How can I tell when a hen is not laying anymore?

Asked January 14, 2013, 8:01 PM EST

What is the best way to tell whether a hen is not laying anymore? During early summer, I tried culling hens with brighter yellow legs, and I left the ones with white legs. But my egg production went way down. The "fingers between the pelvic bones" method yielded mixed results, and all the hens seemed to be about the same. Our poultry butcher said to wear a latex glove and insert a finger into the vent. If only one finger fits, the hen is not laying eggs. If two fingers fit, the hen is laying eggs. We have heritage hens, and there are some that are still laying well at 4 years, so I do not want to do a blanket slaughter of all hens of a certain age rather than checking individually. If some of the older hens are laying well, I want those genetics in my flock to pass on to the chicks. Thank you! We have Delaware chickens.

Yamhill County Oregon

1 Response

Leg color is not surefire unless the hen started with bright yellow legs. In general, as a hen depletes her system by laying, her comb, wattle, and vent will pale. Her beak and legs will also pale. She will usually not look as well-feathered as a non-layer and may be thinner. A hen who is not as depleted is hard to spot. Bright red comb and wattles, dark legs and beak could indicate a hen who has not been laying long. The best way, if you can do it, is to segregate the hens in the flock, so you are only "testing" a few at a time. You can also use a trap nest and band the hens who have produced until the laggards are the only ones without bands. We have mostly old-style hens and give them a lot of latitude, but if you want to breed, it is important to select for those durable layers. I have 2 Delewares in our very mixed flock. Good luck.