What To Do With Spent Hens: How To Repurpose Them

Your laying hens are getting older and have slowed down on egg production. What are you supposed to do with them now? In this post, we’ll walk through 6 ways you can repurpose your spent laying hens.

1. Use Spent Hens Around the Farm

The average lifespan of a chicken is approximately 7-10 years. Hens only lay reliably for 3-4 of those years. Some hens will start to taper off after the second year. Keep in mind, A hen will not completely stop laying until much later. Egg production will just slow down over a period of years. However, hens are still useful even after they stop laying. Hens can:

  • Deposit nitrogen into soil.
  • Control pests and weeds through foraging (how well they forage depends on the breed).
  • Aerate soil.

This makes hens great at preparing soil to be planted in. Fertilizing and aerating the soil creates an ideal soil for many commonly grown vegetable plants. Weed and pest control is another extremely helpful thing that hens do really well. Hens will continue to help in these ways until they die of natural causes.

Keeping hens to work for you gives you a way to delegate these tasks. If your hens are free ranging and they have access to enough food to sustain themselves, they will also feed themselves off the land. That means less feed costs for you! The free ranging ability of the hen does depend heavily on the breed of chicken and that is definitely worth looking into. The Black Australorp breed for example, will not forage as well as Barred Rocks. But overall, chickens are naturally born to forage and would thrive if you let them free range around you’re farm.

Of course, if you do this you will need to either fence the chickens in the space you want them to focus on, or you need a fence around your crops. That way, you keep the chickens from scratching and eating your crops.

Black Australorp hens

2. Eat Them

For some people (first time chicken owners especially), this can be hard. Butchering and eating chickens who have been with you for years can be difficult to wrap your head around. Even if you do it in a humane way. As a result, this option is not for everyone.

However, others have been ready to get rid of certain hens from the start (I’m looking at you, Hennifer). A question often asked is, “can I eat old laying hens?” The answer is yes. The main issue people have eating older hens is how tough the meat is. The older a chicken gets, the tougher the meat. The best way to overcome this issue is to slow cook it. A great chicken soup recipe (click the link for one of my favorites) will be your best friend for these birds. You can also stick the bird in a stock pot with water and a few veggies for 6-8 hours and make stock. Then, you can shred the chicken and use it in another dish if soup isn’t your jam.

This option is great if you want to directly benefit from your spent laying hens. However, this option does encourage ending their life sooner than necessary because the longer you let them go, the tougher the meat gets. If you do not have a dual purpose breed of chicken, you might find that there isn’t a lot of meat on the bones of your laying hen. If your hens were pasture raised and relied on wild insects and plants for food, this may be especially true. Foraging requires the birds to do significantly more work to find their food. They will also likely eat less food overall because their food isn’t as easy to get to as bag feed in a feeder. By the time you butcher, process, and cook the chicken, some people find that this option is more trouble than it’s worth.

3. Use Spent Hens to Offset Feed Cost

This topic warrants a blog post all on its own, but the gist is this:

There is a type of fly called the Black Solider Fly. During the larval stage of this fly’s growth cycle, they will eat just about anything and they are the perfect snack for chickens. Black Solider Flies can be purchased online and shipped. I got my larvae from the brand Pop Worms (click the link to be taken to Pop Worms site). When the larvae mature to the the largest point, they turn black and start to climb. There is a habitat available for purchase called the PortaPod that is also for sale on their website. The PortaPod includes a channel for the larva to climb up that leads to a spout. Once they reach the spout, they fall out of the pod and either into a bucket or onto the ground.

As mentioned above, these larval flies are not picky. They will devour everything from moldy, rotten food to, that’s right, a chicken carcass. Of course this option, like the one before it, involves killing the chicken. The difference is that Black Solider Fly larvae don’t care about how tough the meat is. This means you can let the hen live as long as you’d like without worrying about how edible it will be. You could even wait for it to die of natural causes.

I have Black Solider Flies for my chickens. They have proven useful on several occasions. Every time we lose a baby chick or kill a snake or generate food scrap that the chickens can’t eat, these guys really pull through. I will say that they do tend to create a foul smell. The way these flies eat their food is from the inside out, so theoretically, they should eat all the parts that would decompose the fastest first. But I’ve found they sometimes have trouble keeping up. It’s easy to overload the pod. If you need to get rid of more than 2-3 spent hens at once, this is not the best option for you. For my family and I though, Black Solider Flies are definitely worth keeping around.

