When it is Time to Cull

After you have raised a hen from a day-old chick, you never take for granted the sustenance her life has given you.  But when it is time to cull out the old biddies, being practical is important.  My thinking is that our birds have been carefully tended, talked to, given lots of fresh air and sunlight and have had plenty of grain and green stuff.  Those chickens had a wonderful carefree life and when I think about all of the meals I have had in my past, I am ashamed to admit, that had not often been the case for other animals.

Living close to the animals you raise, helps one to understand that it is a sacrifice that is meaningful to give you food to eat.  Many people ask how I can have these animals and then eat them.  One reason, is that they are our food and treated respectfully all their life but still, food, not pets.  We know that if they were not butchered, they would die and need to be buried.  They are given a quick painless, death without frightening them.  They are never treated harshly and never have a want that is not granted to them, except my strawberries, maybe!

My husband put off butchering the older hens one year.  When he would go out to feed them that winter, the old girls would get so excited to see him, they would fall over from a heart attack, one by one!  We won’t mention the money spent in feeding the old hens.  Lesson learned.  We add a leg band to every other chick generation so we can keep track of how old they are.  The old hens are stewed, deboned and then canned in the pressure cooker.  The chicken is wonderful for soup, chicken and dumplings, and pot pies.   It is so different from store bought chicken, raised in cramped quarters and never seeing sunlight.  Our girls lived well, without antibiotics and hormones and the meat tells that story.As for fryers, they are the males that we have raised and butcher young, before they become roosters that crow all hours of the day.  We raise two sets of them every year, so that we don’t risk the waste of having too many in the freezer if a power outage comes.  The first set is butchered when the hens are butchered, in early summer, and the second set is put into the freezer in late fall.  We also use them as small roasters.  We don’t eat the skin so instead of plucking, we skin chicken the way we do the rabbits.

Having our little farm is enjoyable.  We love watching the hens chasing a bug, scratching up seed, taking dust baths and enjoying their life.  Almost every evening, after chores are done, we are out on our swing watching the chicken’s antics.  Although butchering time is not something we look forward to, it is a part of what we do to live a sustainable life.  Knowing how our livestock was raised and butchered is only really possible if we manage it ourselves.

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7 Comments on "When it is Time to Cull"

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  1. Good article – I think its important that if you are going to own livestock then you need to be able to cull it as well. I have no respect for those city farmers who can’t bring themselves to butcher their own chickens or goats and instead offer them on craigslist for free. This wrecks the pricing for those who have good breeding and a decent animal that they would like (and deserve) real money for. 

    This is how I think of it:  I live in service to my animals because I know they will die in service to me. 

    Good writing thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Thank you Stephanie. I agree, we have to be responsible for the entire life of an animal we have raised.

  3. Nehweh Gahnin says:

    Great piece, as usual.  =0)  We’ve been doing the same, but also raised a pig and calf last year.  We have substantially pared down our meat consumption over the past few years, so our freezer remained stocked over the winter and we should get into the next harvest without having to supplement.

    I read your piece on the generators, also excellent.  My parents have a propane generator, and that is the way I would go too, if I bought.  But without a generator, a grid-down scenario will see us pulling out everything from our freezer and we’ll dry/smoke/salt everything.  It is important to remember, too, that one must not rely upon those freezer/preserved stores alone.  A lot of people have died horribly of scurvy that way.  One should learn and familiarize oneself about the nutritional diversity around us, foster it, preserve it, and utilize it.  Your site does a great job of that, btw!

    Thank you for what you do, and keep up the great work.

    • Thank you very much, Nehweh. I am glad that you are enjoying the topics and find the information here useful. That is a good point …that you would be able to preserve that freezer food in a grid-down scenario…if you are prepared! Also good point to remember the need for a well-rounded diet, especially in that emergency scenario. We need to be all the more vigilant towards our health.

  4. Janeane Kassik says:

    On culling my hens…..I have 11 hens all about 3 or 4 years old. These are the first chickens I have ever had anything to do with. I have no idea about how to know when to cull. I can’t even tell which hens are laying unless I am watching them on the nest. Have to learn though and The best way is to ask questions of those that DO know. They ( my hens) still lay 5 to 10 eggs a day. Average 7. Please educate me.

    • Hi Janeane, yes, this is the place to ask questions. With most breeds, the egg production begins to slow down after a year and come to almost a stop when they are three to five years old. Your chickens are still doing well and I would hold off butchering them until it gets close to winter, since they are still producing that many eggs. The reason ours are being culled now is that we have pullets that will be laying soon.
      When I want to know which hen is laying, I drop a bit of vegetable based food coloring on her head or back when I see her sitting in the nest. You can also tell from how red the comb is because hormones decide the color. If you have a hen with a pale comb, it most likely is not producing. Hope this helps!

  5. Anthony Schappell says:

    God created animals to serve humans. With respect to my flock I serve them for approx. 3 years by providing shelter, food, water. They in return provide me with eggs and the pleasure of having them to see every day. Finally my flock will serve my family buy providing me a meal. I can not explain the gratitude we have for our flock but at the end of days I believe I have served them more then they served me. I’ve never had a problem with culling and eating but I’ve never found pleasure in it. I guess its the final step in having chickens and never allowing any part of the chicken to go to waste. Wasted chicken would be disrespect to the chicken that served you and you served in return.

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