-raised meat they can provide for our families later on.
This post was shared at Frugal Days Sustainable Ways
What’s the best way to tell an older hen from a young productive hen?
Put them in separate cages and see who does what.
For a chicken to lay an egg a day is asking a lot of her. It would be like you producing twins every year.
Give your hens a break, if you need more eggs get more chickens.
Libby Akin says
Also, A productive hen will have a plump, red comb, while a really young chicken or an older chicken who aren’t producing have a small
pink or shriveled comb. Hope this helps! Also, chickens can go through cycles where they produce more and less. For instance, our chicken don’t produce s much in the winter because we get a ton of snow and they can’t move around a lot. So, conditions may affect production as well.
a hen laying fairly often will have about 2 1/2 inches (width of three fingers for me) between her pin bones. At least I think they’re called pin bones 😉
I can’t believe people are dropping off chickens at animal shelters! Where do they think their meat comes from?
Susan Berry says
In the span of about 5 days every homestead/farm/chicken blogger out there has gotten a hold of this article and blogged about it, including me. I appreciate your point of view as it comes from a little bit different place than my own. Being someone who could not “process” out my own hens to eat them, I appreciate those who can do this. But I am one who got my hens for eggs and yes, pets. I adore them and my blog post speaks from the perspective of “don’t take in animals that you are going to get bored with in 3 months.” I have actually come into contact with such people talked about in the news article and it is sad. I have seen chickens left to fend for themselves and not cared for at all due to people getting them on a whim, because they were “cute” when they were chicks. It is sad. Thank you for your blog post and I hope we who are homesteading for a life change and not a whim will help others understand the importance of compassionate animal husbandry. Susan ~ itzybitzyfarm.com
I think that’s great, because you’re honest (with us and yourself) about how you view your chickens! To me, the problem arises when people say they have livestock but think of them as pets. Then when the hens stop being productive, they don’t want to treat them like either one.
I love my babies! But, if they weren’t laying I’m not sure I could kill them for food. Yes, I could eat them…I’d just have to get someone else to do my dirty work. LOL
Love this post. 🙂
Jill Winger says
Well, there is no shame in having someone else to the butchering– it sounds like more and more local butcher shops are offering services. 😉
Very interesting, I would have never seen it coming!
I live in the country and for many years, people would drop off the dogs and cats out here to “set them free”. Obviously this doesn’t work for the dogs – cats hunt, but often end up being coyote food…. – so do dogs but unfortunately they are not great hunters and end up either emaciated and at the pound or they get into someones livestock and get killed.
We eat our chickens and are truly grateful for the healthy, and well raised meat.
Thank you for this article! It will remind me to be sure to inform others well before encouraging them to get their own. 🙂
Chickens are great composting machines! Feed them your scraps from the house and from the yard. They will fertilize your garden and get rid of your waste in a “green” way! Less trash bags and landfills!
and eat your bugs! but I’m in no rush to get chickens, it’s a lot of work i’m not prepared for but I admire all the others who do it.
April S. says
I love this post! I saw the same article and had the same feelings about it as you and I’m glad its being talked about. My whole life I have seen the same thing play out in the horse industry – part of why I couldn’t stand to continue my path to being a trainer for a career. For people who can’t stand to butcher their own animals but have no issue with eating them, there are butchers who will come to your house and butcher them for you or local butchers you can take them to. My mom found a local guy who had a van outfitted for poultry processing and he makes very short work of it very neatly and did not charge a whole lot (I believe he charged by the bird). Ask your local butcher if they are able to offer that service or if they can recommend someone.
Jill Winger says
Yes– being a horse person myself, it’s been frustrating to watch the horse industry/market go into the toilet. 🙁
lisa lynn says
Thanks for spreading the word. As always, I’m amazed at how people shirk their responsibilities. Sigh. We eat our old hens. I butcher them myself and I’ve posted about it a number of times. I hope that more people will pay attention and listen to your words of wisdom!
Over the past 7 years I’ve come full circle with this idea. At first I actually drove miles out of my way to take 2+ year old hens to a processor. Then I forced myself to learn to butcher my hens. Even if I didn’t eat my hens, I reasoned that I should know how to quickly put an injured chicken out of its misery, (no euthanasia here). Now my critical chicken keeping friends ridicule me for having 4 or 5 older hens occupying the roosting bar. But I’ve come to love some of these hens. The recent fox who took some of my chickens didn’t take my older hens but instead got some of my more productive hens. I’m keeping my old hens and letting nature take its course. Yes I could eat them as I’ve learned well how to butcher chickens but I’m happy to live and let live. If I want meat birds, I’ll either buy them locally or grow them myself, as I’ve done this before too.
