My journey into chicken-keeping began at an early age, thanks to my Grandma Rose. Grandma Rose kept hens in the courtyard of her home and, during the childhood years I lived with her, she trained me in keeping a small flock. She taught me how to gently collect eggs, how to scatter scratch grains into garden areas she wanted aerated and how to respectfully share our living space with these cherished feathered friends. When my grandmother passed away several years later, I was heartbroken and became even more so when, more than a week later, I learned that no one had remembered to care for her beloved hens.
Keeping a flock is a joy for all ages. From fresh-faced youth to seasoned elder, we are enriched by the presence and antics of our backyard poultry. As we enter our golden years, however, we might find our physical abilities waning. Osteoarthritis, stiffening muscles and loss of balance can impede our ability to care for our flock amidst the ice and snow of winter. Deteriorating back strength and decreasing flexibility can make it difficult to lift sacks of feed, haul water and handle other physically demanding aspects of coop maintenance. Failing health and geriatric conditions might force us to enlist assistance, especially if we need medical intervention at a hospital or other inpatient facility. Eventually, we must come to terms with the fact that we will be gone.
Does this mean we should give up keeping chickens when we reach a certain age? Absolutely not. The opposite is true. A microflock of hens gives us a daily routine to stay active and also provides companionship, something that becomes increasingly important as we get older. If you plan to keep chickens into your 60s, 70s and beyond—and you should—here are ways to ensure your birds receive the care they require.
Have Your Poultry Supplies Delivered
Take a load off your back—literally—by getting your local feed shop or farm-supply store to deliver your chicken-rearing supplies. Many stores gladly set up a delivery schedule for customers, especially those who are older, housebound, disabled or otherwise can’t make their purchases in person. There might be a fee, but many places waive it for purchases over a certain amount, for scheduled repeat deliveries and for senior citizens. Ask about senior—and military—discounts. Home delivery is convenient, and it helps reduce the risk of injury. It also ensures that you have a regular visitor who can see whether you’re OK.
Find a Helping Hand
Chicken chores get done more quickly—and they’re often more enjoyable—when there’s an extra pair of hands to help. If you do not have a nearby relative, neighbor or friend who can help with daily (or weekly) chores, don’t despair. You have several possible resources. If you live near a land-grant university with a veterinary school, social-services division or poultry-science department, contact these schools and and ask whether an undergraduate student can do an internship with you and your flock. You will probably have to develop a schedule with a faculty adviser and submit evaluations of your interns, especially if he or she is a vet student on the poultry rotation, but the benefits outweigh this minor inconvenience. No local university? Contact a local high school’s counseling office or service club, your county’s Future Farmers of America branch, its 4-H club or your church’s youth group.
Consolidate Your Coops
If you’re less able to care for your birds than you once were, it might be time to evaluate your operations. Are you still steadily selling eggs, chicks and adult birds? Or has your flock become more a matter of personal enjoyment than a business venture? Depending on the answers to these questions, it might be time to consolidate your flocks. Taking care of one coop involves much less effort than maintaining several. After an adjustment period, your birds will become accustomed to their new shared henhouse. If this coop cannot accommodate all your chickens, or if you determine your backyard flock is simply too large to manage, consider rehoming some birds. Your younger girls will more easily adapt to a new home than the older hens.
Add Some Automation
While chicken-keeping is a hands-on activity, modern advances in poultry husbandry can help minimize your daily chores. A time-sensor pop door, for instance, will release your flock at a designated morning hour and close again at night. This is a huge help if you find it difficult to get out of bed early or discover you’re exhausted by dusk. A motion-activated floodlight will illuminate your run, making it easier for you to see during lockup. The sudden, movement-triggered blast of light also tends to frighten away nocturnal predators. You can even automate your coop’s watering system to some degree, although this frequently involves a lot more maintenance than a traditional waterer and might not be worthwhile.
Create an Action Plan
Regardless of whether you have outside assistance, it’s crucial to have a detailed written plan of daily care for your chooks. Don’t ever assume these tasks are self-evident or that your helpers already know everything. Such an approach often results in something slipping through the cracks. A fall, illness or medical condition might incapacitate you unexpectedly, so help your helpers by having a plan prepared for them. You can save it as a PDF file and email it to those who help you care for your flock. I strongly recommend you print the plan, put it in a binder or report cover and place it prominently in your kitchen where it’s easily seen. Print a brightly colored cover with the words “Chicken Flock Care Plan” in big, bold letters. Keep a copy in a safe place in your coop for good measure.
When the End Arrives
Just as we never know when an injury, illness or medical condition might incapacitate us, we also don’t know when our time to leave this life will come. We were caught completely unprepared when my Grandma Rose passed; my mother and my Uncle George were too beside themselves with grief at the loss of their mother to even remember that she kept a microflock until it was too late. By following the suggestions here, you should have at least one person—a friend, neighbor, relative or young helping hand—to check on your chickens and avoid the scenario that befell my family. Take action now. Ensure your chickens’ fate by including their disposition in your will. It doesn’t matter whether you choose a person to inherit the flock or a friend or relative sells the birds. Clearly state what is to happen to your birds so their future isn’t left up in the air at one of the most stressful times in your loved ones’ lives.