For the first 22 weeks the chicks are reared and develop into adults hens.
At 22 weeks a hen will begin to lay. Steadily increasing until they lay an average of 2.5 eggs every 3 days (almost one per day!)
In more intensive commercial farming birds are kept laying by increasing the lighting through the winter and not giving the birds a rest. As a result at about 60-70 weeks of age, egg production will slow down and this is called ‘end of lay’. The birds are referred to as ‘spent’ hens’. At approximately 72 weeks old the birds are removed (called depopulation) and transported to the slaughterhouse.
However here at willowbrook we try to give all our animals not just a higher standard of welfare than commercial farms but also ethical and natural farming practices. So we allow our hens a short break in the winter and the birds will naturally recover and go through a molt.
Moulting is a natural process where birds lose old feathers and grow new ones. At this time, the hen also stops laying eggs, allowing her reproductive tract to rejuvenate. This is naturally brought on by reduced daylight hours in the winter.
Following this system we are not able to be as profitable but we are able to keep our chickens for 3 happy and healthy years on the farm.
End of lay hens are therefore a little old and maintain a slim physique so they certainly wouldn't do for the Sunday roast. However they are healthy and flavoursome birds and if slow cooked in a stew or a biriyani or for stock for soup, they can provide a healthy and cheap meal.
If you would like to purchase these hens they are available to purchase here.