Chickens are one of the most popular kinds of livestock the world over for good reason. They lay copious amounts of eggs, they generate lots of good fertilizer, and of course they are harvested for their meat.
Wings, thighs, breasts, and more are all sent to supermarkets and restaurants around the world, around the clock.
Depending on the purpose for the chicken, they will be harvested earlier or a little later in life, with egg-laying chickens usually enjoying the longest lifespan so long as they can keep laying eggs.
But this begs the question: can you still slaughter and eat egg-laying chickens?
Yes, you can eat egg-laying chickens the same as any other. Keep in mind that older chickens will not yield meat that is as flavorful or tender as that of younger birds.
There is nothing whatsoever stopping you from slaughtering an egg-laying chicken for its meat at any phase of life, but like all other chickens, the quality of their meat is highly dependent on age, diet, and other factors. There is a lot to learn on the topic, so keep reading to find out.
Do Egg Layer Chickens Taste Different?
No, broadly, so long as all factors associated with the raising and slaughtering of the chicken are equivalent.
However, the main flavor differences in chicken come down to how they were raised, what they were fed, and when they were slaughtered, with younger chickens tasting far better than older, world-weary birds.
For example, chickens that are allowed to roam free and forage for food will have a very different taste than those that are raised in cramped, indoor conditions on a diet of pellets and grain.
An old chicken will usually taste a bit odd or “gamey,” and the actual texture of their meat tends to be stringy.
Why Would You Slaughter an Egg-Layer Chicken?
The same reason you’d slaughter any chicken: for its meat! However, there are other considerations for giving an egg-laying bird the axe. Let me explain.
Chickens, as mentioned above, are raised for a variety of purposes, and even for specific kinds of cooking.
There are broilers, fryers, roasters, stew birds, and more. This designation usually correlates with the age at which a chicken is slaughtered, with “fryers” being the youngest and “stew birds” being the oldest.
Egg-laying chickens are usually slaughtered commercially when their productivity begins to wane, which is typically around 2 to 3 years of age.
This allows companies to recoup most of their investment while making way for a higher-producing, younger generation of hens.
However, it’s not unheard of for laying hens to keep right on laying, albeit at a reduced rate, right past 6 years old.
As a homesteader or backyard owner, you might make the decision to harvest a laying hen if a cull is necessary if she is no longer laying at all, or just due to a need for fresh meat.
When Should You Slaughter an Egg-Layer for Meat?
The decision on when you should slaughter a laying hen is driven by your objectives.
Do you want to harvest the chicken for the quality of its meat, or do you want to maintain a laying flock for as long as possible?
If you want the best quality meat, you should slaughter it when the chicken is quite young, preferably less than 12 months old. This ensures it is tender, flavorful, and suitable for various preparations.
From an egg productivity standpoint, it usually makes the most sense to slaughter an egg-layer when her production starts to drop off, which is typically around 2-3 years of age, but before she is too far gone that her meat is unappealing.
However, if you’re not concerned about maintaining maximum egg production with a set flock, you can wait until her eggs dry up.
The bottom line is that there is no wrong answer here; it all comes down to what your purposes are.
Can a Laying Chicken Be Too Old to Slaughter?
A chicken is never too old to be slaughtered, but it might be too old to give you good meat!
As chickens age, their meat becomes tougher and less flavorful. This is due to a variety of factors including a decrease in muscle mass or fat, changes in body chemistry, and more.
Additionally, as hens get older they are more likely to have been exposed to disease and parasites, which can impact the taste of their meat.
In short, expect meat from a senior bird to be strange, tough, and stringy. Not the ideal profile for a tasty fried chicken dinner!
For all of these reasons, it is generally best to slaughter egg-layers for meat when they are still young or at least middle-aged birds.
If you do decide to harvest an older chicken, you’ll want to take care in how you prepare it so that it is as palatable as possible. More on that in a minute.
When is the Ideal Time to Slaughter a Chicken for Meat?
If you want to gain the very best possible meat from your chickens, harvest them between 7 weeks (fryers) and 5 months (roasters) old.
This is the age range when the vast majority of commercial meat is harvested, and will all but ensure you have delicious chicken for your efforts.
Obviously, in the case of a laying hen harvested around roaster age, she will not be laying eggs for very long at all!
You Can Always Make Good Use of Chicken Meat with the Right Technique
If you want to minimize waste by slaughtering and eating an older bird or just one a little past its prime, you need not brace yourself for a nasty meal of stringy, gross chicken.
It is possible to improve both the flavor and the texture of said meat with the right prep and cooking techniques.
Old chicken meat is ideal for cooked products like soups, stews, pot pies, or casseroles.
The long cooking time will help to tenderize the meat while also infusing it with delicious flavors from the other ingredients in your dish. Marinades, seasoning rubs, and slow-cookers or crock pots are definitely your friends here.
Another option is to grind the chicken meat and use it in lieu of ground beef in recipes like tacos, spaghetti sauce or shepherd’s pie.
The smaller pieces will be less noticeable and the other flavors will help to mask any issues with the quality of the chicken.
Next time you find yourself with an elderly laying hen on your hands and are wondering if you can stomach the meat she’ll provide, don’t despair! You just might need to get a little creative in the kitchen.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.