It’s a mystery you CAN solve: which hens are laying eggs,and which aren’t?

Updated on January 13, 2015:

I have two important tasks that I need to accomplish today:

  • I need to make some peach pies, and
  • I need to figure out which of my old hens are going to live, and which are going to die. :(

I’m looking forward to the pie-making.  Not so much to the hen-culling decision.

It’s an anxious week or two that I spend every year about this time. A good share of my faithful old laying hens are going to go into the freezer, and a few will be privileged to live another year.  (Sigh.)

If I had my ‘druthers and if money grew on trees . . . I’d have a chicken house with much different dimensions from the one that I have: it would be vast, with a high ceiling and several rooms.  Big windows would let in lots of light, and mice would not be allowed inside, under no circumstances! 

In this dream chicken mansion, there would be many rooms: one room would serve as the nursery whenever there were babies or mamas with babies, and the main room would be fitted with so many nesting boxes that no hen would even consider laying eggs on the floor or under the perch. Also, there would be a room big enough for a nice supply of hay, straw, and plenty of feed.

These hens are warming themselves under a lightbulb that I keep burning on the coldest days.

These hens are warming themselves under a lightbulb that I keep burning on the coldest days.

As long as I’m dreaming . . . there’d be a hydrant inside the coop, and there’d be a big sliding barn door that would make the periodic and required cleaning out of the used bedding as effortless as it possibly can be. Every few months, a kindly farmer would drive up and give me a gift of several months’ worth of feed, just because he’s nice and he likes me (hey–I could make him pies–peach pies!!), and I’d keep just as many chickens as I like, regardless of whether they are producing eggs or not.

That’s the dream. The reality is that we built our own little coop many years ago, when we first moved out onto our acreage, when my dreams were much, much smaller.  All I hoped for at that time (having just moved to the country from town, where chickens weren’t allowed at all) was a small coop big enough for a few hens.

That’s it.  Incidentally, that’s all we could afford to build at the time, anyway, so my good husband and stalwart sons built for me a nice little concrete-floored coop with one main room, and a teensy room for garden tools. Bryan built it sturdy and well-insulated, with windows and a screen door.  I’m thankful for it, still, though it is very small, and very difficult to clean out, due to the complicated (I won’t go into it now) door situation. But anyway. I’m grateful.

Here are Amalia, Lucy (our goose) and little Mack, in front of my little chicken coop.

Here are Amalia, Lucy (our goose) and little Mack, in front of my little chicken coop.

As it is, the “tool room” quickly became the “nursery” where I could sequester new chicks or a broody hen wanting to sit on eggs, or even an ill or injured hen, when the need arose. (If you’re planning to build a chicken coop, keep in mind that you’re going to need two rooms at times. Trust me on this.)

Since Year One, I’ve had too many hens for that space. Always. I try not to read the “suggested space requirements per hen” always mentioned in chicken books, because it only serves to make me feel guilty.

I keep a lot of chickens in this small space, and a very sweet old goose. Many of the hens are older (two or three or even four years old) and then there are this year’s pullets, and a few roosters. At least they spill out of there the first thing in the morning and don’t go back in until the last thing in the evening, with an occasional foray inside to lay an egg, or take a nap.

My chooks are like me: they'd usually just rahther be outside, thank you very much.

My chooks are like me: they’d usually just rahther be outside, thank you very much.

That lengthy and possibly-unnecessary and probably-tedious introduction is to explain the problem of the old hens. I’ve made a date in a few days to take my 15 Cornish Cross chickens (which are outside in a temporary shelter, as pictured in this post) and 20 to 25 of my old hens to the butcher.  Butchering the old hens–which range in ages from one to three years old–is what causes me no little bit of anxiety and guilt each year, but it’s got to be done.  I’m getting 8 or 9 eggs every day from those 30 hens, which (as you might guess) is not a great ratio. It could be worse, and it would be, if I let these old hens get any older.

IMG_3256

Once this year’s pullets begin to lay eggs (in about a month) I’ll get approximately 25 or more eggs a day from those 30 pullets.  I like that ratio much better. A typical hen lays an egg nearly every day for the first year, and then the number of eggs she lays go markedly downward.