I saw the same article and thought, “what?!? Is this some kind of anti-homesteading propaganda?!?”
Why on earth would a shelter take a chicken in the first place? Too many alarm bells for my taste. So, I dismissed the article as some kind of anomaly. Certainly any sane “hipster” would first try to sell off their flock and supplies should they grow tired of being trendy. Wouldn’t you think?
Jill Winger says
Yes– it does have a rather anti-homesteading feel to it…
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your direct and in my opinion correct pov regarding animal husbandry and long term care. Having stumbled into homesteading this last year with a background of ranching, it is refreshing to hear someone address the long view of the lives of our beloved animal partners on the homestead. We have horses, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, you name it. Part of our consideration with every animal we take onto our place is what to do when they become ill, injured or just too old to be useful. I think that too many pet owners (dogs, cats) fail to have this foresight about their pet. Consider Fido. How many people do you know that have gotten a dog, spent tons of money on grooming, buying pretty outfits and cute purses or kennels to house them in. But, when it comes to basic care (vet visits, teeth cleaning) suddenly the expense is too great! I am SO passionate about this topic. Enjoying your animals as pets or productive members of your homestead is the fun, nice part of ownership. I also believe that God has granted us the privilege and responsibility of caring for these animals long term. That often involves tough decisions. There has been an epidemic the last few years of the same you describe concerning horses. Many owners stop feeding and caring for them and they suffer starvation and injury and have horrible, painful final days. But some of these same people are against euthanasia or rendering plants. Several months ago I found an article in a local ag magazine about the proper way to euthanize large and small livestock. As I studied the article and filed it away for future reference a friend of mine said, “Could you really shoot Kid (our 26 yo paint horse)? You’ve had him so long! I could never do that with even my cats!” My reply was, “I love my animal enough to not allow him to suffer. I would not want to, but if I had to, I want to know how to properly dispatch him as quickly with as little pain as possible.” At least our backyard flocks bless us with nourishment and I too believe it is gift from God and the animal.
I do not wish to sound harsh either. I don’t believe that everyone could “eat” their pets. But I do believe it is an honor, a responsibility and a blessing to care for God’s creatures…to the bitter end. And just as you do what’s best for them as they are young and productive, I believe you should also do what’s best as they age, which is at the least properly caring for them. Or humanly ending incurable suffering.
Jill Winger says
Wow– EXCELLENTLY said Shirra! I agree with you in believing it is the duty of a responsible animal owner– although it is terribly difficult at times. (We have personally put down 2 of our horses that were suffering. It was incredibly hard on hubby and I both, but it was the right thing to do.)
Lisa @ Fresh Eggs Daily says
While I initially took offense to the tone of the article much as you did, I DO think that it has provided an important open door to a very important topic that many backyard chicken keepers might not have taken into consideration. I myself have privately (and to my husband much to his delight (not!) have been debating this very topic: What happens when you’re only allowed 5 hens and they pretty much stop laying? You are getting tired of having to be home before dark every night, tired of stocking up on feed and supplements, and you really want new chicks because you miss your fresh eggs. It’s a topic that I don’t think many really thought through – both towns when they started allowing backyard hens or new owners.
In our grandmother’s day, yes, nearly every backyard had chickens, and even if limited by space, they butchered them once their laying days were over and got new chicks to complete the circle.This new generation has thrown in a wrinkle as most consider them pets and could no more see eating them than eating a pet cat or dog. Sadly,, I do believe many chickens will be abandoned, left to roam free, or deposited at shelters in the coming years.
I enjoyed your post.
Fresh Eggs Daily
Jill Winger says
Yes- I agree– I am thankful that the article opened up the discussion– hopefully more people will be aware of this issue now!
Hi Jill, I think that they were probably almost definitely NOT referring to homesteaders. Hipsters (google and urban dictionary the term, you are laughably far away from the definition) would far more likely be someone who decided to raise two chickens on their fire escape in NYC. Foodie, perhaps you may be as you enjoy well-prepared and organic food. However, a homesteader and farmer would generally not be the type of person to do what the article described so I think it’s safe to say that these people would applaud your efforts, NOT mean anything offensively.
Love your site!
Jill Winger says
Good point Rachel- I think you are probably right. 🙂
Kim @ Homesteader's Heart says
I personally think you’re spot on. Great post!
