One of the things that people don’t always realize is that there are in reality two distinct types of chickens in a multi-animal farm. One type, the meat birds, are usually raised on pasture in chicken tractors (made famous by Joel Salatin) that allow the birds to be moved to fresh grass every day where they can peck around and gain muscle relatively quickly and in decently large numbers. The other type are the layers, pampered hens usually raised either in movable coops or right in the farmyard itself. These birds are looked after constantly, with their every need seen to. The reason is simple, eggs from free-range organically fed chickens are big money. I used to sell pastured chicken eggs at a farmer’s market for $8/dozen and they would be the first thing we’d sell out of. I’ve seen well-dressed Manhattanites fight over the last carton of eggs.
The trick with an older chicken as with any older animal is that through heavy use (i.e. running around and being a chicken, not something that happens in a commercial scenario) their muscles become tougher and full of collagen. As we all know, collagen needs to be hydrolyzed to convert the protein into lip-smacking gelatin. This process is best accomplished with the help of our friend low, moist heat. You can’t cook a laying hen like a meat bird - no grilling or pan frying here - but in a smoker or in a simple braise you’ll end up with something with just as much flavor and just as juicy and tender.
So moral of the story here is: Laying hens and older chickens are just as delicious as their younger cousins if you cook them right. Not to mention eating them is a great way to contribute to the sustainability of the farm that raised them