Chicken Coop Chatter© (Originally published for and by http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/)
We get all excited come spring time as hatchery catalogs arrive in the mailbox or email inbox, then again when the new chicks arrive in the farm stores. Each year we want more, or different breeds or add breeds to existing flocks. What we tend to forget is that chickens reach their prime years at 3-4 years old, egg production drops off, molts may take longer, and slow re-feathering may make those older birds very vulnerable to cold, damp weather; roosters may be hit and miss with fertilization, so those productive years are much shorter than the actual lifespan of those chickens.
Those cute little chicks, turned productive sweet hens and roosters then have to be retired, either to an old fowl home, rehomed or the stew pot. This is a personal dilemma, one we can't answer for you, but one that is serious enough that you need to be thinking early on what your intentions are when those chickens reach the ripe old age of 3 or 4 years old, yet can live up to 12 years on average. As with humans, physical health may begin to decline, production is way down or non-existent, health care may soar, yet housing and feeding are still necessary if the birds are to be comfortably retired.
One problem we see, is if you are limited to a handful of hens, you will not be able to replace them until either they pass on, are rehomed or have an honored place at the table. If you have relied on the eggs that have been provided, and are now forced to purchase eggs, yet continue to feed and house the non-productive birds, and provide medical care for as much as another 8 years, this may present a problem economically.
There will be as many answers to this dilemma as there are people, there will be those that know immediately they will continue to house and feed their pets until the end of their days, others will have no doubts that the birds will make a fine soup for the pantry, while others will be happiest to re-home to someone that simply wants the companionship and not concerned about the economics, yet others will be fence riders and continue to avoid the dilemma not knowing what to do until reality sets in. If you are the latter, this could have some serious emotional impact, it will be far easier to make the decision from the beginning rather than wait until you have no options left.
We can only present the reality, the decisions are completely individual and not for the judgement of others. It is possible that the retired hens will be good broodies, but that is not a reliable expectation unless they've been good broodies while in their youth. The rooster is still the protector of his flock, even though he is no longer capable of fertilizing eggs for the purpose of replenishing the flock. However he may no longer be as spry and may even be losing his eye-sight, so his protective instincts may be compromised due to old age.
Our parents and grandparents did not have to face these dilemmas, because it was clearly understood what the ultimate purpose of the chickens was; Food for the table. It's only in more recent years that people have elevated chickens to pets and companions, rather than food, so the whole mind set has created a dilemma for those of us raising chickens now.
Regardless of the choices you make, it's a decision that must be satisfying to you, and your immediate family members.
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