If you notice that some hens are no longer offering eggs, don’t be worried. They can have another use in the garden. Here’s a quick overview.
After two years, the laying hens generally experience a gradual decline in their egg-laying capacity. However, they should not be retired at this age and they will continue to produce eggs regularly for several years.
How long does a chicken live?
The lifespan of a chicken depends on many factors. The first, environmental, is the most important. A hen living on an industrial farm will have a life expectancy significantly shorter than a hen spending peaceful days in a garden. Access to varied and balanced food, clean water, a henhouse free of droppings, as well as a free outdoor living space and the absence of predators, such as foxes and martens, is essential to give chickens a long and happy life.
The second important factor is the breed of the hen. Many chickens today are called hybrids, because they have been selected for their quality as laying hens. The latter, if they lay more, live less long because the continuous production of eggs tires them more quickly.
Conversely, purebred chickens, like the Sussex, can reach the respectable age of 10 or 12 years (a red hen, the most common, will however hardly exceed 5 or 6 years). Ornamental hens, for their part, which produce fewer eggs (around 150 per year, whereas a laying hen produces between 200 and 300) have a longer life expectancy.
A hen, laying or ornamental, can therefore live on average between 5 and 10 years in our gardens. Note that the Guinness Book of Records recorded the canonical age of 20 years and 304 days for Peanut, the world’s oldest known hen.
What to do with old hens who lay less?
In our grandmothers’ time, a hen that no longer laid eggs often ended up as a “potted hen”. A down-to-earth practice that is less common today, because our chickens, even when they no longer lay eggs, remain very useful to the life of the house.
Released into the vegetable garden at the end of the growing season, the chickens rid us of snails and slugs free of charge. By scratching the ground in search of worms, they also graciously help to aerate the soil, and the few droppings they leave here and there make an excellent fertilizer. Not to mention that they happily eat peelings and leftover food, thus helping to reduce the household waste tax.
Chickens also make excellent pets. They are perfect playmates for children and, with a little training, can even learn to perform little tricks that will amaze family and friends. Chickens are, indeed, very intelligent animals. If you have other animals, leave your “end of career” chickens with them. They will rid them of parasitic insects free of charge.