Best home for an older hen
How old is an old hen? Well it depends on whom you ask... For the egg factory farmer, it’s 18 months just after she reaches peak production. For the smaller farmer, it’s around 3 years when her egg production really starts slowing down. For backyard chicken keepers however, it’s when she slows down and walks instead of running to greet you at the gate.
A hen can live 10 years or more, so her life is in full swing at 5 or 6! Our Ginger is 9-year-old and is still a young chick at heart. She comes running for treats, roosts in trees, and teaches the youngsters new tricks.
What to do with an older hen? Keep her obviously!
It’s in our job description: we are backyard chicken keepers :)
What else would you do?
Release her in the wild? This is not only illegal, but also cruel. She is not a wild fowl that needs to return to nature. She is a domestic hen who grew up in a sheltered environment with no predators and free access to food. She will not last more than a couple days on her own. Dumping her in a park or place where there are already other chickens is not an option either. It’s also illegal, and it will upset the order of the stray flock ending up in injuries and death.
Kill her and eat her? That’s what farmers did... but even though you may eat chicken, slaughtering and eating your own hen is probably not something you can or want to do. And for a good reason: she is part of your family! You gave her a name; you watched her growing and exploring your backyard. You posted her pictures on facebook. You talked to her; she talked back. You gave her treats, maybe even taught her tricks.
Adopt her out to a good home? There are way to many “free to good home” posts on chicken groups and craiglist. And this is not really an option, as very few people will want an older hen. All the animal shelters and sanctuaries are at capacity. And really, what home would be better than yours? She lived all her life there. She has all her friends, her place in the pecking order, and she knows every corner of her coop. Uprooting her and throwing her into a new flock would be terribly unkind.
As you can see, there aren’t many options for an older hen. Just keep her and let her live her natural life in your home ... her home. An older hen still actively participates to the health of your garden by hunting bugs and providing nitrogen rich poop that after being composted is gold for your garden. She has experience; she knows the coop, the rules and your routine. She teaches the newcomers about the life in your yard, so you don’t have to teach them yourself. And of course, she continues to provide us with joy, smiles and interactions that make us all happy.
Did you know?
You can teach an old hen new tricks.
Watch Luna "pecking out" the Queen of Spades from a deck of cards.
It's quite amazing, isn't it?
Chickens are smarter than we think. They recognize shapes and patterns, and have a very good memory.
I taught Luna this trick using positive reinforcement training, which consists of rewarding wanted behaviors and ignoring the unwanted ones. It took her only 10 sessions of about 7 minutes each. Here are videos of each training session: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbmXHhMcpoGdA-J92f9IfS2eu66Gs4rtt