Tomorrow we will be taking our old laying hens down to the Amish to be butchered. It is something I've avoided for as long as we've lived here. I feel like I'm betraying them. They've given us fresh eggs for years, and now that they're no longer productive, they're going to become soup. Unlike the roosters, who are a huge pain, the hens are sweet. They run around the yard, pecking at grass and caterpillars and leave us humans alone. The roosters, however, chase the hens mercilessly and fight amongst themselves. If we don't butcher the roosters to keep the population down, they'll just kill each other, so we're actually doing them a favor by butchering them. After we'd been here a year, we had one rooster die after getting into a fight with another rooster and getting his eye poked out. That could not have been an easy way to go.
We know which hens are the oldest. Our first year we had silver laced wyandottes and buff orpingtons. The second year we added a few barred rocks. The third year it was speckled sussex and a laced Cornish, and last year (with two daughters in 4-H), we added light brahmas, white Plymouth rocks, salmon faverolles and more speckled sussex. So, the wyandottes, orpingtons and barred rocks will definitely be going. I'm not sure if that will leave enough room in the hen house for the new chickens we are raising, so we may have to see if we can tell which sussex are the oldest. I had a chicken judge explain it to me last year at the fair, but it will be interesting to see if I can actually figure out which ones have stopped laying.
There are also a few roosters that were never butchered last year that need to go. When Mike and Jonathan get home today, they're going to catch them and get them loaded onto the trailer, so we can leave at 6 a.m. tomorrow. I wish we had a hen house big enough to house all of them and that we could afford to feed all of them, even after their laying days are done. Once my daughters are gone, and we don't have to get new chicks every year for 4-H, I plan to just get 25 new chickens every year -- or maybe just have my hens hatch a few replacements for themselves. So, hopefully between the hen house and feed bill, we won't have to butcher old hens anymore.