So this is the tough part to figure out: which old hens are still laying eggs, and which are not?  Some hens naturally are not as ambitious and will stop laying early, and some will continue to be productive layers through their second or even their third year. I loathe the idea of butchering a good layer, and I don’t have enough space or cash to keep the hens who have given up laying for good. Feed is expensive stuff these days, as you know, Gentle Reader, as you know.

Anybody with me on this?

So I’ve studied up on this matter through the years, and I’m come to this conclusion:  if you really want to tell if your old hen is laying or not, her bottom will tell the tale Now the following information (not to mention the photos!) are not for the squeamish, but I’m figuring that if you’ve read this far that you’re really interested in the subject matter, ergo, my mentioning the parts of a chicken’s bottom will not shock you.  Are we ready to proceed?  Yes?  Okay, here goes.

First, there are things to look for when you cull your non-productive hens, and I’ll list those things here, before we get to the bottom of the issue.

😉

  1. Feathers. The feathers of a productive laying hen should be dirty, worn, and ragged looking, since this hens is concentrating her energy on producing eggs and not on preening and replacing her dirty feathers. She is not spending much time in front of the mirror, per se. (I could think of a human parallel, if I wanted to go there.)
  2. Combs and wattles. A non-producing hen will have a scaly, pale, and shriveled comb and wattle, while a good layer will have waxy, full, bright red ones.
  3. Carriage. A good layer will be alert to her surroundings and not be listless and lazy. Her eyes will be bright and she should be relatively active (such as scratching in the litter, running around with her companions, etc.).
  4. Skin. Depending on when you check, and what breed of chicken you are looking at, a hen’s skin should be bleached, while non-layers will have dark-pigmented skin.

Those four signs are good indicators, but you’ll find that each one has its exceptions and oftentimes is vague or non-conclusive.  That’s why I continue to insist that the bottom of the hen tells no lies.

how to tell if a hen is laying

The bottom of a hen that is in production (in other words, she’s laying eggs) is quite different from the bottom of a hen who has decided to retire from egg production.

I spent a cozy hour in the chicken yard with my daughter Amalia the other day, showing her how to tell which hens were laying and which were not.

The drawing of the hen at the right shows a typical productive hen:  she has a good looking comb and wattle, her vent (where the egg comes out, and also her droppings) is large and moist; her abdomen is large and soft, and the pubic bones are wide apart.

Now for comparison’s sake, I started with one of my young pullets, because I knew for a fact that this young chicken hadn’t laid a single egg yet.

We’ll call her Pullet #1:

laying hens: eggs or no?

You can see, along with the usual rather startled and vacant expression on this pullet’s face, that her beak and the skin around her eye has lots of yellow coloration.  Once she begins to lay eggs, it will quickly fade to white.

hen: laying or no?

Her feet are also quite glossy, thick-skinned and yellow. This yellow coloration will quickly begin to fade when she begins to lay, and then will be replaced when she stops laying.  Pretty cool, eh?

laying or no?

I ruffle her soft bottom fluff and find the vent, with some difficulty, I might add. It is very small (about the size of a dime), hidden, tight, and dry.  She has never laid an egg, it’s pretty obvious.

hen: laying or no?

Now I locate the pubic bones, on either side of the vent.  They are so close together that I have my index finger on one pubic bone, and my third finger on the other.  Bless her heart. Amalia murmurs sympathetically with the pullet, and apologizes to her that this picture will be on the World Wide Web within a few days. We let the pullet go.

We proceed to Hen #2:

hen: laying or no?

You can see that the tip of her beak is faded and white.  I suspect right away that she is a productive layer.

laying or not?

The bottom of her feet also indicate a productive hen:  they are faded and a pale white.

laying or not?

You can’t tell it very well from this photo (sweet daught Amalia, who took these photos, is just a bit squeamish about the bottoms of chickens) but this hen’s vent was large (nearly the size of a silver dollar) and moist.

this hen is laying!

