In all the issues of this newsletter, we’ve never discussed culling in any detail. Lately I’ve been receiving about 1 question per week from people who wonder if it’s time to say good-bye to a particular animal for one reason or another. Although it is a hard subject for those keepers who love their chickens as pets, I think it’s an important subject so I though I’d take some time this week and address it.
We’ll start with basic flock management principles and move on to more personal situations thereafter.
If you are keeping chickens primarily for eggs, the number of eggs being produced becomes the determining factor in your flock management.
Each animal requires a certain amount of feed, whether it be home rations or commercial feed, and along with that come expense.
In addition, each animal requires a certain amount of energy to be expended by the owner to maintain sanitary conditions, i.e. manure removal, bedding replacement, etc.
Again, from a strict production point of view, those animals that are low producers would be considered candidates for culling.
If you have a large flock and are unsure who is laying what, a good indicator of a poor layer is the length of time it takes for them to complete a molt.
A slow molter is a poor layer.
In addition to that, for the duration of the molt, the already low egg production would be further diminished, if not come to a complete stop.
A second candidate for culling would be the unrepentant egg-eater.
We’ve talked before about possible ways to stop egg eating but it is a tough habit to break, sometimes impossible.
If you have one, or more culprits that are uncorrectable, I highly recommend culling.
There are several reasons I take such a hard stance on this.
Typically the habit begins with the discovery of a new gooey treat at a result of an accident; an egg gets stepped upon or kicked out of a nest box and breaks.
Now your curious foragers realize that the treat is available whenever an egg is laid. Typically, someone has the courage to peck at an unbroken egg in search of their new treat and the habit begins. It takes time for the behavior to spread throughout the flock but it likely will spread if left unchecked.
Those birds who are guilty of egg pecking must be stopped before everyone joins in.
An animal that continues to egg peck after you have attempted to stop the behavior should be culled.
Again, if you are keeping chickens for eggs and the chickens are eating their own eggs… well you see my point.
Moving from strict flock management onto relational issues, let’s discuss conflicting personalities.
A good reason to cull a bird is if it is very aggressive and severely wounding other animals.
Sometimes a bully just needs to go away.
If aggressive pecking causes an open wound, often times the victim will be pecked to death. It’s odd but chickens get a little weird when they see blood and just keep pecking until eventually the wounded animal dies.
A less obvious situation with a very aggressive bird could be that those lowest in the pecking order will not receive proper water and food due to a reluctance to leave the protection of the coop.
Additional feed and water stations would be helpful in a situation like this but may only allow the more timid birds to survive rather than thrive.
The other end of the above situation is that sometimes you have a bird that is always the victim. They spend their days running from the rest of the flock.
Often times these birds are made to sleep in a place other than the perch because none of the others will allow them access. This happens even if there is plenty of space on the perch, the animal is just rejected by the rest of the flock.
I believe the most humane thing to do with a bird like this is to find it a home with no more than 1 or 2 birds and an owner that loves their animals as one of the family.
Finally, we’ll address the issue of ill, wounded or traumatized birds.
A contagious animal is a threat to your whole flock and must be removed.
If you are going to get the animal the proper medical treatment to restore it’s health, remember that you must do so in complete isolation from the other birds.
If you are not going to treat the bird, you must destroy it for the sake of the rest of your flock.
All practical discussion aside, sometimes we just love our animals and it’s not about the eggs.
If you have an animal that has had a close call with a predator, the wounds may heal but they may never be the same.
Physically there may be lasting repercussions but as long as the animal is not in pain, there is no reason to end it’s life if you don’t want to.
I’ve made it clear in my writing that every animal we have is productive. We don’t have “pets” we have working animals that get lots of affection and excellent care. You won’t find any goldfish or hamsters here.
However, I understand how easy it is to develop relationships with animals.
With that said, your decision to keep a particular animal or not has to be one that you have put a lot of thought into and you must be sure of your decision.
Do what is best for the animal, do what is best for you.
Cull when necessary, enjoy the rest of the time.