When aquiring a flock of backyard chickens most people are excited about the farm fresh eggs they will be collecting from their own girls. Not much thought is given to what to do after they no longer lay regularly. Laying hens being associated only with egg laying has been drilling into our conscious by the factory farm egg producers.
The hens for production spend their entire life in small cages then are slaughtered between 18 months and 2 years of age because they are deemed unproductive at that point. It has become common knowledge that after the age of 2 hens no longer lay eggs and are worthless. I am here to challenge this presumption.
In this article I intend to prove that hens are worth much even beyond their laying years. A hen does not loose her wroth just because she no longer lays eggs regularly, I say “regularly” for a reason; I will expand upon this. But first let’s discuss the truth about laying hens.
It is of popular opinion that hens will only lay for 2 years. After this point they no longer lay eggs and are nothing more than chicken stock in terms of value. This is not true. The truth is that once a hen starts to lay eggs, she will lay dependably for the first two years. After that point, she still lays but maybe not to the tune of one egg a day as she did in her earlier years. A hen will lay eggs for as long as she lives.
Let's do some simple math here. Every hen is born with at least 1000 yolk cells possibly even more. For our purposes let's just use 1000 yolk cells as our working number. These are all the potential eggs that she will lay during her entire life. The first two years of her life she will lay at the most “regular” intervals of her laying years. A productive laying breed such as the Australorp, Orphington or Rhode Island Red will lay about 3-5 eggs a week. That is about 156 to 260 eggs a year. The Australorp holds the record for the most eggs laid in a year at an astounding 364 eggs. This is the extreme end of the spectrum, for our purposes we will work with a more modest number. Given our 1000 eggs a year postulate, for the first 2 years of her life she will have laid approximately anywhere from 315 to 520 eggs. Assuming that she is born with at least 1000 yolk cells as our working number (as most laying breeds are), this mean she has only laid a little under half of her total egg potential.
Now, just because she is over the age of 2 does not mean that she will not lay anymore eggs. She will, she may lay 2-4 eggs a week instead of her initial interval of 3-5 eggs a week. She keeps laying eggs but slows down a bit. As she ages, she will slow down even more. If she makes it to 5 years of age you might expect to get 1-3 eggs a week. As she progresses even further in age you can probably count on 1-2 eggs a week.
I currently have 5 Buff Orphington ladies who are 10 years old. The life expectancy of an average backyard chickens is anywhere between 5-7 years. If well cared for they can reach 10+ years. For a backyard hen to make it past the age of 7 defies most odds. To reach the mile mark of 10 years and beyond is rare. This past May, my 5 “Golden Girls” officially reached this 10 year milestone. Even at this age my 5 Buff Orphington girls still lay. During the summer when bugs and other delectables are at the most abundant, I can count on about 2-3 eggs a day from my 5 senior ladies. Some will lay that day, others will not. But as a general rule, during the time of the year when the days are long, warm and bugs are plenty, they will lay well. When fall arrives, the days shorten and the weather cools off. During this cooler part of the year they typically slow down to maybe 1 egg a day from the 5. During the coldest part of winter they will cease laying altogether, their bodies are using egg laying resources to keep warm in the bitter weather. This is just not observed by older hens but all hens. However, in the spring as the days warm again and the sun returns to our sky, they will pick back up the pace to 2-3 eggs a day.
You see, even at their advanced age, they still lay eggs. The assumption that a hen will only lay for the first 2 years of her life is unfounded. She will lay eggs till the day she dies.
So really the question is not that they stop laying eggs but what to do after laying hens pass their peak laying performance. In the factory farm setting, after 2 years of age, the hens are sent to slaughter and a new batch is brought in. Although these girls still have plenty of laying years ahead of them, they are nonetheless considered expired and slaughtered. These ladies barley begun their lives when it was abruptly halted. For the backyard chicken keeper this is not the normal proceedings. We tend to hang on to our ladies well beyond two years of age.
The question then becomes, what to do with our hens that are so advanced in age that they no longer lay eggs. My 5 “Golden Girls” are not far from this point. I expect next year I will have collected the last egg from my Buff Orphington ladies. At this point I will consider them officially in “Hentirement”. Hentirement is the time in a hens life where she has officially stopped laying but still has much to offer beyond eggs.
Here on The Kuntry Klucker Farm all may ladies and gents will live out their natural lives under the loving care of their keepers. Just because a hen stops laying eggs does not mean that she is worthless. Hens can contribute in many ways beyond the humble egg.
So, what can a hen who has reached “hentirement” offer you may ask. She can produce in many ways. For example, I have found that my older hens make excellent mothers. Since they no longer have to use their energy for laying eggs they focus their efforts elsewhere. I have found that when I bring a new batch of chicks to the backyard, my older ladies are the first to show them the ropes. Taking them to all the hot spots around the yard such as the dust bathing holes, water coolers, good sun bathing location, the feed buffet, introducing them to the best roosters and more. My older ladies have even adopted a few chicks and raised them for me.
Older hens although no longer laying still offer all the benefits of having chickens such as providing compost for the gardens, eating the bugs on garden plants, tilling the soil and ridding the yard of all available weeds.
Additionally, I find that my older girls make the best lap chickens. No longer distracted by the needs of egg laying they become better companions. Instead of focusing on the necessities that go with egg laying they have more time to spend and bond with their keeper. Thus, my older ladies are the lap chickens of the flock. Not only is it adorable to be claimed by the hen, the younger generations see this and model their behavior. Thus my subsequent broods are friendlier and more personable towards their keepers.
Finally, an older hen who has seen and lived through it all are the zen masters of the flock. No longer spring chickens learning the ropes of life, they are the pros of what it means to be a chicken. My older girls are the calmest members of the flock, nothing surprises them. They know the dangers of life and help others avoid them, they know and roll with the changing seasons and weather patterns. They are the wisdom barring members of the flock.
Above all, they deserve all the honor and respect that is due them. They nourished me with their life during their laying years, it is my turn to nourish them during their twilight years. My older girls are the gems of my flock. They shine bright as they have been polished by the trials of life. For a backyard chicken to make it to the ripe old age of 10 is a feat that defies all the odds. I don’t know how much time they have left but I do know this, they will live the rest of their life grazing on bugs and bathing in the sun glistening like the gems they are.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and possibly even helped you decide what to do after your ladies no longer lay eggs. It’s a personal decision for each and every backyard chicken keeper. For me, allowing my ladies to live out their post laying years in “hentirement” is the decision I have made for my ladies.