We were a host once again this year for Seattle Tilth’s Chicken Coop and Urban Farm Tour, and one of the main questions would-be chicken keepers voiced was what to do with older chickens after they stop laying, or slow way down? The numbers vary by breed and individual, but most chickens lay really well the first year, slow a bit in the winter the second year, then taper off after that, laying very little after year three or maybe four. But these same chickens will live to be six years old, or more (and even if your chickens lay longer than this–all will outlive their laying days). What happens after that? This is a question worth pondering before you commit to urban chicken-keeping. Few of us have the space to keep all those chickens while adding new ones to the flock, and feeding them can be expensive when you don’t get fresh eggs in return for all that organic chicken food. We interact closely with our chickens, and are too attached to them to either eat them (Claire and I don’t eat meat, anyway) or donate them to the boa constrictor exhibit at our local zoo (which is an option some consider…). So we are fortunate to have an uncle who lives in rural Maple Valley, and allows our older chickens to roam his fields in idyllic chicken retirement. Recently we moved our young girls, Adelaide, Ophelia, and Ethel into the big coop, and the “old girls”–Chrysanthemum, Buttercup, Marigold, and Esmeralda–went to “live in the country.” Our sadness at saying goodbye to these sweet hens was tempered by their evident happiness in the freedom of their new home.
We’re very fortunate that for our elder-hens, “going to live in the country” is not a euphemism. But not everyone has an Uncle Joe. How do you humanely handle aging chickens in your urban coop?
(2011 addition: Our beloved Marigold came back to us from the farm six months later! Read the story here)