I remember the day I walked into my local feed store to pick up Taylor, my Delaware chick. The lady at the store asked if I wanted to pick out my chick, and I eagerly accepted. About 10 Delaware chicks were eating, drinking and napping, except for one. She was standing there gazing up at me, looking into my eyes. I looked down at her and instantly knew she was the one I wanted.
Nine years have passed since that day, and every day when I go out to see my chickens, Taylor is there looking for me, just like she did the day we met. She hasn’t laid an egg in years and moves a little slower, but she is still as happy to see me as when she was younger.
While many people believe when a hen stops laying, there is no more use for her. They don’t know, however, that older hens can be of great value to the backyard flock owner. From teaching younger layers the ropes to brooding chicks and looking out for danger, our golden hens offer us as much joy today as they did in their younger years.
With the bonus of being the perfect companion for the flock owner, elderly hens are truly a joy to own. So before you butcher or rehome your aging hens, take a moment to consider some of the perks of owning these delightful birds.
Did you know that older hens have a better success rate at brooding and raising chicks than younger hens? While no one knows why this is, there are several theories for this behavior.
As hens age, so do their hormones. These hormones signify to a hen that her body is slowing in egg production, which may be enough change to cause a hen to go broody.
These same low hormone levels can also cause hens to go broody in the fall shortly before a molt.
Older hens do not have the stamina found in pullets and younger hens, so being content to set on a nest of eggs is no big deal. Also, if the hen has had prior sitting experience, she is more likely to brood chicks successfully.
The Best Teacher
Young chickens have a lot to learn, and aged hens are exceptional at teaching them the ropes. Even if a hen doesn’t brood the youngsters, she will usually be the one to teach the newly introduced pullets everything they need to know.
One essential thing teenage chickens learn from older hens is how to behave around chickens higher in the pecking order and become a respected flock member. Older hens often hang out with new pullets and protect them from other flock members, ensuring the youngsters get access to the feeders and waterers without being severely bullied.
With Experience Comes Wisdom
Older hens have an advantage with all their years of experience. They know how to respond better to situations than younger birds.
Taylor is the first of my hens to notice that it’s getting dark and it’s time to head into the barn for the night. If my hens have some supervised free-ranging time, Taylor will round them up and start “herding” them to the barn. She is also the first to notice hawks or a neighbor’s cat. She then alerts the other hens to the danger or, if necessary, will even stand over the younger girls to protect them.
Aging hens are excellent at pest control. Having no eggs to lay means they spend all day eating pests and are a better choice for gardeners, as they tend to be less vigorous in their scratching. This trait allows them to help work your soil even after your garden has been planted and plants are established.
Important note: Older hens still love treats and other goodies, so make sure they don’t eat all the fruits and vegetables in your garden.
A Lifelong Friend
Nothing can compare to the bond you share with your older hen. These girls realize that most of their life is behind them and are content to enjoy life at a slower pace. Older hens (like older dogs) tend to display a more devoted affection than younger chickens and will gladly spend all day beside you if given the opportunity.
While younger hens are very affectionate to their owners, nothing can compare to the bond you share with an aged hen. Taylor and I have buried flock members and welcomed new chickens into the flock together. Honestly, I can’t imagine my life without her.
I know Taylor will no longer be with me one day, but I’ll never forget the lessons I have learned from her. Until that day comes, I will smile whenever I hear the sound of Taylor running after me as we do our evening chores together.
Next time your laying hens slow down egg laying, consider letting them live the rest of their years with you. You can experience for yourself the joy of older hens.