I’ve been talking about this over on FaceBook. We are about to get hens again after a year hiatus (we moved and the hens stayed at the old farm). I’ve been a chicken owner (both meat and egg chickens) for about ten years now. Older hens generally just get put into the pressure cooker or turned into bone broth. We let the kids pick out one “pet” each that gets a name and gets tagged, who is then exempted from slaughter. The rest are up for grabs, though. I could not continue to feed every hen that stopped laying… we’d end up with five or six coops full of unproductive hens after a couple of years! There’s a responsibility in raising any animal, and people need to be aware of it. It’s fine if you’re going into it prepared to keep your pets after they stop laying – no problem there, provided you know it “going in”. I know a couple of city people who did that, and they love their old hen. They get an egg a week from her at this point, and she’s about six years old. She’s a treasured family pet, well loved by everyone. But they understood from the get go.
I saw this article days ago and the first warning bell showed up when I saw that HSUS involved. That completely removes any sort of credibility as they are just like PETA. Homesteading and self sustainability are taking off, they are unhappy with this. Sure, there are likely some chickens abandoned (somehow this makes bigger waves then the millions of pets dumped each year?…..) but it’s no where near the epidemic they are trying to panic people with.
Jill Winger says
Yes- I agree. I am cautious anytime I see mention of the HSUS or PETA being involved with anything…
Great article and insight. I’m thinking there might be enough people out there who enjoy raising chickens and don’t mind all that comes with it, couldn’t people give or sell cheaply their unwanted chickens rather than take them to a shelter? We are still looking for place to raise animals, but if we had it, free chickens…!
To me all hens deserve a nice retirement. They gave you eggs for years then it’s your time to give back to them, as simple as that.
We have several retired ladies in the coop, and I don’t mind at all. 🙂
Amen sister! We came to the homesteading life out of a desire to create a better life for our now 5 year old. I think we might be among the idiots she refers to! This means that we are learning as we go/grow, making some mistakes and doing some things the hard way. I get really frustrated when the long term farmers/homesteaders don’t embrace the greenhorns because let’s face it-this way of life is hard. We need to stick together. If people who are new to this lifestyle are constantly being degraded and insulted by the “experienced ones”, then I think we will continue to see a decline in the overall farm/rural population. How can we expect our children to want to do this if they see Mommy and Daddy get called idiots every time they make a mistake? Instead of blaming the foodies (and hell-who isn’t a foodie-we all eat, right?), why don’t communities that are having this problem offer more resources to train new homesteaders or offer information on how to re-home chickens. I know tons of homesteaders backyard and farm bound who would love to score free “hipster” chickens! Argh. Getting off the soapbox now…and I think we SHOULD send this article to Mary Britton-Clouse.
Jill Winger says
I like your soapbox Shellie! And I agree– I wish more experienced farmers/life-long homesteaders would embrace the newbies. I think it would be beneficial for everyone involved!
Because a banty is a small chicken in regards to meat and eating a meal is it beneficial to butcher a banty?
Jill Winger says
I don’t have personal experience with bantams, but I know that you can eat them– though you won’t get a whole lot of meat. 🙂
Thank you for this post. I have seen the article but haven’t read it. I agree with you, We raise chickens for meat and eggs. I was very shocked that people are just dropping these chickens off. I just wanted to add that in my area we have butchers that will butcher the chickens for a good price. If those who can’t do it themselves it would be an idea to look into.
Jill Winger says
Yes– very good point Marnita. 🙂
Actually, the regulations, HOAs, covenants, laws, etc. are part of Agenda 21 at the local level. Whatever excuses they dream up are just that: excuses. The regulations are only going to worsen until people become more informed about this and understand that government at ANY level is OUT OF CONTROL and is definitely not doing anything to benefit those who are really in charge…..the people.
Right on! Great point of view. I would add that I think chickens are good to keep around for pest control if a person is not willing to butcher them. My hens when I had them would keep the mice and grasshoppers at bay. But considering the cost of free range pastured chicken to eat, I think I would rather butcher and buy new ones.
Farmlife Chick says
Great post! We have 3 year old hens (4 left from the original 12) that still lay just fine w/ a new group set to start laying in a month. Quite frankly free ranging has it’s ups and downs and it’s a blessing when they all come home to roost at night.
If you have a difficult time killing your own chickens for meat, take them to the auction house and use what you make off of them to buy more egg layers.
Taylor-Made Ranch says
Well written – and thank you! We are new to raising chickens and are raising our first batch now. They haven’t started laying yet but it won’t belong. They have been a blast to raise & we’ve enjoyed it very much so far, but we are raising them for specific reasons – bug control – egg production – meat. We’re making sure we give them the absolute best chickie life possible while they’re here so I feel pretty good about that.
Wolfe City, Texas
Jill Winger says
My thoughts exactly! It gives me peace to know that our meat animals were able to live a natural, happy life. 😉
Rhoda Kindrd says
great post! We take our old hens (and pan fryers that we raise for meat every year) to a local butcher – they will do all the dirty work for $1.50 ea. – Even though I know how to butcher a chicken and have done so before, I’d rather pay for them to butcher it and let them have the mess and hard work. I just pick them back up and bring them home to cut up the meat and stick it in the freezer!
