You may be raising chickens for eggs and then later want to butcher them for meat. It’s important to know at what age the hens will be at their best quality.
Can you eat egg laying chickens? Yes, you can eat egg laying hens. Depending on the age of the hen, the quality of the meat will be different. Younger hens will have tender and more flavorful meat. Older hens will have tougher meat and less flavor.
What Is the Best Age to Eat a Chicken?
The age of the chicken is very important when it comes to the taste. The older the chicken is, the more the flavor and tenderness will be lost.
Commercially raised chickens are slaughtered at 4-8 weeks. This is the age where the meat is of the best quality.
Since these chickens are raised for profit, commercial farms will raise only breeds that can grow quickly. Also, they are fed much more than chickens raised in backyards.
On the other hand, backyard chickens will not be slaughtered at that age. Typically, you can expect the chickens to be at around 4 months before you can butcher them.
The exact age when to eat the chicken will depend on many factors. Some of these are the chicken breed, size, and the amount of food fed to them.
In order to find the right age for your chickens, it will take a little trial and error.
If the chicken is too young, the meat will be too tender and the taste will be bland.
On the other hand, if the chicken is too old when it’s butchered, the meat will be tough and taste “gamey”.
Terms Used to Describe Chickens by Age
When it comes to the age of the chickens, there are terms used to describe it. Instead of hearing the age of the chickens, you will hear the terms.
Below are the terms you may hear:
Broilers/Fryers – These are young chickens that are around 4-8 weeks old. Broilers are common in commercial farms since these chickens grow quickly. When they are around 6 weeks and reached the weight of about 3 lbs, they will be butchered.
Roasters – These are chickens that are older than broilers, which is around 4-5 months of age. Roasters have more tender meat than broilers.
Capons – These are roosters that have been castrated and fed a very rich diet. These chickens have meat that has more flavors.
Stewing/Baking Hens – When hens reach a year old, they are called stewing or baking hens. These mature egg-laying hens have meat that is tender and more flavorful.
Spent Hens – These are commercial hens that are no longer laying eggs. Spent hens are usually two years of age or older. Their meat will be tough and the taste will be bland. Spent hens are best for use in soups and stews.
How are Spent Hens Treated?
When egg-laying hens stop being productive, you may wonder what happens to them. After all, millions of spent birds have stopped their egg production every month.
What happens to the spent hens will depend on the farmer. Of course, keeping hens that are no longer productive will cost much more money.
For that reason, one of the options is to process the chickens into pet food. Spent hens are the most common meat supplies for manufacturers that processed pet food.
Another option is to euthanize the hens. This is done by placing them into a room and gassing them with carbon dioxide, which will cause them to die. Once done, the hens are placed into a landfill or packed into a dumpster and sent away.
The option of euthanizing the birds is very concerning as this method is inhumane. Not many farmers want to practice it.
For farmers that have a market for spent hens, they will sell them for a cheap price. The farmers will either process the bird first or sell them as is.
Can You Eat Spent Chicken?
You can eat spent chicken, but the meat will be tougher, and it will taste gamier. For these types of chickens, it’s best to use them in soups and stews.
Spent chickens are chickens that no longer are able to produce the required eggs each day. These chickens are mostly used in commercial farming and have a very short lifespan.
They will start laying eggs at around 5 months. They will continue to lay eggs each day for the next 2 years. The total eggs they will lay will be around 300 or so.
Spent chickens are too old to be used for meat, so you’ll unlikely see them sold in grocery stores.
What About Unlaid Eggs?
Sometimes when butchering egg laying hens, you may notice eggs inside them. These are “in-utero” or unlaid eggs.
These eggs are in the process of being made, but it has not finished yet. You may see the egg with the eggshells or just the yellow yolk.
It takes around 25 hours for an egg to start forming to being laid.
The eggs are harmless and can be eaten.
You can eat egg laying hens. Before you eat one, you should know that it will taste much different from what you are used to. The meat will be tougher than regular chicken meat. Due to their tough meat, most people will use them in stew or soup.