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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57 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.

    Reply
      • I do think roosters do have a role, but female hens are quite happy without them and you don’t need to keep a rooster to get beautiful eggs from your hens. Remember, you should have 7 hens for one rooster to keep him from over-mating with any particular hen.

    • I have a Americona which she was doing great up to a few weeks ago. She stopped flying and roasting with the other chickens but she s eating good the question I have is when she walking around I notice that her tail feathers or I should say her tail isn’t up like all the rest of the girls she walks around ok I am puzzled with this happening is there anything for me to worry about I do know she is old like you I keep all of them together for as long as they live.

      Reply
      • It sounds like there is something going on with her. Have you had a chance to examine her? Look at her vent, abdomen, is she egg bound? Does she have mites or lice? etc.

  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

    Reply
    • 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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    • Hi, I don’t think this year, but probably next. It all depends on how these girls do. If we lose some, then we will replace. I think the perfect size flock for me is around 6-8. Right now we have 7.

      Reply
  10. I have a question. I am incubating eggs and one of the chicks are scissor-beaked and is missing an eye. Do you have any suggestions or anything? Have you had a chick like this? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Oh dear, no I’m sorry I do not. I think she will be okay without the eye- just make sure no one pecks at it. As for the food- you need to be sure that she gets enough to eat and grows like the others. A crumble might be best for her to try and manage.

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  11. My friend Joan ordered chicks. I guess she got that idea because during the winter storm, she didn’t have much food. So we gave her some of our chickens eggs for her to eat. Now she wants chicks! I told her what she needed to keep chickens. She already prepared a brooder, and she even named her chicks even when they had not arrived yet. One’s name is peck, and the other one is chirp.

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  12. Due to major disasters (two hurricanes and record ice storms), my flock’s habitat was wrecked. My birds (ducks, guineas, chickens) were all young and had been hatched, brooded, and placed in same poultry house — after first storm, in which about half perished — could not coax them back into their shelter. Lost all guineas and chickens.

    Most of the ducks are nesting in the wild though they stay lose to house and garden during the day. I fear their babies will be goners if I can’t get them to brood in the safety of the brooder. I bought some adult hens, who are happy in the henhouse and one or two ducks have finally ventured in and begun laying, but are sharing nests with chickens. Is there any hope that a broody bird of either species will hatch both species of eggs? I hate to disturb the nests, given how frail the ducks’ psyches are after the upheavals. My concern is the ducks taking so much longer to hatch then the chicks – will either species of broody mum adjust to that?

    Reply
    • Oh gosh Linda you have been through so much. I am so sorry that you and your flocks have had to deal with all of this. Yes, I do not have any personal experiences, but I do know that chickens will hatch duck eggs. I think you would have to do some more research and ask folks that keep both chickens and ducks. Perhaps with a bit of coaxing and treats you can entice them into the safety of a brooder and coop. Please keep me posted on things. I’ll be thinking of you.

      Reply
      • I previously had many ducks and chickens that free ranged together. Sometimes the chickens would lay eggs in the duck nests and vice verse so yes, I have seen ducks that hatch chicken eggs and “mother” the hatchlings. Just be warned that ducks will lead the chicks to water just as they do the ducklings. The chicks will follow “mama” right into the water and drown. I’ve personally rescued many chicks from this situation.

      • Thanks Melissa and everyone who replied; I have been so busy trying to keep the flock going that I have not updated you and it’s hard to believe it’s been 10 months since first hurricane. I could write a book!

        Replaced chickens and now have four hens who seem happy and healthy, though one of them has been brooding a clutch of eggs for so long, I fear something has gone wrong. Keeping records has been impossible so I’m not sure if the babies are “overdue” or not. Had one roo with the girls but removed him to separate pen to give them a rest.

        The ducks mostly survived and two hens returned to the brooder where I raised them! They are sharing nest, and to my surprise, they hatched a chicken, who alternates between sitting on each mama’s back. I had no idea a chicken had found her way into the duck’s brooder closet! Not sure how this is going to work out with flock integration, but will be careful to protect chick from drowning. The drakes from my original group outnumber the hens two to one so have had some drake fights and the aggressive ones will have to be butchered soon.

      • Thank you for the update. Sounds like you are all on the mend and getting things back to normal. I am so happy to hear that your chickens have been replaced and now are rearing babies on their own. Yahoo for the ducks too! I do hope you can get things sorted out with the drakes and the roosters. Best of luck to you!

  13. Likewise, our oldest flock members ducks and chickens combined, also went thur a direct hit from hurricane Michael. Roof blew off a structurally sound building and their habitat destroyed not to mention the aftermath of overstimula of sirens and saws for weeks. Lost 7 of 12 within 3 months afterwards due to stress. This lead me to train, research and become available to mentor other flock keepers on survival of their flocks after a crisis. Watch your flock, provide for them as close to normal as possible and never be afraid to bring them into your home or shelter for safety.

    Reply
    • Oh Kathy, I am so sorry for your loss and that you had to go through this. I am so grateful to you for helping others in our community. Thank you.

      Reply
  14. We have one “retiree”, Momo. She’s a bantam while the others are a range of full size breeds. Momo is 8 now and a year ago she was being picked on by the rest of the flock -they had rejected her.
    Now she lives in a personal retirement villa just next to the main coop, because she still wants to be right next to the other chickens. Do you think there is any way to reintroduce her to the main flock?

    Reply
    • Oh Cathy, yes, this does happen and no, I don’t think that they will allow her back in, especially if the hen that is being the bully is still part of your flock. Now, if they hen that is being the bully is no longer with you, you could try. For some reason, there is usually always one- usually on the bottom of the pecking order, that some just like to pick on.

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  15. If there is another hen that is also old and at bottom of pecking order you can put them in see through or wire cages next to each other in your kitchen or a bathroom at night. They get used to seeing each other, become friends, and will stick together around the backyard. Two is better than one when it comes to bullying.

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  16. Hi! I loved this post. I have 16 hens and they are so great. I will always keep them as adults and when they are old . I learn so much from them everyday.

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  17. This article brought tears to my eyes. We all can certainly apply the wisdom we have learned from caring for elderly people to taking care of our older hens. Although I am new to raising chickens, I look forward to every stage of development and hope to garner as much wisdom and knowledge I can to in the process. Thank you for such a heartfelt post.

    Reply
    • Oh you are so very welcome. I am so happy to hear you have a flock of your own and I enjoy hearing about your chickens and your stories. They are such amazing little feathered friends.

      Reply

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