I can get three of my fingers between the pubic bones! I’ve found a productive laying hen! Hooray! She also has a sweet, docile nature, and I’ll tag her to live another year.  We bond.

hooray! She's laying!

To confirm my suspicions, I find that four of my fingers easily fit between the vent and the keel. She has a broad, large, soft bottom. (No human parallel here, either: is not my self-control admirable today?)

Okay, we’ll go to one more hen, and I’ll let you be the judge this time, Gentle Reader.  She is the same breed as Hen #2, so they should be quite similar in build and coloration.  This is a friendly quiz, and you’ll find the answer at the bottom of this post.  So this is Hen #3:

laying hen or not?

First, we’ll look at the color of the feet.  What do you think?  Are they as bleached as the feet of the productive Hen #2? Or not? (Check the photo above.)

is she laying? You be the judge.

Here’s her vent, which is smaller than a quarter, and is dry, and tight–not as tight as the pullet’s, however. What do you say, Gentle Reader?  Is she in production, or not?

laying? What do you think?

My fingers are resting on the pubic bones.  See how close together they are? I think you’ve probably come to the same conclusion that I have, but there’s one more test:

nope!

I can fit only two fingers between the vent and the keel.  What do you think?

Okay, I’ll tell you.  I chose this hen for comparisons’ sake because I knew for a fact that she hasn’t been laying all summer long. She has been broody and has been trying to sit on eggs for months. Once a hen goes broody (bless her, I know the feeling, I do) she loses interest in laying eggs and goes into a trance of sorts, sitting on anything or nothing, for weeks.  So if you guessed that Hen #3 is not productive, then you’re a pretty sharp cookie, Gentle Reader, and you’ve been paying attention, also.

Now after all that, one more bit of advice: take your time on this decision. Watch when you go in to the coop to pick up eggs. Which hens are busy in the laying boxes and which are not? If you take the time to observe the behavior of your chooks, you’ll figure this one out. You’ve got this one, Gentle Reader. And so, when you’ve made your final decision and you’re getting ready to butcher your old hens (or take them to the butcher shop) you’ll have no regrets. (By the way, at our house, if a hen gains the popularity where she is named, she stays on our place forever, never mind if she is laying or not. So beware the naming of hens!) 😉

Now!  I’ve got to get busy examining all of my hens, but I’m going to wait until the sun is sinking and they are all half-asleep on their perches for that vigorous exercise. Much easier when they aren’t darting away from me with shrieks of alarm. It may be a trick to get Amalia to help me again, though . . .

Of course if I make the peach pies, I’ll have a bribe to offer my daught, and maybe I’ll have more than one helper . . . but first . . . I think I’ll go wash my hands . . .

By the way . . . usually when I’m doing tasks like this one, these are the gloves that I use. I love them. They are thick enough to protect the hands, but they feel like a second skin. Honestly. I’m not a glove person, but I wear these all the time during garden season!

(Affiliate link: click here to order some of your own!)

A few links that you might be interested in:

Thanks for reading, my Gentle Reader. Perhaps you’d like to join the fun over on my Facebook page or put your email address in the box to the right, above, to get more helpful posts like this one in your email box right away when I post them? Thank you so much!

*hugs*

 

 

 

75 thoughts on “It’s a mystery you CAN solve: which hens are laying eggs,and which aren’t?

    1. Beth

      Great tutorial!! I need to identify my non layers asap before they drain my dry, and this is the best guide I’ve ever even heard of. Going to share with my chicken friends.

  1. Shawn

    My mom use to do this on a yearly basis too. I hated this time of year because of the butchering. I wish I could say it was in defense of the poor dear chicken but it was because of the smell of wet feathers and picking them off the chicken. But I did enjoy the eating of them. Good luck on your culling.
    Shawn recently posted…The Powers Of A NewsletterMy Profile

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Shawn,
      We’ve butchered our own hens exactly twice, and that was enough of that for me! I found a small place that will butcher my hens for me for just a couple dollars each, and I consider it a worthy investment not to have to do the dirty work myself.

