The days your layer hens produced eggs on the double are starting to reduce, and the days you will find no eggs are slowly approaching. What to do with these hens? Can you eat egg laying chickens?
Yes, you can eat chickens that have stopped laying eggs. In fact, they can make for a tasty meal. However, there are a few things to consider before cooking them up. First, older chickens tend to be tougher and less flavorful than younger birds. As such, they may require longer cooking times and some additional seasoning. Second, it’s important to check the bird’s health before consuming it. If the chicken appears to be sick or injured, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid eating it.
Finally, remember that chickens that have been raised for meat will likely taste better than those that were kept as laying hens. With this in mind, you may want to save your older birds for soup or stew and reserve the younger ones for frying or roasting.
Can You Eat Egg Laying Chickens? (spent chickens)
So can you eat old chickens or what some people call spent chickens? “Spent chicken” is what the industry calls chickens whose laying days are over.
Technically you could eat a laying hen once it has become too old and isn’t producing eggs anymore, the real question is would you want to?
There is an enormous difference between a laying hen and a broiler hen, a broiler is for eating and it is plump, contains lots of meat, and is tender. A laying hen, on the other hand, is tough, chewy, gamy and not much else.
Why Is Laying Hen Meat Different From Broilers?
Broilers are the chickens reared explicitly for their meat, and producers cull them at 8 to 10 weeks with most being culled within this time. Layer hens however have a different productive life and will lay eggs well for around 18 months to 2 years. After this time, they are considered “spent” as their egg-laying production declines sharply. Producers will then cull these birds usually selling them into the pet meat trade.
The feed the broilers eat is high in protein to promote weight gain and increase muscle mass as soon as possible before reaching the 6 or 7-week cut-off. The higher protein in their food increases the size of the chicken, meaning big breasts and juicy drumsticks.
Laying hens have a different diet from broilers because their primary purpose is to lay eggs. Their feed has lower in protein (about 16% protein) and higher in calcium and micronutrients to deliver hard-shelled, great-quality eggs.
Layers are smaller in size and don’t eat as much as broilers. Laying hens are allowed to graze more than broilers whose sole purpose is weight and muscle gain.
The main difference between laying hens meat and the chicken meat you know and love goes into two parts: The texture of the meat and the taste.
Broiler chickens are usually 42 days old when slaughtered, and laying hens are typically around 560 days old if used commercially (backyard chickens can hang around, much longer than this).
According to the experts and research, the texture of chicken meat changes significantly depending on how old the chicken was when it was slaughtered. For example, there is a big difference between 42-day-old and 56-day-old chickens. So you can only imagine what a 560-day-old chicken’s meat would taste like. The older the chicken, the tougher, drier, and more rubbery the meat will be.
Taste or Flavor
According to the flavor differences, the two purpose types (broiler vs layer) taste different even if they come from the same breed of chicken. The reason behind it is that, as we stated earlier, their diet is entirely different and their level of activity and foraging is also different
Scientists did a study comparing broiler and layer meat and dual purpose breed meat and found that the breast meat of the layer was leaner (less fat) than the broiler breast meat. The hybrid meat was similar to the broiler meat but was slower to develop (ie the birds got culled at a later age).
What happens to laying chickens when they are too old?
Unfortunately, hens are only productive for the first few years of their lives and I have an article on this if you want to learn more. They continue to lay eggs after the first 2-3 years sporadically till around 4 or 5 and then none till they reach the end of their life at about 8 years old.
As mentioned before, these older chickens won’t be used for commercial eating because their meat is tough, dry and not as desirable. However, you may see them pop up at your local farmer’s market and if they are from your backyard flock you can still cook them up if prepared properly (see below)
So from a commercial standpoint, they become a business expense after a couple of years and they can’t afford to keep un-productive hens. We looked into what happens to these hens and found that they get gassed with C02 and either put into landfill, rendered down for agricultural purposes or used in pet food.
So what do you do when your chickens stop laying eggs or get too old?