Jill Winger says
Wow– that’s an incredible price! What a deal!
Linda Lewis says
Thanks for a great article! I’m a “newbie” chicken raiser, too. Never dreamed I would get so attached to chickens! But I will have to learn to eat the meat, too – and your insights are helping me learn to be okay with that. It *is* how my grandparents did things, and semi-affordable safe meat is important! Plus at least I’ll know how these birds were raised – I’m not going to be contributing to a miserable life for my meat.
Jill Winger says
Exactly– and even though I don’t *enjoy* butchering our animals, I am at peace with it b/c I know that they lived a good life and were allowed to live as God intended. 🙂
Thank you for a great article. I am not a chicken owner yet. I have been on the fence, waiting to see how I handle taking care of our four new raised vegetable beds during a hot, humid and very buggy summer first. I need to know for sure that I am not going to whimp out on living creatures who need regular attention! I have studied, listened to others, gathered tips together and probably now know 10 times more about how to raise chickens than the average person who is new to homesteading. One of the things that continues to keep me on the fence is what I see first hand in the few people I know who have chickens. My neighbor bought her’s for her little girl who has since lost interest. They eat very few eggs so give them all away and we can see that it has become a drudgery for them to take care of them and that they are now only out of the coop for a few minutes a day, if that. Another older friend went out and bought 30 chickens without knowing a thing about how to take care of them. His reason for getting them was so he could raise money for the church kids to help send them to camp by selling the eggs to the congregation. He didn’t know that chickens needed anything more than cracked corn and when they stopped laying he never thought it might be the lack of nutrients. He bought them without knowing the sex and the seller managed to give him quite a few roosters which he thought were pretty and so kept and named them all. Then he saw how ragged the hens were becoming and admitted his mistake. He is finally going to give the roosters away and *hopes* that the people he gives them to will not eat them…which is why he won’t give them to me! Neither of these friends has any intention of actually eating one of their own chickens. I have never thought that way. I have watched videos on the process and am fully prepared to dispatch my own. We bought a grass-fed cow from a local farmer and watched the entire butchering process and instead of being grossed out, I found it very interesting and not in the least bit disturbing. Most of my friends who have chickens have named them all and they are pets. When I mention that I plan to get a small flock next year and will not be naming them and why…they look at me in horror. Truly, it seems that many of the blogs I read are written by people who are infatuated with each and every hen and sometimes I feel like I am not like everyone else for wanting to put mine to good use. And I’m really heartless because I also shoot and eat the cute little squirrels that dig up my sunflowers…..sigh!
Jill Winger says
I love your attitude Lisa! I also do not name my chickens. I enjoy them and appreciate them, but still think of them differently than I do our dogs or cats.
Fantastic post, Jill! I have had chickens for about a decade, and I couldn’t agree more with everything you said in this post. Have you ever considered making podcasts? I would totally listen!
Jill Winger says
You know, I haven’t ever thought of doing a podcast, but now that you mention it… 😉
Wow, I never would think of taking our chickens to a shelter! My family and I live in the country, and have chickens, and bees, and, well, a lot on animals. We have, ever since I can remember. Mom and I (you know my mother, too– she is Amy Young Miller, from vomitingchicken.com) make a yearly pilgrimage to a butcher in a town not far from here ever fall, with our old hens; and then get 25+ new chicks every spring. (Mom likes chickens too much sometimes, I think.) And the ones that stop laying– they are delicious!
Jill Winger says
I think it’s great that you have a local butcher that will process your chickens for you! Hopefully more shops will start offering services like that to homesteaders. (And pleased to meet you Amalia! I totally enjoyed having your Mom guest post here the other day!)
Please, Jill….podcasts would be awesome from you! 😀 And I was going to do the very same thing and address this same article I saw. Now I can share yours…Thanks!!
I think it is sad when people take them to the shelters. I would love to go get them and start a chicken rescue. Maybe I could look in to that.
Susan H says
I’ve always heard that you dont want to eat a laying hen because the meat is no good. But that never made sense to me for the exact reason so many people noted here: Our great grandmothers wouldn’t have only kept an animal around for her eggs only….surely she made meals of the meat. I have always assumed that is why chicken cacciatore was invented: to simmer down a laying hen’s tougher meat after hours of sitting in a pot.
Is it true their meat is stringy-er and or tougher and are they only good for broth or will many hours of simmering make it more palitable?
