Your old hens took care of you in their prime, so return the favor with an accessible coop for the aged chicken.
Most chickens live an average of seven to eight years with peak egg production around 18-24 months. After 24 months, egg production tends to drop. Hens will continue to lay as they age, but may not lay quite as many eggs.
Commercial egg producers typically cull hens once they move past peak egg production. Backyard chicken owners, however, tend to let their hens live longer because their focus may be more on the pet aspect of chicken ownership rather than business needs.
For backyard owners, egg production is (generally) not an economic necessity. As a backyard chicken owner, you are likely to have your hens for a long time. So let's get your chicken coop set up to be an amazing retirement home!
1. Lower Perch Heights
Old chickens will find lower perches easier to access. Protect older chicken joints with lower perch heights, from one to two feet off the coop floor. Old chickens may have special needs, but young hens will also appreciate lower perches.
2. Accessibility Ramps
Older chickens may need ramps to reach perches or nest boxes greater than one to two feet off the coop floor. In our coop, we have really high perches (four feet), and all perches are on the same level. We make our high perches more accessible for chickens of all ages with a ramp that runs the entire width of the coop. Our chickens hop onto the perches from this ramp.
We may have to lower our perches or add a lower perch or two in the future to make our coop a suitable chicken retirement home. Also, consider ramps for dust bath access inside the coop and for ducks and wading chickens to access water tubs.
3. Easily Accessible Food & Water
Your older chickens may not be able to range as far for food and water. Make sure that food and water containers are easily accessible. This may mean having food and water in more than one location in the coop or having food and water inside and outside the coop.
4. Foot Care
Older chickens may need calendula or plantain salve for dry feet and may not be wearing down their nails with activity. Consider nail clipping as part of caring for old chickens if your chickens have long nails.
5. A Good Nap Spot
Old chickens need a well-ventilated coop or a place in the shade for comfortable daytime naps. Make sure you are caring for your older chickens with a comfortable and safe space to nap or retreat when they are tired of keeping an eye out for predator threats.
6. Predator Evaluation
Older chickens are likely to be less speedy than when they were young. Slower free range chickens may need more protection from predators. Conduct a fresh evaluation of your predator proofing with the older chicken in mind. Does an old free ranging chicken have plenty of nearby options to take cover if a hawk is overhead? Is the chicken coop run adequately protected?
7. The Right Food
Consider switching from high calcium layer feed to a grower feed, which contains far less calcium and more protein than layer feed, to sustain your old hens. Of course, supplement with a calcium source such as crushed oyster shells in a free-choice separate container.
If most of your hens are laying, don't make the switch because the calcium in layer feed is essential for egg production. However, in the older hen, calcium is not as necessary when egg laying is less frequent.
8. A Good Vet
Find an avian vet near you so you are ready for any issues that may arise. Arthritis, joint inflammation, gout, ascites, tumors, adenocarcinoma, egg failure, and salpingitis are all issues that can come up with chickens of any age, but more so in old chickens. Keep an eye out for diarrhea and any "off" behavior on a daily basis.
Finally, did you realize that the color of a chicken comb can be an indicator of good health? A pale comb is a sign of possible ill health, whereas a bright red comb is a sign of good health.
Are you caring for old chickens? How do you best care for them? Let us know in the comments below!
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