The Virtues of Keeping Older Chickens

January 25, 2021

It been a long running joke that at our house some years it feels like we have both a nursery and nursing home for chickens. This fall and winter the chickens have not been laying eggs after their fall molt.  In the chicken world, they are deemed old. In our current flock, our youngest hens are four. Since the beginning of keeping chickens, I have always had the philosophy of allowing our hens to age and live out their natural lives. It wasn’t until I had geriatric chickens that I truly understood the virtues of keeping older chickens.

Chickens typically live five to eight years. In commercial chicken keeping, hens are processed close to their second birthday. This is because the first two years are the most prolific for hens. After that, egg production tapers off. But here in my household, I couldn’t fathom that thought. So, that is simply what I have always done and did and you know what, it turns out, it is pretty amazing having older chickens in your flock.

Barred rock, older hen
Olive, my Barred Rock. Wise eyes if you ask me.

Some chickens breeds like Barred Rocks will live into their teens. They are known for longevity. All of our chickens have lived between five and eight years. It is never long enough in my opinion. I wish they could live much longer, because they are truly so wonderful.

Just like with humans, these elderly chickens have earned a place of respect and honor.  The roles that they typically had in the flock may still be current but more often than not they have relinquished their prior posts. However, if you spend time observing, you will discover that the other flock member place the older chickens at a different level, not quite head chicken but certainly respected. They somehow, rise above the natural pecking order and their interactions with the younger more dominant birds are fascinating to observe.

These older birds also make wonderful teachers for the younger chickens in the flock. They are quick to share their knowledge about predators, secret locations, the area where they live, how to operate feeders, waterers and so forth.Theses chickens also help others recognize familiar and safe faces as well as threats. They “teach” them the ropes in the coop and while free-ranging.

Mother hen with chicks
Motherhood can always use a hand.

Old chickens make excellent parents. Even if these hens are no longer laying eggs, the mothering instinct is still present. In the spring time, it is not uncommon to find them sitting perched upon eggs laid by younger chickens. I swear, sometimes it seems as if these old ladies go broody too. Upon a pile of eggs tucked gently in the feathers of their breast, they screech and collar and yell at you if you dare try to take them away. Not surprisingly, they assist the younger mothers with their mothering duties offering help to then and remind the younger ones of safety, care and situations.

Chickens do indeed have friends within the flock and watching companionship and friendships endure over the years is so wonderful. They have dust bathing buddies, free-ranging buddies and those they wish to roost next to at night. I think back so often to the bond that Oyster Cracker and Sunshine shared. The chickens also become friend with their human family too. They are constant companions and visitors when we are out in the garden, or on the patio.  They know their names and they come running just to say hello and greet us. I’ve always considered them friends.

I think in society today, some are quick to forget the value of generations that come before us. It’s a great big circle of life. There is importance to having folks at the beginning, middle and end of their lifetimes simultaneously together. Each offers a unique and important perspective to those around them. History is not forgotten and knowledge is passed down. New young thrive and and dream of the future. In this case, perhaps a future where chickens dream of actually crossing the road and one day doing it too.

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Melissa

Sharing adventures with backyard chickens, beekeeping, gardening, crafting, cooking and more.

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30 thoughts on “The Virtues of Keeping Older Chickens”

  1. This was a lovely lovely post. I too hang on to my old girls. Who cares if they don’t lay any longer? I don’t! They are well worth their companionship. I wouldn’t dream of ‘removing’ them from my flock, from THEIR flock, from the only home they have ever known… just because of their age or lack of egg laying.

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  2. Beautiful!! -so very true! Our older ladies have added such value to the flock. -such a joy to watch several generations out foraging together!

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  3. You are so right I have two girls that are 9 years old and I love them dearly. They come to me to be picked up and petted. And they seem to make the rules and surprisingly the rooster gives them preferential treatment. Great article that all humans could learn from regarding their elders not just the elder chickens!

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  4. Perfectly written…I feel exactly the same about all our animals. Yes, a retirement home perhaps, but they are a part of our family and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Mary, Windy Meadows Farm

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  5. I agree with all of this. My older girls are just as much a part of our family as our older cats. When we get an animal, they’re with us for life.

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  6. Thank you, Melissa. My oldest hen, Buffy O, will turn right this April. She is the last of my original flock, and quite a wise old gal. It has been hard for her to lose her original flock members but she truly is a mentor to the younger ones and is respected by them. I recently wrote a post on my blog about saving the wisdom of the elders. It is affirming to read that you have the same thoughts. We can learn so much from our chickens.

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    • Yes, I agree. I am so glad that you also have come to the same conclusion as I have. Thank you for writing and sharing about it too. All so important these days.

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  7. Chickens are not REALLY cool until they are at least three, like dogs ; ) I enjoy them all, young and old, but the older girls AND boys are always my favorites. Nice post.

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  8. My chickens are 13-16 months old. And you know what? My chickens get bigger every single day!!!!! I estimate that they are gonna lay eggs in 20-30 days. They are such sweet ones. And I am sorry I said that my entire run was made of chicken wire on my other comment. The run is actually hardware cloth. I should have researched what chicken wire looked like before sending in that comment. And one more thing. My biggest chicken, Catherine, eats half the food in the feeder every day!!

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  9. My dad has not bought the layer feed yet. He said that we had to finish the grower feed first. But I was too excited. I said we were going to the store and buy some grower feed tomorrow.

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    • Depending on the brand of feed you are using, the bag will give you directions when to switch them from grower to layer feed. Yes, I agree, finish up the grower first before moving on to the layer feed.

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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.