Jill Winger says
I don’t think you’d probably want to roast an older hen for supper, but they should be just fine for stews and things along those lines. 🙂
I have used a pressure canner to can up jars of chicken. Once canned you can’t tell a four year old chicken from a spring chicken.
Thank you for this post! I was quite shocked by the attitude of the “animal lovers” quoted in the article. They seem to think that it’s acceptable for chickens to be raised in disgusting factory farm conditions as long as it means that they don’t personally have to see it or deal with it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone who cares about animals say that they would be better off in an industrial setting — I can only assume they are ignorant of the conditions in which those animals live, making it extremely irresponsible for them to express any opinion at all on the subject!
I do realize that many people these days are getting chickens without a plan for dealing with any of the problems, including what to do with older hens. I wonder if those of us who want to see the backyard homesteading movement continue to grow without this kind of negative press (however ridiculous and biased it might be) can’t find ways to help “newbies” prepare for some of the more unpleasant realities of chicken keeping. I’m thinking about something like a brief seminar offered once or twice a month during the spring, when people are busy falling in love with little yellow fluffballs. It could be advertised on the bulletin board of local feed and seed stores and maybe on small flyers to be handed out at Tractor Supply to anyone buying chicks. Or just put together a one page (double-sided) handout to be offered in those places with very basic information and advice, links to truly informative blogs and websites, a few book recommendations, and phone numbers for a local avian vet and people willing to take older hens, whether for butchering or pest control, etc. I don’t know — maybe it’s a completely impractical idea, and I’m sure not everyone who needs the education would take advantage of it, but it would be nice.
Jill Winger says
Yes– very good point Kerry. The folks quoted in the article were acting as those it was backyard chickens were treated inhumanely, but like you pointed out– industrial birds are going to have a far less happy life.
I came across this video at Paul Wheaton’s permaculture site. It the most awesome, humane, gentle, caring method I have ever seen on taking the life of a bird. Not practical in large numbers, such as those who sell quantities. But for the single old hen or unwanted rooster, this is definitely the way to go!!!
Jill Winger says
Thanks for sharing this link Carmie- I’m off to check it out!
This is my favorite of all the videos I have watched on dispatching (part 1) and processing a chicken (part 2). It was the first I watched and it is still by far my favorite! I truly believe her method is exactly they way it should be done!
Lisa, I have not been able to view part 2 from Paul’s website. Are you able to copy and paste the link you use?
Yes. “Respectful Chicken Harvest” Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExGRrwlhldA&oref=http://www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DExGRrwlhldA&has_verified=1
We just started our little farm and we didn’t get to the point where we had to process any of our birds yet…some days I think I won’t be able to do it…So there is only two solutions for me. I either become a vegetarian or I find a way to be in peace with turning my ladies into beautiful stew … If I won’t be able to do it myself…after giving them a happy life…I don’t deserve any meat at all … we will see how it will go … I am not so sure yet. 😉
Jill Winger says
Well, I don’t see any shame with taking them to a local butcher if you don’t want to do the deed yourself– if you have options like that in your area. 🙂
Thank you for posting this! I am new at raising chickens (this year,) and very serious about wanting to be a good “flock keeper.” Part of homesteading is using our resources wisely. The way I see it, if someone has problem butchering a bird, they might as well have a problem eating chicken from the store. A home butchered bird (prayerfully) a better life than the ones used on factory farms. There is nothing wrong with caring for a bird for it’s productive life span, then humanely using the animal for another purpose. This article (you’ve quoted) is definitely disappointing, and this issue should be discussed. Thanks again!
I am with you, we have raised chickens for years and when hens slowed laying to the point of not holding up their end they went for Chicken and Dumplings, Stock, or Soup. If I were close to a shelter where they were over run with chickens, and if I could get them free, I would get what I could, feed them up to health and butcher them for dinner. Sounds pretty simple to me.
Great thoughts, Jill!
This shows so well the great disconnect in America between people and their food source. And it goes beyond chickens, too. This is one of the reasons I can’t support Farm Sanctuary and other shelters like them – yes, they do a great job rescuing abused farm animals… but then what? In my opinion, they should be re-homed to working farms and allowed to be the livestock they are and be useful to someone, rather than be treated as pets for the rest of their lives, wasting resources in a sense. The way they went after Green Mountain College last year when the college made the (I think) responsible decision to slaughter their team of oxen who were past their working prime is appalling, in my opinion.
I love all the animals here on our little farm. I care for them, they make me smile, and yes I do view them as pets, but I also know that they are livestock first and each has a specific purpose. For many, that purpose is to provide food for our table in one way or another. It’s part of being a responsible steward!