You have a number of options you can take with a laying chicken once it has stopped producing eggs:
Keep them as pets
Chickens are great pets, for anyone who has kids or children who come around, keeping them as pets is a nice idea. Chickens have quite quirky and fun personalities and can pull of some hilarious antics. Also, they are very docile and can be held as well, they’re generally very friendly and easy to look after even when they’re old. Most people I know with small flocks can’t bear to euthanize their old chooks and keep them as pets if they can.
Give them to a local farm
This is what we did to our hens when they got old and stopped laying, there are plenty of farms that will be happy to take in your old hens
Probably the least popular choice, but you can eat your hens once they get too old. But as we mentioned before they probably won’t taste very good. you could consider making them into your own homemade pet food if you have a dog.
Another option is to euthanize them humanely.
How Can You Cook Old Chickens
How you cook a laying hen‘s meat will differ from broiler meat. The best way to cook this meat will be slow and low. Here are four ways to cook that tough old laying hen:
#1 On A Low Setting In The Oven
You can do the oven-cooked chicken idea, but you will have to tweak it a little for the older birds. First, place it in the oven pan, cover it with oil and spice, and add vegetables to the pan. Cook at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 8 hours. Keep an eye on the chicken and test with a meat thermometer (cooked degrees will be 165 degrees Fahrenheit or 74 degrees Celsius).
#2 In A Slow Cooker
If you plan on using a slow cooker, you can use every piece of chicken to your advantage. Place the chicken whole in the slow cooker with stock, spices, and veggies and cook on low for 10 hours. You can carve the meat from the bone and cook the bones and leftover vegetables for 12 hours to make your stock – nothing wasted.
#3 Pressure Cooker Chook
This is a great option if you want to cook chicken quickly. Place the chicken, stock, and spices in the pressure cooker and set it on high. Once the pressure cooker reaches 15 PSI, turn off the heat and let it sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes have passed, open the pressure cooker and let the chicken cool. Once cooled, you can shred it or carve it and use it in any recipe.
#4 Add Brine To Your Cooking Chicken
Brine always makes a piece of meat more tender, so going with brine will be a great idea when you have a laying hen you want to cook.
To make a wet brine, you will need:
1 cup of Kosher salt
1/2 cup of brown sugar
8 cups of water
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon of black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Add all the ingredients to a large pot and heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the chicken to a large container or zip-lock bag, pour in the brine, and refrigerate for 24 hours. After the chicken has brined, rinse it off and pat it dry. Season the chicken with your choice of spices and roast in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 90 minutes.
What about a Dual Purpose Breed
With a dual-purpose breed, you can have your cake and eat it too so to speak. I have an article that talks about this in depth: Can you keep layers and broilers together but in essence:
A dual-purpose breed is a chicken that can both lay eggs and be eaten when they are no longer productive layers. The most common chickens that lay eggs and you can eat are:
- Rhode Island Red
- New Hampshire
- Jersey Giant
- Plymouth Rock
You can usually tell if a chicken is a dual-purpose breed as they will be larger in size. But, it’s always best to check with your local hatchery or feed store just to make sure.
If you have the room, I would say go for a dual-purpose breed. This way, you can keep them around for egg production or use the males for meat, and then once they are done, you can still eat them. Win-win!
So, there you have it. These are the different options you have when it comes to what to do with those old laying hens. You can butcher them, make pet food out of them, or euthanize them humanely. If you have the room, I would recommend getting a dual-purpose breed so you can keep them around for eggs and meat.
Do you have any other ideas on what to do with old laying hens? If you liked this article please share far and wide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you eat a 2-year-old chicken?
You can eat a 2-year-old chicken but it probably won’t taste as good as a younger bird. The meat will be tougher and the fat content will be higher. If you do decide to eat an older chicken, I would recommend stewing it or using it in a soup.
David Cameron is a passionate chicken enthusiast. Growing up, he always wanted to be a veterinarian and loved animals. After graduating from veterinary school, David spent over 40 years as an equine veterinarian. He and his wife retired a few years ago and moved to North Carolina. Here, David’s love of chickens grew even more – he now has 7 chickens and 6 quail. If you have any questions about chickens, feel free to reach out.