Black Solider fly habitat/PortaPod

4. Sell Hens Before They are Done Laying

This option is ideal for those who don’t want to deal with spent hens at all. To sell your hens before they are done laying, you’ll raise and keep your hens until they are about 1 year old. Then, you’ll sell them as full-grown hens who are already laying.

You can sell full grown hens for more money than you can sell chicks for. This is because you’ve already gotten them through the most vulnerable part of their life. For example, Cackle Hatchery sells baby chicks for $1.95-$3.50 per chick while their grown foul sells for $115. This is an extreme example. Cackle’s grown pullets are all 15-22 weeks old and have just started laying. The longer a hen has been laying, the less she will be worth. You will likely have to sell them for a little less, but you can absolutely get back the money you put into them. This becomes an even better option for those who breed their own chicks. Breeding your own chickens eliminates the purchase cost of the chicks and gives you room to make even more money on them.

You will have to sell these hens in their prime in order to get a good ROI. This means you will not get as many eggs from them as you could have before you start over with new ones, but it is by far the most hands off approach. If it is important to you to know exactly how the hens are taken care of, you will be better off choosing a different option.

5. Give Hens to a Family in Need

Giving hens to a family in need is a fantastic way to use spent hens. To give these families the most benefit, you would give them at about the same time you would sell them (about 1 year old) so they can still get eggs. If you are planning to wait until your hens are truly spent, you might consider butchering, processing, and even cooking them before giving them away. This just makes it easier for the receiver who may not know how to butcher, process, or cook an older hen.

This works great if you know a family who could benefit, but if you don’t personally know a family there are other ways you could go about this. There may be some local programs and/or soup kitchens who would be happy to take chicken off your hands. Some food banks will take frozen chicken, but not all. Food banks often don’t have a place to store perishable, frozen foods. This will require some research on places that will accept chicken in your specific area. There are varying regulations depending on where you live.

6. Give Spent Hens to an Animal Shelter

Animal shelters are almost always in need of supplies. Some shelters take in sick and malnourished dogs and cats that need more than just dry food. Animal shelters will supplement their feed with meat until they get to a healthy weight. Donating frozen chicken (or any meat) can be very helpful to these shelters and their animals. You need to leave the chicken uncooked. This is so the shelter knows for sure that nothing the animals can’t eat was added during the cooking process. This options has the benefit of letting you enjoy the full laying potential of your hens. There is no reason to give them any sooner as the animals won’t care if the meat is a little tougher.

Not only does this option benefit you, but it’s a great opportunity to support an animal shelter. Keep in mind not all animal shelters accept meat. You will want to contact your local shelter(s) beforehand to check if they do or not.


There you have it! 6 Ways you can repurpose your spent laying hens:

  • 1. Use spent hens around the farm
  • 2. Eat them
  • 3. Use spent hens to offset feed cost
  • 4. Sell hens before they are done laying
  • 5. Give hens to al family in need
  • 6. Give hens to an animal shelter

You can play around with these options to find what works best for you. Only 3 of these options require you to butcher your birds (options 2, 3, and 6). Some may argue that you don’t directly benefit from options 5 and 6 and they don’t help with self reliance. I have to disagree. I believe giving is one of the best, most purposeful things you can do with your spent hens.

Repurposing things is such an incredible practice! Not only does it help you become more self reliant, but it’s better for the environment and it often encourages generosity. Hens are no exception. Killing them and letting them rot somewhere does you no good (although the vultures would be very thankful).

The same goes for letting them out in the wild. Some people think this is a good option, but the reality is that all your doing is feeding wild animals. It also has the potential to draw predators to your farm as chickens won’t usually stray far from their home (I speak from experience as someone who does not fence in their chickens). Unless you have a breed that is good at foraging and really good at running from predators, it would have the same outcome as killing them yourself.

I personally do a combination of all of these options. This time around, I will put some of mine in my Portapod (only a couple at a time) for the Black Solider Flies. I have already given some away and the remainder I’ll keep around to help with pests and soil in another location.

Let me know if you want a full blog post on Black Solider Flies and what role they play in my farm. It’s quite an interesting topic and I’d be happy to write about it!

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