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November 27, 2007

Do I need to kill laying hens?

Got the letter below today. Made me think about life and death and such. I hadn't realized I was such a softie about keeping spent layers alive.

Hi Allison--
I have wanted chickens for years but my husband is reluctant because I have so many other animals.
I haven't given up yet. I am sending a check this week to order your video so I can get further educated on them. I have one problem though. I cannot kill any animal. Do you need fresh chickens every year to keep getting eggs, or do chickens lay eggs for their entire life? I don't want to end up with hundreds of chickens because I can't kill any, but eggs are the primary goal. Do you have any advice for a sissy-girl like me? Thanks in advance.
Eve C.
Key Largo, FL

Thanks for your note. You can expect to get 300+ eggs from a production strain of leghorn in the first year. Each year after that the hen’s laying ability declines.
That means you will get about 200 eggs the second year, maybe 100 the third year, about 50 the fourth and by five years old the hen will still be eating but laying only a dozen or two eggs for the whole year. However, she will continue to eat. Did I mention you have to pay for her feed?
I’ve had hens who continued to lay at that low level for 12 years, basically laying what would amount to a clutch or two of eggs each year. Those bantam silkies were finally murdered by a neighbor’s dog but I have heard that chickens can live to 15 years old.
My guess is that a dozen or two dozen eggs per year may be what the original wild birds laid and the extra eggs produced by the hens when they are young is the product of human selection.
To answer your question about killing hens (now that the above information is out there for consideration) you will know from my blog that I am also very kind-hearted and tend to figure that the girls deserve a break after laying hundreds of eggs.
Right now I have one hen that is six years old, the last of the chicks I featured in my original VHS "Beginner's Guide" video, shot in 2002. She has not laid an egg in a almost a year. Note this hen is still alive.
‘Nuff said.
Cheers for chickens!