First of all, consider the source of this information : NBC NEWS…ok, a bunch if city slickers in New York who wouldn’t know a chicken from a duck if it hit them in the face. National media hypes everything they report. I would not get too worried about hundreds or thousands of homeless chickens being abandoned in shelters….a wise person …my Grandma, used to take care of that problem by serving retired chickens for Sunday dinner or making chicken and noodles….DUH! I guess some people are not smart enough to figure out that a laying hen is also a good source of meat, once she lives out her life as a producer.
In fact people on farms used to buy a bunch of chicks feed them out until they got to a certain size, then everyone came to Grandma’s and helped “dress” them for the freezer….and I don’t mean overcoats….just trying to be sensitive to the squeamish.
Let’s all grow up people and act like we have some common sense. Try turning off the TV and using the noggin God gave ya.
Jacqueline Shults says
I read the same article had the same reaction and agree with your very well written response.
You have absolutely hit this on the head. I love the fact you were frank. Whether or not this is “anti homesteading” or not, this DOES need to go out there. Granted if people are reading blogs, usually they are attempting to be well informed and responsible, BUT every bit helps!! I think the news needs to go out more and see what responsible homesteaders are doing that are good practices and report on WHY this “movement” is happening.
I cannot eat anyone that I have met and prefer not to eat meat, so my hens have it good here. We keep the old pensioners around until natural demise, they help turn compost, do bug patrol, and provide entertainment. One hen is right there when I pull weeds, ready to take bugs and worms off my hands. She still lays a few eggs a week, although she is 6 years old. For long egg laying careers I find the sex links are great! Some breeds lose steam earlier than others.
I think if you plan to keep them all for life, you have to limit how many new chicks you get each year. I usually raise 25 pullets each spring, selling all but 1-2 to keep as replacement layers. But the older gals still are in the flock too. I keep a rooster too, he adds so much to the chicken community, is colorful, and they will kill rodents that get into the coop. Their courage is admirable!
I find that a lot of animal owners are just too lazy or unresourceful to make an effort to find a home for their unwanted dogs, cats, birds, horses, chickens, etc. They just assume no one would want an animal they want to “get rid of” and so they dump horses at auctions and dogs and cats in the country. I hate it when people don’t even try to place ads or network to find a home. After decades of involvement in rescues, I can tell you there is a new home for each of those animals, BUT it can take time and effort to locate it. With Craigslist eing free and effective, I really do not understand why everyone isn’t using it, rather than dumping animals. I have had great success with it when we have someone ready to move on to their new placement.
To those who can eat animals you have raised, I admire you. It is so much more humane to never leave the farm, to pass peacefully with friends and family near, no stress or fear, just the quick bullet or whatever. I have seen cows done in next door and it is utterly peaceful. My family is carniverous, so I like buying that “happy meat” where I know the meat came from someone who lived happily and died peacefully.
I’ve heard of hipsters, but not hipster farmers. That cracked me up!
Jenn H. says
Hi, Jill! I’ve been reading and enjoying your blog for quite a while. I re-read your post on butchering your steer and noticed the suggested posts widget at the end has some-shall we say-questionable “promoted” suggestions, including such titles as “Boob Lift or Bust” and “Top S*x Mistakes Women Make”. If that’s the avenue you’re choosing to go down in your advertising, that’s one thing, but I don’t get the impression from your writing or your site’s other ads/sponsors/etc. that it’s intentional. Just thought I’d let you know in case you were unaware!
Jill Winger says
Thanks for the heads up Jenn! I just noticed that those weird promoted posts were being added on to my widget yesterday…. grrrr! I changed the settings, but maybe they didn’t take. I’ll check into it again– most definitely do NOT want that stuff on my blog! 🙂
Katie @ Horrific Knits says
I saw that article on facebook the other day. Growing up in an extremely rural area, I grew up down the road from a very small chicken farm and my dad used to raise show birds. I’ve actually been known to ask point blank what people think they’re going to do with these urban birds once they get out of the happy honeymoon stage of chicken keeping. I think that people get so caught up in the romance of the movement that they forget that this is work-or that they’re dealing with another living being. This isn’t like forgetting to water a house plant.
To be fair, I also have to admit that I was confused as to why they didn’t just eat them.
I am most deffinately in the “eat them” camp. And I know a few hipsters, you can recognise them by their being middle aged with hair styles and colors and clothing that they are way too old and way too big to be sporting. Hipsters are the new version of midlife crisis.
Jill Winger says
Thanks for the tips on hipster ID. 😉 I don’t believe I’ve ever met one, ha!
There’s a nice article on NPR as a response to the NBC article: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/07/10/200699728/hipsters-off-the-hook-the-truth-behind-abandoned-backyard-chickens
I wasn’t a fan of the tone of the NBC article. Most people I know who have chickens in the city did their research and are good caretakers. Plus, many trade and give away their chickens/roosters to either farmers who have the skills to cull once they age out, or to 4H kids, or other chicken lovers. It’s a little easier in my city to keep chickens, since they allow culling.