  2. Susie

    Amy, You never disappoint. I have never lived on a farm or for that matter been around chickens but you bring them to life. Your knowledge & compassion for these creatures is noted. I cannot imagine what it is like for you during this time of year, but your wisdom puts food in the freezer, thus the cycle of life.

    Without having to scroll up, I was able to determine (according to your information) that the last hen you showed was no longer a layer by the dry rough feet. It is sad that they recognize they are no longer laying and want to roust on other’s eggs.
    Thank you for this lesson. I always enjoy your contributions even if I am a suburbanite. I am hankering for a small greenhouse though.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Susie,
      You are a very kind friend indeed to read the post all the way to the end, though you don’t have chickens of your own!! Although you never know when this knowledge might come in handy . . . 😉

  3. Francene Stanley

    What a thorough discussion on how to assess your laying hens. I always hated the part where I had to dispose of some of my clucking friends. We ‘chickened out’. I took my nice hens to a local farm and brought others home from their freezer in one hit. They weren’t my birds, so I felt a little bit better.
    Francene Stanley recently posted…July 29thMy Profile

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Francene, that, my dear is a BRILLIANT move! You don’t have to eat your pet hens that way. We have a “permanent flock” of named chickens which we’ll never eat . . . “Little Red” and “Babes” and “Phillippa” and “Nelly” and “Butterscotch” . . . .

  4. Alana (@RamblinGarden)

    Oh dear. My last chicken owning was over 25 years so I have no production hens to practice on. And I have a true confession”: I didn’t always get rid of my non productive hens. And another true confession – after one time, we had a local processing plant (which did chickens but not waterfowl) process the chickens. It was so much easier that way. As for the “telltale signs” I knew about the beak and the legs. I chickened out on the “bottoms up” test. Thank you; this post actually brought back a couple of memories which allowed me to fly…er, sprint to the finish line of CampNaNoWriMo this evening.
    Alana (@RamblinGarden) recently posted…Fears of FallingMy Profile

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Alana, I think we butchered our own chickens only TWICE and then I found a small processor who would butcher them for me, for less than $2.00 each, and so that’s what I do, gladly!!

  5. Taylor-Made Ranch

    We are brand new to raising chickens and we’re not even sure which ones are roosters and which ones are hens. We have Ideal 236 and Black Minorcas. They won’t be old enough to start laying for a couple more weeks so hopefully we’ll be able to figure it out then. We know from the cock-a-doodle-doo that we have one rooster, but the sad croaking of one we *thought* was a hen due to the difference in tail feathers & body may indicate she’s really a he as well! Time will tell. Thank you so much for sharing! (visiting from the Homestead Barn Hop)

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas
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  6. Suerae Stein

    So, tell me, Amy, if a hen goes broody, does that mean she’s depressed? Is it a kind of menopause for hens? I hope it is so I will feel better about her end of days. I am impressed with your expertise on hens. I don’t think I could stomach that part of farm life, though. I would become broody myself. But I could definitely stomach those peach pies!
    Suerae Stein recently posted…My Perennial Garden PartyMy Profile

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Suerae . . . she’s not depressed when she’s broody, although all her body processes slow down and she goes into a bit of a trance. Hens who are successful at raising chicks from eggs are not disturbed from this “trance” no matter what happens. Even if somebody removes the eggs out from under them! It’s really amazing. It’s a bit of a science, figuring out which hens will sit the entire 21 days to incubate the eggs properly. Probably they couldn’t even be distracted by peach pie.

  7. CJ

    Thanks for this very informative blog – I do not have chicken as of yet but am trying to learn as much as I can about them. This was wonderful and in terms that I could understand.

  8. Cathy Owen

    This was extremely informative and the pictures made it “Who is laying for dummies’ – aka… me! I have leghorns as pets and don’t plan to remove the non-layers – at 65, they may out live me! My grandkids and friends join in our enjoyment.

    Thank you and your photographer daughter — for the excellent presentation! How about a peach pie recipe???

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Hmm . . . a peach pie recipe!? Now that’s a grand idea (snarfing down pie) let’s see if I can put the pie fork down long enough to jot one down, Cathy . . .

