Many people keep chickens for the nutritious, delicious, fresh eggs that they lay. Unfortunately, hens don’t lay eggs forever. As a hen grows older, she’ll lay fewer and fewer eggs until she eventually stops laying entirely. What happens when your beloved bird no longer delivers new eggs on a regular basis? For some chicken owners, this means it’s time for the butcher. Other people choose to keep the hen as a pet. What you do with your aging hen is up to you. You have several options, each with its own perks and drawbacks. When the time comes, this guide can help you make the right choice about what to do with hens that no longer lay eggs.
THE LIFESPAN OF CHICKENS
Chicken lifespans vary depending on the species, where you live, and other environmental factors. On average, backyard chickens can live to be anywhere from five to ten years old. A healthy hen with a safe home might even make it to 11 or 12 years. However, egg productivity doesn’t last that long. A young hen will begin laying her eggs at around 18 to 20 weeks old. A chicken’s first two years of adulthood are her most productive in terms of egg laying.
At age two or three, though, her egg production will begin to decline. Every year, a hen will lay fewer eggs until she no longer produces any at all. In addition to losing their productivity, older hens are often slower than the younger members of the flock. Aging chickens are also more prone to arthritis and other diseases. It’s important to understand how your chickens age and what they’ll be like if you keep them past their productive years. This will help you make an informed decision about whether you want to keep your hens after they retire from egg laying.
IS THIS REALLY THE END?
While age is a big reason why chickens stop laying eggs, it isn’t the only factor. Before you decide what to do with your hen, make sure that this is really the end of her productivity. If your chickens are still fairly young, there might be other factors at play, such as stress, nutrition, or the amount of daylight your flock gets every day. Stress from a change in the daily routine—like a new coop or flock members—can cause your hens to temporarily stop laying. Similarly, many diseases and health conditions affect egg production. Treating your flock and making sure they’re comfortable can bring egg production back to normal.
You should also consider that chickens have natural egg laying seasons. During the longer days of spring and summer, chickens are more productive. When the days get shorter in fall and winter, your hens will lose and regrow their feathers in a process known as molting. Regrowing feathers takes energy, which means your hens have less energy for strong egg production. Some chicken keepers choose to add supplemental lighting to their coops in the winter so that their hens can keep laying. Other owners allow the chickens to rest so that they can come back in the spring refreshed, energized, and ready to be productive.
WHAT TO DO WITH HENS THAT NO LONGER LAY EGGS
If you provide your flock with a safe home, a balanced diet, and a comfortable daily routine, they should lay plenty of eggs throughout their productive years. However, a perfect life still can’t stop your birds from aging. Once you’re sure your hen has reached retirement, you must decide how to handle her. This is a personal decision that every chicken owner must decide for themselves. However, you should also consider factors like the size of your flock, how your family feels about your chickens, and the health of the hen. For some people, a hen is a family pet. She has a name, a personality, and a place in your home no matter how many eggs she gives you. On the other hand, some people keep chickens as a business. A hen who takes up coop space and eats your feed without providing any profits is a drain on your resources. There are pros and cons to both keeping and getting rid of your chickens. No matter what you choose, make sure you know what to expect when you move forward with your decision.
KEEPING HENS PAST LAYING AGE
Intentionally or not, many chicken owners grow attached to their hens. Maybe your kids dote on your aging hen, or maybe she’s simply wormed her way into your life as a beloved part of the family. Either way, many chicken keepers simply keep their retired hens as pets. This is a popular option among young families or people who keep a small flock.
The good news is that an older hen doesn’t need as much energy for producing eggs, so she’ll eat less than younger members of the flock. Older hens also benefit their flocks. They’re better at keeping an eye out for predators than their younger flock members. Older hens are also broodier and they make better mothers. If you want to raise your own chicks from eggs, an older hen can prove extremely helpful. And if you have a garden within your chickens’ range, your older hens can pull their weight there. With excellent weed control and bug-catching skills, your retired hens can help your fruits and vegetables flourish.
If your chickens are part of your homestead or business, you likely depend on them to make a profit and put food on the table. A hen who doesn’t lay eggs doesn’t help you with either of these things, which means it might be time to get rid of her. This is why many chicken owners choose to butcher older hens for meat. There are many benefits to eating—or selling—chicken meat from your own backyard. You know exactly where the meat came from and how the chickens lived. This means you don’t have to sort through labels and food industry loopholes to figure out if your chicken meat is from organic or free-range chickens. If you choose to butcher your chickens, you can hand them off to a local butcher or process them yourself at home by purchasing the right equipment, such as a chicken plucker for sale by Stromberg’s.
What do you do with your hens once they’re past their prime? Share your stories, tips, and advice for your fellow chicken keepers in the comments below.