Culling Old Hens from the Flock

Buff Orpington hens on pasture

Culling the Flock and Butchering Old Hens

Monday morning I butchered some of my old hens. The oldest hen in my flock was one of the unlucky ones. She was an Ameraucana from my very first flock of 10 purchased the summer we moved here (2010). She was about 3 years old. I don’t keep old hens around for very long. I have more to put in freezer camp as I have time to butcher. I am down to 55 hens and pullets right now and I hope to have it closer to 40 over the next couple of weeks.

If you are interested in complete instructions for processing, check out my post How to Butcher Chickens on the Cheap. Today I just want to share the post-butchering process of freezing and cooking the stewing hens.

butchered stewing hen

Dressed for the Stew Pot

After I finished butchering 6 old hens, I brought them into the house and washed them thoroughly. I try to remove as many feathers as I can when I pluck, but it is difficult to get the pin feathers and the dark-colored feather shafts embedded in the skin. As you can see from some of the photos, the dark hens have dark feather shafts. Let’s just say that Black Australorps and Rhode Island Reds don’t dress up pretty. White or light-colored birds are better for butchering and keeping the skin on for roasting or frying.

I froze four of the hens to stew later on. I really didn’t know if I would have enough time to stew and pick the carcasses of all 6 hens right away, and I didn’t want to waste them. Normally I would use the vacuum sealer to keep the birds from getting freezer burned, but the bags are a bit pricey and I am planning to take care of them as soon as I can. So they went into freezer bags for quick and easy storage.

Off to freezer camp they went, where they joined the broilers I butchered in November, the turkeys I butchered in October (see my post How to Butcher a Turkey), and some locally raised pork. We also have another freezer full of locally raised beef. We should have plenty of meat for meals this year!

The last two hens went into the pot with enough water to (mostly) cover them, plus some bay leaves and sliced onion. I left them on the burner to slowly stew for the whole afternoon and into the evening. The pot was left to cool for a bit then Tom put it in the fridge to chill overnight.

In the morning I pulled the pot out and removed the meat from the bones, poured the broth through a sieve (to remove any feathers or bones), then put the meat, broth, carrots, and some fresh cilantro in a pot to cook on the wood stove for the afternoon. When the carrots were nearly tender, I added some frozen corn, crushed garlic, more herbs and spices, and some organic orzo pasta to the pot. The scent was heavenly.

I’ve considered giving my old hens away on Craigslist or Freecycle. It can be a pain to find the time to butcher them and, quite frankly, I find it harder (emotionally) to butcher them than the broilers I raise specifically for this purpose. Plus they are a bit tough unless you cook them for a long time.

But I’ve raised most of them from chicks, fed them, cared for them, and made sure that they had a natural, humane life. If I give them away, I won’t know how they are treated or how their lives end. I want to be sure that they don’t suffer and in the process, I use them to make a nutritious pot of soup for my family. So it’s worth the extra effort and inconvenience.

It’s a good feeling to have a big pot of soup on the stove, while I go about my afternoon. The aroma fills the house and dinner time can’t arrive too soon. I also have the bones and scraps to feed back to the chickens still scratching around in their coop. They have no idea that these bones were once their flock mates. It might seem a bit macabre, but this is the circle of life on a homestead.

Do you butcher your old hens? Leave a comment!



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