I actually get this question quite often. What will I do when my hens stop laying eggs? My answer is always the same, “My girls will spend their later days and years toddling around the coop and run and keep everyone else in line”. Haha!
I have no intention of using any of my hens for meat, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to do so. I just have a hard time eating anything I’ve named. (Insert cringe here).
What’s considered an “old hen”? Usually, hens are done with their prime laying years by the time they’re 5 years old. They can occasionally pop out an egg here and there after that, but they won’t be considered productive. You’ll have to decide at this point if you’re willing to continue feeding these sweethearts, even though they may not give you eggs.
So, what should you do with aging hens? There are two ways to look at it. If you’re like me and you allow your chickens to live their full life with you, there are things you can do to make their lives a bit easier. Or, if you’d like to use them for meat purposes, there are ways to do that humanely and that is perfectly acceptable, too. Let’s talk about the section option, first.
We call killing a chicken “culling”. I have no idea why; I should probably look that up. Most people do this humanely by quickly chopping off their head. Yikes! This sounds tough, but it’s actually quick and painless for them. If this isn’t something you are able to do on your own, you’ll likely find a local farmer or processing plant that is willing to help you out. Most older hens really aren’t good for eating. They’re a bit tougher and more “gamey”, but you could always try! Some people swear by low and slow…if you cook them on low and slow, you can make anything taste good! If you’re not up for that, you could cook them and then use the bones for bone broth.
Okay, now that we talked about the harder stuff, let’s talk about ways we can make the last years of our hens life more enjoyable! I’m not saying you need to start implementing these ideas at any certain age, but you know your chickens the best. If you see signs of aging in your flock, here are some good ideas to incorporate.
1. Lower the roosting bars. Chickens love to roost as high as they can! It’s not the getting up high that’s a problem, it’s the jump down. All chickens, not just older ones, can get injured from a high jump. But as they age, injuries can be even more prevalent. Lowering the roosting bars will help with this leap to the ground.
2. Feed them crumble feed. I love using pellets for my flock. I feel like there is less dust and less waste. However, as they age, providing your older gals with some crumble will make it easier for them to ingest and digest their food.
3. Let them teach the younger ones in the flock. My first “flock boss”, Bitty, was the BEST. She would take the younger ones under her wings (no pun intended!) and show them the ropes. She’d protect them from the bullies, and really took care of the flock as a whole. I miss her. Allowing the older hens to teach the younger hens where the best dust bathing spots are, how to hide from predators, where the best bugs are (a great reason to keep them around!), and that the Wing Lady is actually very nice (ha!) has been one of my favorite things to watch. Sure there is pecking order to be worked out, but once they figure that out, it’s so fun to watch a flock.
4. Provide your hens with a well-balanced, healthy diet and plenty of fresh air and sunshine. A healthy diet is extremely important to the health of your flock no matter what age they are. It’ll impact your chicks, egg-layers and your elderly chickens. Fresh air and sunshine is not always easy to do in the winters here, but on nice days we open up the big doors and allow the fresh air and sunshine to pour in. That makes everyone feel better, doesn’t it?
5. Make sure your dust bath areas are easily accessible for everyone. Chickens are particular about their hygiene. They like to stay as clean as possible, and they roll around in the dirt to do it! It sounds counterproductive, but it’s how they’ve always done it. If you’d like to add an additive that helps with this process, I recommend Preen Queen. This dust bath addictive contains organic peppermint and citronella essential oils and diatomaceous earth to help remove excess oil from your chicken’s bodies and keep their feather clean and pristine. It’s a natural pest deterrent and my girls love it!
I started this journey just for the sake of having eggs. And I had no idea I’d fall in love with these silly birds! Chickens have their own personalities and I’ve enjoyed getting to know my girls so much. I’ll happily provide them with a home as long as they are healthy and happy.
Until next time,
–The Wing Lady