Chicken Coop Chatter©
We all get excited for spring when baby chicks arrive in the feed stores or are available in the hatcheries, and sometimes because of the excitement we overlook some very important details. What happens when those sweet, fluffy chicks grow up and reach their prime?
Staggering ages of chickens is a good idea so not to lose your layers all at one time. A layer is at her prime laying stage at about 3 years. Some will continue production, but it will usually be irregularly until she stops laying all together, this would be what we call "henopause" ; not a scientific term, it's just a term used in comparison to other species that reach the age when they are no longer producing. You will want to start replacing within 6 months of your hens reaching prime, so you do not have a lull in egg production.
A chickens life span is about 9 to 12 years, but the productive years are only about 3 to 5 of those first years. So if you can't bear to part with those older chickens, you will need to provide an "old hen retreat" for them until they reach their final days. A rooster is at his prime at about 4 years. After that time, his role would still be as the protector of his flock, but he will not be as fertile for providing offspring and will need to be replaced if you continue to want hatching eggs. You will want to be raising a replacement rooster by the time your elder rooster has reached his prime so you have a replacement when the elder rooster is retired. The elder rooster can go to the "old hen retreat", since he is familiar with his ladies or you may be able to rehome him or a third option that he will make a good boiler chicken, or for canned chicken meat.
You must think ahead when raising chickens and know what your intentions are when they reach their peak fertility and egg laying years. There are more years of non productivity to consider when you will still be feeding them, yet not reaping the benefit of the eggs or replacement chicks.
This is especially important if you live in an area where you are limited to a certain number of chickens. You won't be able to replace those chickens with fresh layers if you already have your limit even though they are no longer productive. You also must consider the cost of feed and extra housing you may need when they are retired, since keeping them with a younger flock many not be desirable or in fact practical.
All too often in an effort to own chickens, some details are overlooked and even research does not always inform you of those retirement years or offer options when that time in a chickens life arrives.
Geriatric years in chickens can also mean more illness, and disabilities. Are you prepared to tend to their special needs? And perhaps even more importantly, do you have the time to take care of their special needs? They may become crippled, blind, or even have neurological disorders as they age. They most likely will require a special diet formula than during their productive years. They may be more prone to parasite infestation, and less active so they may not stay as warm on their own in the colder months and because of their elder years may become slower and easier targets for predators if allowed to free-range.
Many think of their chickens as pets rather than livestock and will have a different mind set on what they will do when the geriatric years arrive, while others view their chickens as livestock and understand the role that livestock has in their lives, not as pets but as food to feed their families. There is no right or wrong answer here. Either you have pets or you have livestock and each individual will make a clear choice as to what plan they have for those non-productive years.
Preparing for the future of your chickens is as important as preparing for the future of any pet or livestock. But knowing from the beginning will make the transition much easier. Are you raising pets or are you raising livestock? Are you raising chickens purely for the eggs or are they dual purpose? If you start from the beginning knowing what your own intentions are, you will be able to handle the situation more easily. We suggest if you intend to have dual purpose that you and your children not make pets of your chickens. This does not mean you ignore them, it simply means that you take care of their needs without an emotional attachment to them. You still need to monitor behaviors, and overall first aid needs as well as provide proper dietary needs.
Know from the beginning that your chickens fulfill that dual purpose and when the time comes they provide food for the table. If you make pets of your chickens you will have a more difficult time and a dilemma to deal with.
All of this said, we do have some pet chickens here at Just Fowling Around, just as we have other pets, but we do understand that the other chickens are livestock and have a role to fulfil for eggs and meat for the table, they are well taken care of, yet we do not befriend them. They are all treated equally, but not all follow us around or sit on a knee or shoulder for extra attention.
Only you know how to answer the questions and only you can prepare for the future. This is not a road you cross when you come to it, but rather something you need to be considering from the beginning of your chicken keeping endeavors. Whatever choices you make are the best choices for your individual circumstances. We are not here to discourage or judge you for whatever choices you make, but to inform you that you do need to make choices and plan accordingly.
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