  9. nicole

    very useful information !!! my chicken situation sounds a lot like yours … and your dream sounds just perfect to me :) we are planning a bigger, nicer chicken coop for the winter and some of our hens will have to go before that too. I don’t know how to make that decission yet :S
    nicole recently posted…SummerMy Profile

  10. Skykomish

    THANK YOU for this information! I just bought some 1.5 year old hens and figured I’d keep them until the chicks grew up but I’m only getting between 1-3 eggs out of 5 birds and I’m trying to figure out who is laying. Wasn’t sure how to go about it.

  11. Dayna

    Awesome post!!! Thanks so much I really need to go through our flock and do this. But I do have a chicken question??? We have some Seramas separated off from the pasturing flock (my daughters show birds) that are with a Serama rooster. They began setting on 2 nests and never hatched anything so we removed the eggs. Will they start laying again?? They aren’t very old I would hate to loose the possibility of not hatching anymore of their chicks.
    Thanks for your time and all the great info Dayna

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Dayna,

      I always love it when I find a hen who will go broody. So many of the newer hybrids have had the broodiness bred right out of them. I have a few bantam hens who do go broody every year, and I rely on them to raise chicks for me in the fall. I don’t really expect them to lay eggs, but they will lay eggs again once they get the broodiness out of their systems. If your two Seramas are still broody, you may want to go ahead and slip eggs that you suspect are fertile under them (they don’t have to be their own eggs) and let them try to raise their own chicks. If you’re only interested in the Seramas breed of chicks, then you could try taking them off their nests every morning and sending them outside to eat and drink and exercise, and they’ll probably get the broodiness out of their systems after a few days. Sometimes it takes a bit to break that cycle. But they probably will start laying again, if they aren’t very old, and if they’re healthy. Good luck with this, and let me know what happens!
      All the best to you!

  12. Peggy Morris

    You took the words right out of my mouth: “I really hate the idea of butchering a good layer, and I also loathe the idea of not butchering a hen who has decided to give up laying for good. Feed is expensive stuff these days.” This is exactly what we have been going through. We have been at it for three years now and still have some of our first girls! We realized our mistake too late this past year and now know we should be replacing them on a regular basis. Today we have 17 girls and got one egg….some days three or maybe four but it keeps going down. It’s time! I had a million excuses….it’s the changing weather, they are moulting, they don’t like the chain saw running and so on. So we are going to keep the few that are still laying and butcher the rest. I was elected to do the checking! That’s ok with me! Don’t want the other job. Hubby and son will do that as son will be butchering his meat chickens this week (at his house) thank you! Thanks for the information….by what you taught, I think I already know what ones we will be keeping.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Peggy, I know it’s a difficult decision, especially if you get attached to your hens. (I do!) Here’s what we do: we buy a new batch of chicks every spring, and butcher the old girls that are no longer laying (usually 2 or 3 year olds) and put them in the freezer. They make incredibly good broth, and that does salve my conscience a bit! And we always have lots of eggs!

  13. Maria Marker

    I’m a little upset with you for culling your hen just because she’s broody! Have you attempted to get her out of the broody trance? We have a hen that gets broody but I can get her out of it by removing her from the nest and if all else fails cooling her off in a bucket of water. Much better then culling her! Don’t get me wrong I understand culling unproductive hens but not if you haven’t tried to solve the broodiness.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Maria,
      Oh, I didn’t cull her just because she was broody. I try to keep just enough hens to not over-fill my coop (it’s not big) and 30 is about the top number. She was an old hen to begin with, and constantly broody, yet failed to hatch out eggs when I moved her to a “private” area. I’m not so heartless as to cull a hen just because she goes broody. In fact, I especially appreciate hens who will go broody and then actually follow through and raise baby chicks. I’ve just never had very many who have been successful to that end. Usually they’ll sit for a week or two, then abandon the nest, and I believe this was the case with this particular hen. Non-productive, old, and not a good sitter, either. I have several bantams who get a free ride no matter how old they are, because they’ll hatch out a batch of chicks now and then, and because we’re all attached to them.

