How to care for an older chicken
On average backyard chickens live to an age of six to eight years, but there are of course exceptions. How old a chicken will become depends amongst other things on the breed and how a chicken is kept. Heavy layers exhaust themselves with a lifespan of just three years, others can live up to ten years. According to the Guinness World Records world’s oldest chicken is Matilda, a Red Pyle hen from Alabama that died at the age of sixteen (1990-2006). A hen is considered a senior around the age of five. If you are not sure about the age of a chicken, there are signs that will tell you your hen is getting older.
As a chicken gets older the texture of the comb will slightly change and she will likely have some scars from being pecked by other chickens. The feet and legs tend to thicken and if your hen has spurs, you know she’s not a youngster anymore (generally chickens grow spurs around three years of age). Arthritis may cause your older chicken to move stiffly and you might notice she walks a bit slower and more carefully. And of course the egg production of an older hen will decrease. The average chicken lays eggs for four to five years on a regular basis, with the peak of the egg production around 18-24 months. Already after two years, the egg production tends to drop. When you start seeing soft or thin-shelled and misshapen eggs, you know your hen is about to retire from egg laying altogether. But with most breeds living to age seven or beyond, you’ve got a few more years to enjoy the companionship of the hen that has served you and your family so well.
CARING FOR OLDER CHICKENS
Caring for older hens isn’t difficult and really isn’t much different than caring for them when they’re younger but there are a few things you can do for them to make sure they are healthy and comfortable.
Lower the perch in the run and/or coop
Senior chickens can start having mobility problems due to arthritis or joint inflammation. By lowering the height of the perch to one or two feet off the ground it’s easier for your old hen to hop onto it, protecting her joints. Building a ramp up into the coop might be necessary.
Predator proof run
Old chickens don’t move as fast as they used to. Providing them with a predator proof space is important to keep them safe. It’s best to supervise your chickens when they are free ranging. You may want to provide your older chickens with a separate coop and run to prevent younger, more aggressive hens from pecking them.
Accessible food and water
Make sure food and water containers are easily accessible. This means the food and water containers must be on an easily accessible height. It can also be a good idea to have two sources of food and water: one in their run area and if they are free ranging one outside. Older chickens may not be able to range as far for food and water.
Feeding older hens
If your entire flock is older and none of the hens are laying any longer, you can give the whole flock a chicken grower feed since they don’t need the additional calcium that a layer feed provides. If you are feeding different age groups together or add new chicks to the flock, the entire flock can be fed the chicken grower feed from the time the new chickens are eight weeks old up until the laying age of 16 to 18 weeks old. After that the new layers will need a laying feed. The layer feed won’t hurt the older hens, as the calcium is good for their bones.
Older chickens may not be wearing down their nails with activity like foraging and scratching. If the claws are curling round then they will need trimming. Consider nail clipping as part of caring for old chickens if your chickens have long nails.
A good vet
Try to find a vet near you who specialises in poultry. Do this and register in advance of having problems. Arthritis, egg failure, joint inflammation, gout, ascites, tumors, adenocarcinoma and salpingitis are issues that can come up with chickens of any age, but more so in old chickens.
BENEFITS OF OLDER HENS
In their own way, older hens contribute well past their productive egg laying years. Older hens still produce manure, which is a great fertilizer for your garden. Older hens still like to eat bugs. You’ll notice a reduction in the number of ticks and snails in your garden when you keep a flock of chickens. Furthermore, older hens are more likely to go broody and be available to raise the chicks you purchase or hatch.