The "Hands On" Method of Culling Chickens
Choosing the Keepers
How to spot the REAL "Working Girls" in your flock.
I really enjoy my chickens. They're friendly, attractive and entertaining, and the hens lay eggs. Well, most of them do. But occasionally, I realize that I'm not getting many eggs in proportion to how many hens I have running around. That's when it's time to throughly examine them for parasites and find out who the slackers are.
There are a number of ways of determining who's laying, and who is not. I could hang out in the hen house marking each bird as it leaves the nest. I could put each hen in a seperate cage for a few days, and see who is laying that way. I could use trap nests, which keep the hen in the nest until I release her. Those methods all work, but they're time consuming. I prefer the "hands on" approach myself. It's fast, easy and effective. Besides, I don't have all day to wait around watching my birds lay eggs.
With a little practice, you too can cull chickens with the best of 'em, all you have to know is what to look for. It doesn't take any special training.
For starters, you will need a few chickens, secured in several large boxes or crates awaiting your examination. Now, one at a time, take a hen out to examine. Hold her in your left hand, cradled on your arm like a football, with her head facing behind you, her tail facing forward, and her legs hanging down on either side of your hand.
- First, tip the bird up slightly and gently move her tail feathers up toward her back so you can get a good look at her vent; it should be large, oval and moist.
The vent on non layers will small, round, dry and kind of puckered looking.
- Next, you'll want to feel the pubic bones, which feel like they're "sticking out" on either side of the vent. Place your fingers between those two bones over the vent. That space will be two or three fingers apart on a laying bird. A non layer will have very narrow pubic bones, you'll barely be able to get a finger between them.
- The keel bone (breastbone) is centered directly in front of the two pubic bones on the underside of the bird running down the middle of her body. Place your hand in the area between the keel and the pubic bones. If she feels soft, doughy and puffy, she's a layer. If the skin feels drawn and tight, well, no eggs.
- The comb and wattles on a productive, laying bird will appear large, warm, slightly shiny.
Nonlayers will be cold and shriveled, with occasional white flaking.
If your birds have yellow skin and have been laying awhile, you can simply glance at them and tell the keepers from the culls. Known as "Color Culling", it's based on the fact that the yellow parts will fade as the hen puts the pigment into the eggs.
You can get a good idea of how long a hen has been laying by the order of which parts fade first; look at the vent, around the eye, the ear lobes, the beak, and finally, the legs. The legs will begin to fade after she's been in production about six months.
Parasties like worms and lice can cause fading too, so make sure the birds are checked for any unwanted "hitchikers". Keep your flock wormed and dusted regularly, and you'll find an increase not only in egg production, but also in the overall health and thriftyness of your flock. Also, don't color cull during a moult, but do cull any that moult early, they'll stay out of production the longest. They will begin to moult as early as June or July, and continue moulting and not laying for as long as five months.
One final thought. I also like to cull based on a hen's attitude. Friendly, gentle hens are usually better layers than flighty, nervous ones, and they're much easier to get along with.