  14. Emily

    Thank you for this informative article. I have to do this SOON but am so scared to find a bunch of eggs inside if you know what I mean! Could you come over to help? :o) Koddos to your photographer.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Good luck! I never like trying to decide who lives for another year, and who goes in the soup pot, if you know what I mean!

  15. Kathy Vimont

    What would a hen’s bottom look like when she is molting? I have an older batch of hens that aren’t laying at all (there is one with a nest elsewhere, however). If they are only molting but still capable of laying again after the molt, they would still exhibit the signs of a laying hen (I think). Are what you saying is that if their pubic bones are close, abdomen tight and small, etc, that you can be sure they’re done laying for life vs just slowing down due to molting.? Just wanting to be sure I don’t mis-diagnose and get rid of a hen that’s only slowed down vs one that is totally done for good!

    Thank you for your very informative post.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Kathy,
      If your hen is molting, I’d wait on the egg-laying diagnosis. Since she’s not laying, it’s going to be difficult to tell because from my experience molting hens are another animal entirely. Instead, I’d go with her age: is she 3 or 4 years old? Then chances are, she’s not going to lay many more eggs. If she’s just a young one (1 or 2 years) I’d let her get through the molt and see if she starts laying again, before making a (cough) permanent decision that you can’t undo, like chopping her head off. When I buy my new pullets in the spring, I always choose different breeds from the year before, so I know by color which hens are new pullets. For example, this year I bought Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks, which look completely different from last year’s Red Sex Links and Silver Lace Wyandottes. Of course I always buy a handful of Americaunas, because I dote on the blue eggs. :)

      1. Kathy Vimont

        I had to chuckle when you said molters are a different animal altogether. I tried “diagnosing” them on Saturday with my daughter. I told her all the ‘symptoms’ we were going to look for, and after about 2 hens, we realized that they were not exhibiting the (ahem) proper symptoms. I guess I should say ‘presentation’ instead of ‘symptoms’. Some had soft tummies, but small, dry vents, or not much room between the bones, but plenty of space between keel and vent. Too confusing! We gave up and went to seek a hen that we knew was laying to see what a ‘working’ hen’s bottom really looked like. She, however, was ensconced on her nest and doing her best to look invisible, so we decided not to bother her.

        We do the different breeds for different years, too. Makes it so much easier. Yes, these were Spring 2010 models so they’re probably ready to go to the next phase of a hen’s life after egg laying. Thanks for your advice. :)

        1. dramamamafive Post author

          Good luck with it, Kathy! Sometimes the old girls just need to go . . . although if they earn names at our place they will stay forever . . . like “Little Red” and “Babes” and “Colorful” and . . . and . . .

  16. Sarah

    I was just talking with my husband about this today. I didn’t know how to figure out my layers from the just eaters so I was going to borrow his game camera to see who is going in the nest and who is not. LOL Think I might try your method instead. Thanks for the info!!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Sarah! Wow, that’d be a great experiment: set up the game camera and tape your hens for a couple of days, and then ALSO do the evaluation that I write about. See if they match up!! Let me know the results and I’d publish a Part II!

  17. Dana

    I have been looking for this info for a long long time. Thanks so much for going through the trouble to write this. I have wasted so much $ on food.
    got to do this right away.

  18. Denise Brown

    I am glad that I found this information – you are awesome – however that just means that my assumptions are correct and I have two that will end up being dinner instead of providing me breakfast. I am waiting a week and watching all of them to ensure that I am indeed correct with your information before culling. Thank you so very much. This was just the information I was looking for!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Yes, Denise, do be sure to use a wait-and-see period, if possible, to see if your old hens aren’t laying. I hate to butcher a hen who is still laying. I usually wait so long that there’s absolutely no question . . .