Jill Winger says
Thanks for sharing the link Megan- I hadn’t seen that one yet. I hadn’t heard of folks giving their chickens to 4H kids, but I think that’s a wonderful idea!
Lee Traister says
It is a bit funny to me how many of the people who declare they can’t eat the animals they raise end up going to shop for meat at the grocery store. I much rather eating chickens I raise (knowing that they had great life), than supporting the meat industry, where animals have awful life. Did you ever see how they are transporting those poor chickens? Or how they house them? I think it is simply a natural, good and respectful relationship: you provide them with the best life they can have, and they provide you with good food.
Jill Winger says
I couldn’t agree more Lee!
I’m so glad you wrote this post! That article annoyed me too. Have we become SO disconnected from our food that we simply cannot connect our old hens with stew?
I can not and do not process my fowl into stew (or nuggets) and have not found it necessary. My eldest chicken is 9, and is currently setting a clutch of 20 eggs (many will not hatch) . I only have a couple under the “two year ” laying mark, yet I have more eggs than I can use. (I have 8hens and a rooster) I think of them as bug eating pets, and when one dies (a neighbors dog or some other mishap) it is buried in the pet cemetery with our other deceased companions. Because this is a “pet ” not a “farm ” situation, I am frequently regarded by hipsters and homesteaders alike as nutty for taking them to the vet, for example. They are not disposable. If a hen is not manipulated with artificial light to prolong her laying, allowed time off to set a nest, given the ability to lead a normal, natural life. (something apparently very rare for a chicken) then they do lay for more than a couple of years. Perhaps we need to adjust our thinking as to the roles they are to play, certainly before acquiring them.
Jill Winger says
I think your approach is just fine Morgan! If you are willing to keep them around, then I think that’s great. And I have several friends with older hens that are still laying as well. I think allowing them to live a natural life like you mentioned really helps to prolong their laying years.
I’ve always heard that hens stop laying after two years, or slow down, and it’s just not something I’ve ever experienced in over 15 years of chicken keeping. Sometimes our hens will take a few months off, but they will normally return to roughly giving us an egg a day. All of my hens now are almost 7 and still give approx an egg a day. We had a chicken live to 12 and laid until she was 11. and then sporadically up until a few months before she died, but we didn’t eat those eggs, they were normally very very small.
Jill Winger says
Wow– that’s impressive Sarah! And egg a day sounds awesome for a 7 year old. They must be happy chickens. 😉
Fabulous post. Spot-on. You’re echoing everything that ran through my head when I read the Hipster article.
Maria Clegg says
Incorporating chickens into a household brings eggs, fertilizer and weeders to the yard and garden. They teach people and children the importance of animals and how to care for them. It also creates a direct connection between people and the food they eat.
Jill Winger says
Agreed. I think chickens are a great gateway into other aspects of self-sufficiency.
Chloe Chase says
I think urban homesteading is a healthy thing. But as with most new things there will be downsides. Abandoned chickens and chickens given to shelters is the downside.
farmer Liz says
Wow, lots of comments! I have nothing new to add, just wanted to say I enjoyed the post. Also we hatch and raise our own chicks, and eat the roosters and the older hens. It seems the obvious thing to do, I always find it a bit odd that people consider them as pets, while still consuming chicken meat from the supermarket, from chickens that were raised in CAFOs!
farmer Liz says
also wanted to say that I love that chicken book too, I read it three times, I learnt SO much…..
The Messy Organic Mum says
I loved this post. We have a small flock and my husband and I have been discussing how exactly to go about taking care of our older hens. Fortunately for us (well unfortunately really) we only have one from our original flock left that is over 2 years old. Between fox attacks and a dog attack (talk about a waste! At least the fox fed its family.) we only have younger girls. That said, we have one hen, Big Mama, who is not a “regular” chicken. She was attacked by the fox but some how managed to survive but she still has some deformities and one side of her body is all muscle while the other side it not. She can’t dust herself so she has been a little higher maintenance with regards to keeping an eye on her for lice but she has been a steady layer after she healed a couple of weeks. Plus about 4 weeks ago she went broody and hatched an egg (we only gave her 2 in case she wasn’t up to the task)! This is her second hatching in total but either way I have a soft spot for her. She will probably be one of the 10 year old chickens retired on our homestead. Now the young rooster that jumped on top of my one year old’s head? He was butchered that night by my wonderful city boy husband who swore up and down he would never butcher a chicken. We messed it up a bit but next time we will know what to do.
