Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to Cook an Old Rooster

There comes a time in the life of every chicken-keeper when you have to make some tough decisions. When laying hens get over two years of age, their rate-of-lay drops precipitously. Unless you want to start buying your eggs from the store and run an elderly chicken retirement home, you need to have another generation of pullets coming into lay and to butcher the old birds.

Our main laying flock will be two years old in the spring, so their days on our homestead are unfortunately numbered. The rooster of that flock became a vile jerk and only seemed to get worse with age, so he met his end before the rest of the bunch. He attacked any human - other than me, usually - who dared to enter his domain. He was rough on the ladies in his harem and had recently started to aggressively attack any chicken who dared to eat when I scattered treats in their run. It was time for Mr. Rooster to go.

Mr. Rooster was calm on his way to the killing cone. He was such a
gorgeous Buff Orpington, but was a complete tyrant. 

The problem with old chickens is that they tend to be tough. You definitely will not want to fry an old, heritage breed bird unless you like leathery chicken. An older rooster or retired laying hen calls for being cooked for a long time over low, moist heat.

Here are the two ways I used our tough bird: Rooster and Dumplings and Bone Broth. The broth from an older, heritage breed bird is outstanding, and lends great depth of flavor to these simple preparations.

Rooster and dumplings


Rooster and Dumplings

1 whole rooster or stew hen
3-1/2 t. salt, divided
3/4 t. pepper, divided
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/4 t. ground red pepper

3 c. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 t. salt
4-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. poultry seasoning
1/3 c. shortening
2 t. bacon drippings
1 c. milk

Place the chicken in a large, heavy pot such as a Dutch oven. Cover with water and add 2-1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. pepper, garlic powder, thyme, and red pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. You want to cook the chicken very slowly so it isn't tough. Cook for about 5 hours at a very low simmer.

Remove the chicken carcass from the broth; cool slightly, and then pull the meat from the bones. Skim the fat from the top of the broth. Chop or shred the meat and then add it back to the broth. Reserve the bones for making bone broth (see following recipe). Add remaining salt and pepper to broth, taste, then adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and poultry seasoning in a medium-sized bowl. Cut in shortening and bacon drippings until the mixture is crumbly throughout. Add milk and stir until everything is moistened.

Roll dumpling dough out on a floured surface to 1/8" thickness. Cut into 1" squares.  

Return broth mixture to a boil, then drop the dumplings one at a time into the broth. Go slowly and stir gently to make sure they do not break or stick together. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring often, for 25 minutes.

Note: If you aren't using an old bird, you do not have to cook it so long. Two hours would probably be sufficient for your typical broiler chicken. The broth will not be as flavorful, though, so you might want to supplement the broth with a chicken bouillon cube.

Nutritious Bone Broth

2 chicken carcasses - you only need the bones
Salt and pepper
2 T. apple cider vinegar
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled

Take the chicken carcasses and put them in the bottom of a 6 qt. slow cooker. Cover with water, add 1 t. salt and pepper to taste, and other ingredients. Cook on low for 24-48 hours. The combination of long cooking and the vinegar will help dissolve the healthy minerals from the bones. I usually cook this for 48 hours and remove the garlic cloves after the first day. Cool and freeze in freezer-safe containers.  Use in any recipe that calls for chicken broth. 


  1. Excellent article. Thank you for the recipe.

  2. oh thank god! Someone actually has the common sense to say how long to stew a laying hen. You are an absolute lifesaver.

  3. Yes you are a lifesaver. I have some older hens and since I had an experience with an older, mean roo yrs ago that never did get tender enough to eat, I didn't know what to do with my culled hens. Now I will send them to butcher with the broilers in July.