  19. Mark D. Adkins

    My wife and i laughed till we cried because it was describing me. After 3 years and 40 plus chickens, my lovely and indulgent co-conspirator in life informed me that something had to go. Meaning me or some chickens. Being a big strong male, i knew i could butcher them( i had no intention of leaving). Two hours after starting she found me with one dead chicken and eyes swollen shut from crying. Thank the lord for amish neighbors. I give them one for every 5 they dress out. No one though will ever touch my bantams. Your blog is a treat.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh Mark, I really needed to read this comment today! Thank you! JUST YESTERDAY I had to take some old hens (and some ornery old roosters) to the butcher, and I dreaded it for DAYS. I’m so relieved that that ordeal is over! Today’s blog post is just for you. (Nobody will ever touch my bantams, either, even if they–and I–live to be 100. And I have quite a few of them.

  20. Mark D. Adkins

    Dear Amy, my lovely wife and I found your blog while researching the lack of eggs from my girls. (I need to clarify something at this point. I’m a city boy, she’s a country girl.) She knew what was wrong with the girls, I didn’t. She makes me research this so I will know what’s going on with them. That’s how I found your site. I never ever respond to a blog till I found yours. She wanted me to tell you what compelled me to comment. Quite simply it was your amazing hands. My grandfather always said that eyes are the windows to the soul and hands will tell you almost everythingyou nneed to know about a person. What a blessed and lucky family you have. Yours most sincerely, Mark, from Ethridge, TN.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh, Mark, my hands? I used to be proud of my hands, but now . . . well. They aren’t as young as they used to be, you know? Thank you so much for making my day–two days in a row! I hope you saw my “Vacay” post yesterday! Do keep me posted on your chicken adventures!

  21. Tara Allen

    I am having trouble determining…I have quite a few that will have large generally moist vents, but they will either have only 2 fingers between the pubic bones OR barely 3 between the keel and pubic. There doesn’t seem to be any age connection either. Some of them are old (4-5yrs) and some are (1-3yrs). There are about 25 and I’m only getting 6-8 eggs a day. Would it make sense that many are still laying, but only 1-2 x’s a week in an alternating pattern? Or the younger ones are molting? I didn’t find any that had dry or small vents…ackk, what if I butcher layers or just taking a break…

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Tara,
      The thing is, it’s an inexact science, to put it mildly. Probably what you have is a whole bunch of hens who are laying a couple of eggs a week. To simplify the process, I usually buy a different breed (or two) or hens each year. That way I know how old each hen is. This year, my youngest hens are RI Reds and Barred Rocks. So it was an easy decision to butcher the Buff Orpingtons (though it still made me sad) because I knew they were 3 or 4 years old. In general, if a hen gets looking very fat and comfortable and sleek, she’s not laying. If she looks lean and a bit scraggly, she’s a working girl. If I were you . . . I’d probably just butcher ALL the 4-5 year-old hens (except for special named pets, natch) and keep the 1-3 year old ones. Chances are, they are laying at a higher rate. If you butcher layers who are just laying 1 to 2 eggs a week, there’s no particular loss, and you can always buy new pullets this fall and raise them for the spring. New hens usually lay an egg every day!

      1. Tara

        Yes, the older girls really have gotten fat. We are trying to hatch our own replacements and will need to band to tell the older from the younger next time, but different breeds per year is a great idea. Thank you.

  22. Christine Silva

    Thank you for the info. I have raised all my girls from chicks and have had a few roosters and 2 turkeys. In all I have 15 hens and now 1 rooster and 1 female turkey who lays 1 egg a day bless her heart. I get 6 to 10 eggs a day from my girls. Being raised on a farm the butchering doesn’t bother me to much. I forgot how to tell who was laying still and took in 3 older hens last year and wanted to be able to check to see if they are still producing or if they are going into the freezer soon. We had our male turkey for Thanksgiving and at 6 months old he weighed a whopping 46 pounds 😉 Our friends pick on me about my spoiled girls because we converted our 10 by 20 wooden shed into a chicken coop taking old dog kennels and making nests for them inside. The female turkey got stuck in one so I had to go get a large dog kennel for her so she’d have her own nest. We remove the doors on them so they have free movement in the shed during the winter and are safe from the cats in our neighborhood. During the summer they have the whole back yard to enjoy with fruit tree’s, veggies and lots of grass to enjoy. I have one red hen that is almost a year old that has decided to sit so I have marked a couple eggs for her and she gets to try to hatch them. I really enjoy my girls and they love to follow me and our 2 dogs around the yard… Thank you again for sharing your info. This is the breeds I have in my backyard coop. 2 rhode Island reds, 2 Australorp , 2 Plymouth Rock, 2 silver polish, 4 Easter Eggers , 3 that I adopted from another farmer but I have no idea what they are they look between a Australorp and a Rhode Island Red. 1 broad breasted turkey. 😉

