One of the realities of owning and raising chickens, is that one day they will stop laying eggs. So what do you do with these older chickens? Do they still serve a purpose? Here’s a few ideas of what to do with older and aging chickens.
Ultimate Guide To Caring For Older and Aging Chickens
When you raise your flock with love and care and take joy in collecting and eating fresh eggs from your hens, let’s face it, you get attached to your girls. Like all animals that are part of your family, the fact of life is that they age much quicker than people. It is important to know what special needs and considerations you should take as your chickens get older.
Opensanctuary.org has recommendations for caring for older chickens. They point out that most chickens don’t get to live out their natural life spans of 8 to 15 years depending on breed and size. Many chicken raisers dispense of their older chickens when they become unproductive egg layers. As your chickens age, you will have to make that decision.
How to Care for Older Chickens
Should you choose to care for your birds in a forever home situation, there are a number of areas you need to alter to help your older chickens thrive. Like any animal, as chickens age, they face additional health issues. It’s vital to be more aware of them physically as catching problems early may increase your success in treating the problem.
Common ailments in older chickens include:
• Weight loss or weight gain
• More difficulty dealing with parasites
• Internal laying
• Egg-binding (egg bound)
• Egg peritonitis
As you can see with all the potential problems in older chickens, being more vigilant is a necessity. A lot of the problems stem from their worn-down reproductive systems, but even something simple like fighting off parasites is more difficult for an aging lady.
Food Recommendations for Older Chickens
The reason older chickens need special food is that their beaks wear down over time. They may have more difficulty pecking and absorbing nutrients from their food. They may be prone to weight loss or weight gain, both of which can be problematic.
If a hen is gaining too much weight, this means her calorie intake needs to be adjusted. The problem is that with her decreased mobility, she is eating more calories than she can burn. In general, 16% protein should be fine for an older chicken. Be careful offering too much calcium after her egg production is over as she may develop Gout, which is a deadly disease for chickens.
Since it’s impossible to separate food for hens in the same coop, you may want to have a special area for your older hens. They will do best eating an “all flock” or “maintenance” food. It will contain less calcium and have fewer nutrients which they don’t really need if they are not laying eggs.
Lastly, when feeding older chickens, chickens who develop arthritis may have more difficulty getting to their food and water. Something as simple as elevating their food and water source to chest level can make it easier for them to eat and drink.
Elderly chicken tip! Add powdered cayenne pepper to their food to improve circulation in cold weather.
You can read my in depth guide on the different types of chicken feed here.
Shelter Recommendations for Aging Chickens
We have already established aging chickens may have mobility issues. It makes sense they will have difficulty reaching a raised perch. You may have to lower the perch one or two feet off the floor of their coop. You can also position a bale of straw (with some loose straw bedding on the top for easy cleaning) below the perch to give them a boost or provide a comfy sleeping area.
As they age, chickens will lay down more than they did when they were younger. You may need to bed resting and sleep areas to prevent pressure sores for chickens who lay down a lot due to their arthritis.
Read more about the best chicken coops that I recommend here.
Tips To Help Older Chickens Be More Comfortable In Their Coop:
• Wrap perches with vet wrap to make them safer and more comfortable
• On wood floors, use shavings or chopped straw
• Rubber mats can add cushion, insulation, and be less slippery
• Keep water and food close to the sleeping quarters
• Use gentle ramps with good traction to get in and out of the coop
What You Can Do with Aging Hens
Taking proper care of an aging hen may not be possible for all chicken enthusiasts. You may not have the room to separate them from your egg-producing flock or time to keep up with all the special needs as they age. So, what can you do with your aging hens?
The Cape Coop offers some alternatives to creating a geriatric ward for your older ladies.
This is not a term for the meek at heart. Yes, processing means slaughtering your hens when their egg production slows down or stops. If you are a vegetarian, this obviously is not an option. If you love eating chicken as much as you enjoy their eggs, it is a humane option over letting them get old and arthritic. They ARE going to die one way or the other.
Farming for eating your animals takes a different mentality than just being a happy homesteader. You need to view your birds as livestock, not name them, and do not think of them as pets.
Perhaps you would like to eat them but you don’t have the stomach for killing and cleaning. You can ask a local butcher or farmer to do the task for you. You would typically use older hens for stewing or slow roasting in a crockpot.
Old Folks Farms for Birds
You can’t just release your bird into the wild. They have zero survival skills. The attrition rate for young free ranging birds is already huge with foxes, raccoons, owls, and raptors, if you live anywhere near a field or forest. An older bird won’t last one night.
There are rescue facilities for fowl that may take aging chickens. It depends on where you are located if there is one in your area. You can look online for local farms or homesteaders and see if anyone is in the market for older birds.
Just a warning, if you send them their way, they may be using them for stew meat. If you don’t want to know, don’t ask. If you don’t like their answer then start preparing your coop and please refer to “Shelter Recommendations for Aging Chickens”.
Know that any farmer or homesteader will be processing your chicken in a humane manner. That chicken will most like be used to feed family members.
Do Chickens Die of Old Age?
My Pet Chicken tells us that your chicken will probably be a productive egg layer for 5 to 7 years. They will not simply stop laying eggs, their production will slowly dwindle. Since their lifespans will vary depending on their breed, size, and state of health, there are no guarantees of how long your bird will live. If they are healthy, they may live up to 15 years and simply die of old age.
Don’t feel pressure to find alternatives for your older girls as they can still serve a purpose. Older hens are still great bug hunters and can rid your property of ticks and pesky bugs. They still produce compost for your garden. They are great mentors for new chicks and will actually train the babies.
If you have free-range hens, the older hens can teach the younger ones how to come back from ranging at feeding time. They teach youngsters how to build nests, roost in the evening, and proper social behavior. There are wonderful merits to being older and more experienced.
The great part about raising your own chickens is that if you are well-informed about all the aspects of raising them, you can make good decisions regarding your aging flock members. You can care for them and meet their changing needs and help them live long and healthy lives. Each chicken owner needs to do what’s best for themselves and their aging flock.
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