One thing not mentioned in this article is that there are local butchers who charge anywhere from $2-$5 a bird (that’s for around me) to butcher them up for you. In case you can’t bring yourself to do it. Just a thought. Thanks again.
Jill Winger says
Yes– I wish SO badly that we had a local butcher like that! Our area really stinks when it comes to any sort of home-food-production options. But, if you do have those resources available, they are a wonderful option!
That article mad me mad… They talked about how awful it was that a couple hundred chickens have been turned in to shelters… But say nothing about the 30,000 cats and dogs put down DAILY across our nation. That was the most anti urban homesteading article as I have ever seen.
Jill Winger says
Yes– It’s apparent that the folks they quoted in the article are NOT a fan of homesteaders!
I had neighbors like what they’re talking about in that article. These people got chickens in town (not legal for them since their yard wasn’t big enough for this to be within the city’s code/laws), had them for a while (mostly roosters…annoying), and eventually, allowed them all to escape and wander around the alleyways until they all died off (probably most of them went by way of the neighborhood cats!). Thing is, my neighbors were also involved in making meth, and eventually abandoned their entire property (I am assuming in an attempt to escape the law).
So yeah, some people are really stupid about chickens and abandon them without giving a crap. But they’re generally worthless people anyway (I have a few other words for them, but I’m *cough*…attempting to be family-friendly here…), and a very far cry from the responsible homesteader. Personally, I would love to have chickens, but I’m not willing to break the law to have them in my tiny little yard, lol. Someday I hope to have room for a good flock, though! I think I would probably let the older hens have a go at brooding before I made use of their meat.
Anyway. Loved your post on this issue!
Jill Winger says
Yes– I agree- it’s the folks like that that unfortunately give the rest of us a bad name! 🙁
Highland Ranch says
God had provided us a wealth of resources to provide for our every need, and instead we distort what he has given us and make it into something that it simply is not. Chickens at home provide a healthier alternative to government tampered foodstuffs, and part of that cycle is to return what is no longer useful to “the Earth”, which in the case of chickens typically means their waste on the garden to grow other foods, their meat into food, and their remains as compost for example. A small number of chickens as pets is ok for some people, but a flock is really a gift from God that should not be wasted. If we are not good stewards with His resources, he will not be so plentiful in our future. The laws of nature only allow a small number of elderly animals to survive, and that is the intended design.
One way that some people keep track of the cycle is to buy a different kind of birds every year. That way, you know which birds should be cycling out based on their breed. If you work on a 2 year cycle, you would probably want to buy different breeds for 3 years at a time for tracking as you might not want to butcher large numbers of birds all at once. That would mean you might buy RIR year one, Barred Rocks year two, and Leghorns year three when you are cycling out the RIR as they don’t mature and lay eggs until they are at least 6 months old, and each will taper off in productivity individually.
Absolutely spot on. Chicken newbies need to understand upfront that their hens won’t lay forever and they need to be ready to make those decisions when the time comes. The up-rise in chicken raising is wonderful and amazing, but I think too many people go into without any idea what they’re doing, like spontaneously buying a puppy at the pet store and then realizing how much work it is to take care of them. I think it would be a smart business venture for someone to start a mobile butchering station, where they can drive their truck to your house and process your birds for you right on your property. So many of our friends can’t butcher their own chickens because they got attached or are afraid they’ll do it wrong. I think a lot of new chicken raisers would be more comfortable with someone else humanely butchering their birds. We also definitely have a few chickens that are more pets than livestock, and will live out their long lives with us just because their personalities are so lovely that we’ve gotten horribly attached to them! Can’t win em all, right?
Another option for older hens and extra roosters and you don’t want to eat them yourself is to take them to an animal auction. Folks looking for that kind of bird go to those auctions. I took 9 roosters to an auction and they all sold.
We end up selling (pretty cheaply…) all our old hens as “stewing hens”. Our kid know where the meat comes from, but the layers are their babies and they love them way too much to eat them. But they also know they must earn their keep and are okay with all but the very favorites leaving our farm and becoming some one else’s dinner.
We’ve been keeping chickens for a few years, and it’s been quite a learning experience. I admire individuals who keep chickens in the old fashioned sense, but our chickens are pets, not food. We get a lot of joy just watching them, giving them treats, making jokes about the bird brains. We bend over backwards to make their lives as comfortable and as healthy as possible. We continuously introduce young birds, so that we do have eggs, but it doesn’t bother us in the least to keep old hens. Expensive feed? Really? I spend more on Starbucks than on chicken feed. They get a lot of their food on their own. The only time they are expensive is when they get sick and have to be taken to the vet, but that would be true of any pet.