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Christine,
      It sounds like you have a very happy and productive little flock, and pretty, to boot, with all those different breeds! And what a happy thing, to have a broody hen! Despite the fact that most of the modern breeds have been selectively bred to coax that urge to brood from them, I always have several hens who want to sit on eggs. I do right now, in fact, in the middle of winter! It’s always a sweet surprise when a hen steals away and succeeds at hatching eggs, and then proudly shows up in the chicken yard with them! Here’s the story of one that did this last summer: http://vomitingchicken.com/well-done-helen/

      1. Christine Silva

        Thank you for that beautiful story it touched my heart. My girl is being very determined and I love the noise she makes when I check on her. I marked the eggs I let her keep because I gather eggs daily but she doesn’t move other than to move her eggs around after my visit daily. She feels safe from the others and they will at times lay an egg in front of her where she will steal and tuck under her. I do love my girls and they are used to me cuddling them when I go to care for them daily. I know we shouldn’t become attached with our edible pets but its hard when you have raised them from Tiny babies. I don’t name them but they know I’m speaking to them when I call them my girls. The local feed store thinks Im nuts Im sure because I buy feed ever 2 weeks I ask them if they have a large bag of treats for my girls… LOL I hope my Rhode Island girl is a successful mamma. Should know for sure in about another week. 😉 Ive heard a lot about the bird flu in the chickens, does anyone know what the signs, symptoms are of this? My girls are not sick but I want to make sure I watch for the signs.. I don’t allow others to bother my girls and keep them safe from other animals but as a mamma to these girls its my job to make sure each and everyone is healthy.

  23. Tracy

    Thank you so much for this post. We just butchered all our hens last weekend for the first time. We had 6 hens and they were all close to three years old and not laying other than us getting a surprise egg or two once a week.
    We were curious how to know which one was still giving us an egg occasionally and thought about putting a game camera in the coop to watch the nesting boxes, but your post was very helpful for us in the future. We will be getting new chicks in April and starting all over again.
    We did not like the butchering process at all and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle it or help my husband but I did and I handled it better than I thought but neither of us enjoyed the task. The wet, smelly feathers are gross!
    I kept a lot of the parts to make chicken stock and I canned 6 quarts of chicken and 18 pints of chicken stock. Also my first time pressure canning. What an ordeal this all was but well worth it.
    Thank you again.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Tracy,
      I am so impressed! You took on a lot, all at once. You know if you do it again and again, someday it’ll be all much easier for you. And all those jars of chicken and stock will be so nourishing and handy this winter! If I have a lot of chickens to butcher, I admit that I take the easy way out: I make an appointment at the locker and get them butchered while I sit and drink coffee . . . 😉 . . . and then I put them in freezer bags and sock them away in my freezer. But what you’ve done is really admirable!

  24. Pingback: Flock of Chicken Terms: P-Z | Treats for Chickens

  25. Joan S Brem

    This was just the article and photos I needed to see!! Not sure we’ll butcher any of the chickens just yet, but would very much like to know which ones are earning their keep – especially with the egg shortage now! Thanks so much for the good info!!! And the smile your blog put on my face!! I’ve signed up for the emails, too!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      It takes a bit of sleuthing, Joan, and I do like to give the hens every possible chance before I put them into the stew pot. I’d keep them all if a. my coop was larger and b. feed expense wasn’t an issue! Thanks for your kind words and for putting a smile on my face!

  26. Ryan McKibben

    You are a fantastic writer! I usually don’t like reading such long articles on a screen, but you held my attention the entire way through. No small feat, as my wife can attest. I suspect I have a hen or two not laying and was looking for information and this article has really helped. Thank you!

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