We raise our hens for delicious, reliable eggs. And our hens serve us faithfully every week with some of the richest and healthiest eggs. It’s too bad that chickens don’t lay eggs like this for their entire life. It might have you thinking, what can I do with old chickens? Well, there are a few options for you. But first, let’s answer some common questions about aging chickens.
What Is The Average Lifespan Of A Laying Hen?
Depending on the breed of chicken you have, some of them can have very long lives. The average hen lives 8-10 years, but there are a few with considerably shorter lives. But the interesting thing about a hen’s lifespan is that they don’t lay eggs that entire time.
Most hens lay consistently for the first 2-3 years of life. And each year after, you will notice a steady decrease of about 10%. At first, you might not even notice it. But over time, when you only rarely get an egg, it becomes more prominent. So what can I do with old chicken? Here are a few options for you.
Option #1: Cook Them
Can you eat old chickens? No matter if these old hens die of natural causes or if you process them, cooking is an obvious answer. As long as they are disease-free and not taking medications, there is no reason not to eat them. However, the catch to this is that the meat isn’t like the grocery store’s meat.
Most chickens get butchered at a few months old to keep the muscle tender. Older hens have tougher meat that you can’t cook like usual. Instead, this meat is perfect for stews or crockpot meals that make the muscle tender with slow cooking.
So while it’s not the most versatile meat out there, it’s still useful. Processing old hens are the traditional approach to this dilemma. But who says it’s the only option?
Option #2: Farmhands
Sometimes we get attached to our hens. We don’t mean to, but it does happen more than we like to admit. There is nothing that says you have to butcher them. Even if your chickens are past their egg-laying years, you can still keep them around.
Old hens still forage for their food as enthusiastically as young hens. That means your hens can still work to weed the fields and eat bug infestations. And the best part is that they will still provide you with black gold manure. No matter if they lay eggs occasionally or not, working as a farmhand makes them worthwhile.
Option #3: Protection
Instead of disposing of old hens, you should consider keeping them around for protection. Older hens know that they are no spring chickens. If a predator were to come around, they are the most likely target. That makes older hens more aware of their surroundings.
You will notice that older chickens stand watch more than the hungry young ones. And if they spot even the slightest sign of danger, they warn the entire flock. Nothing gets past an old hen who’s seen it all. So you might want to keep them around for this reason alone.
Option #4: Broody Hens
Do you breed chickens but rely on incubators that can be a little temperamental? An easy solution for that might be to keep a few old hens around to sit on your eggs. Older chickens love an excuse to sit around all day, and most of them still go broody often. Just because their egg-laying years are over doesn’t mean they’ve lost their mother’s touch.
Place a few fertilized eggs under your old ladies and watch the magic happen. They sit faithfully and dote on their chicks once they hatch. The only caution you should take is to make sure they are still eating during their broodiness. Older chickens don’t fair well without adequate food and nutrition for 21 days.
Option #5: Give To A Farm
What can I do with old chickens? Have you ever considered contacting local small farms? There are plenty of people who take old hens for all of the reasons we just listed. These farms will keep your hens around for work, or they might process them. This decision is entirely up to them and something you will have to be ok with when you contact them.
So how do you find these farms? There are a couple of ways you can go about this. A lot of people will post wanted ads at their local feed store. Or you can check Facebook or Craigslist or farms accepting chickens. But it would be best if you were careful with any of them. A lot of people look for these free chickens to use as bait in dogfighting. Always double-check and do a little homework before handing over your birds.
Option #6: Adopt Out Or Sell
Just like giving your chickens to a farm, you can also adopt out chickens. There are plenty of chicken rescues who keep these chickens as therapy birds for kids and troubled youth. They learn to take care of the hens and bond with them until they find their new homes.
There are also plenty of people out there who have taken on pet chickens. If you have a rare breed, there might be someone out there that will buy your old hens from you. These people don’t mind if they don’t lay eggs. It is more about the entertainment and tranquility of taking care of these energetic hens they love the most.
However, if you are selling, don’t expect to get much. Non-laying hens aren’t worth as much as laying girls. What are laying hens worth, you ask? Most laying hens can cost between $30-$50. Meanwhile, old hens are only about $10-$20, depending on the breed.
Option #7: Keep As Pet
And finally, what can I do with old chickens? Why keep them as pets, of course. There is nothing better than a small flock of old hens that are a little sassy and entertaining. You can still have great joy taking care of these hens and watching them grow old. Going about your daily gardening and activities with a chicken by your side is so much fun.
Is My Chicken Dying From Old Age?
Talking about old hens, you might be wondering how to tell if they are dying. The process of aging is slow at first. Non-laying hens don’t eat as much as laying hens. But you will notice that your older girls will barely eat at all. They won’t get excited about treats and don’t seem too interested in foraging.
Next, you will see that your hens have less and less energy. They will spend most of their time sitting in the nests. Or they might prefer to spend their days cooling in the shade. Some of this is due to the lack of food, and sometimes it’s their bones and joints that give them trouble.
But the most noticeable thing is that they start to lose a lot of weight. The weight loss is subtle at first but gradually becomes a real problem. They simply waste away. And once they get to this point, it is a fast process.
How Do You Humanely Kill A Chicken?
Most owners choose not to let their old hens suffer through these last phases of life. Instead of allowing them to endure, they decide to put them down humanely. There are a few ways to do this, and there is no clear answer to which is best.
The first way to humanely kill a chicken is by decapitation. This method has been used for thousands of years, and for a good reason. Cutting the head in one quick movement is painless to the bird and ends things quickly. But you must move fast and not hesitate; otherwise, you could miss and prolong the suffering. Decapitation isn’t for everyone, though.
The next method is by creating a CO2 chamber. Carbon Dioxide is a commonly used gas to euthanize on large scales. The gas will put your chickens to sleep and stop their breathing. They don’t even know what happened and die peacefully. But you shouldn’t use this method if you plan on eating the chicken afterward.
And finally, there is cervical dislocation by twisting the neck. This method is just as quick as decapitation, but there is a lot of room for flaws. If you aren’t experienced in this method, you could fail. When done right, your hen won’t feel a thing, there is no mess, and it’s quick.
What To Do With Chickens When They Die?
If you chose to euthanize your chicken, you might be wondering about disposing old chickens. What you do with your hens depends on where you live and what euthanization methods you use. Before starting this process, check your local laws to see what is legal. Otherwise, there are a few ways of taking care of the body.
- Eat them if the euthanization allows it.
- Cremation and burial is another option.
- And you can also try composting them. But this method is tough on small scales.
So Are Your Chickens Old?
What can I do with old chickens isn’t a scary thing to think about. There are plenty of options for everyone out there. You can choose the right path according to your needs and values. And, of course, your heart.
Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Backyard Chicken Board!!