When chickens become older hard choices will need to be made as to their futures. Chickens begin to slow down egg production between 2-3 years of age. For some it’s an easy choice to cull older less productive birds. Either prepping them for the stew pot or turning them into homemade stalk. Others, elect to re-home them to other chicken enthusiasts. While both are valid options, my desired choice is to allow older chickens to simply retire here, on our farm and choose their new part-time jobs.
The True Values of Keeping Older Chickens
Natural bug control
Our farm butts up against wet woods, which brings with it a major mosquito problem. The first year living here we were unable to walk outside after dusk without being eaten alive. Fifteen minutes is all it took to be covered in twenty-five to fifty bites. Then while clearing an area to place a pasture, my husband was bitten by a tick. He ended up in the hospital covered head to toe in a noteworthy red rash, high fever, and unexplained muscle pain. His neck was unable to move up, down, or side to side. The tick-borne illness left him on months of harsh antibiotics and antivirals. Soon after the tic incident we headed off to the feed store and purchased our first dozen chicks. Now, maintaining a flock of a hundred or so, we easily enjoy the outdoors without being eaten alive by uninvited bugs.
Another way retired hens help out is brooding each season’s new peeps. Brooding becomes second nature to them, you won’t find these girls giving up on their babies or fleeing the nest. Once hatched, the peeps are taught all the important things by their mother hens. Such as: where to dust bath, what to eat, what they shouldn’t ingest, as well as where to hide in case of a predator.
Chicken TV is the best kind of TV! Whether gazing out the window or watching from a porch swing, their entertainment value is priceless. One thing that remains constant through a chicken's life is their curiosity and personality!
If planning to keep seniors, a few adjustments will be needed to keep them healthy and happy. Just like us, as we get older, they have special nutritional and medical requirements. Decreased mobility, intestinal issues, tumor formation, vitamin deficiencies, reproductive problems, arthritis, and gout are just a few concerns. Life can be made easier for these retirees by lowering perches, making them wider, and adding ramps. The need to trim their nails on occasion may even present itself. Don’t worry, it’s a simple task. Just get out those dog clippers and trim the pointed tip back. Don’t cut too far back or they will bleed profusely.
Another issue that often arises when keeping older chickens is vitamin and mineral deficiencies. As your chickens age, their nutrition requirements change, and the same layer feed that you were feeding them simply may not provide them with the proper amount of nutrition anymore. Vitamin supplements (such as Lyfe Lites) as well as kelp, yogurt, and probiotics can all help maintain your retirees' health. If you have a lot of older hens, you may want to look into a specialized feed such as Manna Pro's Golden Girls. This feed is specially formulated just for your older hens, so you can be sure that they are getting the proper nutrition.
We only recently lost a ten-year-old chicken to age, she laid for seven years! Maybe only a few times a year, but she tried to carry her weight nonetheless. The hardest part of keeping retired chickens is watching their bodies fail or finding they have passed on during chores. Is the extraordinary emotional pain worth it? For our family, it’s a pain worth enduring to ensure our chickens experience a wholesome life to the very end.