When is a hen old?

We have a couple of sayings in this culture, both referring to the (human) female sex…’a spring chicken’ and ‘an old chook’. We all know what they mean.

So, in the poultry world, when does a spring chicken morph into an old chook?

Here’s an interesting post from my favourite chicken blogger, Terry Golson at HenCam.

She says:

“It’s hard to accept that the normal-looking hens in your flock are old, but by the age of three they are.”

Um…my little Lady, who was euthanased last week, was three. I didn’t think of her as ‘old’. I see the remaining two, Cheeky & Molly, dashing about like…er…spring chickens, and I don’t think of them as old, either.

“It takes a lot for a chicken to metabolize nutrients from feed and turn it into eggs. By their third laying season, their nutritional tracts aren’t up to the job. Sometimes, internal organs are tumorous. Sometimes, they’ve just not as efficient at digestion.”

Well, yes…the vet found a golfball-sized lump in Lady’s abdomen. He thought it was probably a tumour.

I’m seeing Cheeky and Molly with new eyes. Perhaps they are ‘old chooks’ now. When they start laying again in spring, I’ll watch their output with interest. They’ve never been given kitchen scraps or useless calories like bread, rice or pasta. I have two worm farms to keep going on those. The Girls get layer pellets and poultry grain in separate containers. After reading what Terry says, maybe I’ll fill the grain container less frequently. They get grated carrot and plenty of greens. Everyone I give eggs to, comments on the colour of the yolks. They get apples and stone fruit. They get watermelon on a hot summer’s day. They turned their noses beaks up at bananas.  They weren’t too rapt about pumpkin. They love strawberries, but then so do I. I give them the little alpine variety and keep the biggies for myself. They will kill for kale. I’ve planted heaps more this year just for them.

I keep all the eggshells, wash them, sterilise them briefly in the microwave and put them through a mincer until they’re nice and fine, then feed them back in the grit container. I hope they’re getting plenty of calcium.

I miss Lady and have decided two is two too few. I’ve contacted Julie at Country Chooks, where I bought them, and I’m hopeful she might have three new Barnevelder pullets for me in spring. I like the breed and will stick with it for the time being. I’m going to build a new secure run and playground adjacent to the existing one and keep them in it, but where they can talk to yell at the others through the wire. They’ll have their own coop and nest boxes. When I think they’re big enough and confident enough to handle the bossy ‘old chooks’, I’ll remove the wire barrier and let them mingle. They’ll all have access to two secure runs and they can sleep and lay where they choose.

I’ll document the building process like I did before and write about it. It will take a while, because I’ll only do a little bit each day.

“Oy, who are you calling an old chook? We might be a bit out of focus, but we’re not old”:

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14 Responses to “When is a hen old?”

  1. thecontentedcrafter Says:

    Speaking as someone who would love to keep a few hens, but is not in the situation to do so, I shall enjoy following your preparations and new arrivals!

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      I’ll put all the building operations into one post when I’ve finished, so don’t expect anything any time soon 😉

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  2. notsomethingelse Says:

    When does a spring chicken become an old chook?
    When she can’t remember why she crossed the road. 🙂

    Sorry Bev. Couldn’t restrain myself.

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  3. rabidlittlehippy Says:

    Do your chooks get any meat Bev? I imagine they scrounge the odd insect or 2 in their scritching but do you actively feed them any bugs etc? I saw once on Gardening Australia about a fellow who would poke a half dozen thumb sized holes in the bottom and edges of those 4L cooking oil containers, drop in a small piece of meat and let the flies get at it. The container hung via a wire and once the maggots were wrigging away in there he would give the wire a shake each time he walked past, shaking out some of the larvae for his hens. I have my tin ready to make a maggot feeder in Spring and hope to finish off another tin of oil before then too. 🙂 Free food for the price of a little leftover meat scraps and some scrap metal. 😀

    My girls must be all middle aged by now, the original dorkings anyway. I hope someone goes broody soon (they all did over winter last year) and raises the next generation of hens as they were originally “hired” to do.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      I’ve given them worms from the worm farm. They don’t know what to do with them. Likewise the green grubs from the broccoli. I think it’s because they never had a proper chook mum to show them what to eat. They do love those fat, white curl grubs which I occasionally dig up from the garden and I’ve seen them chase and catch a moth. The soil in their run is dry and sandy and there’s not much wildlife in it. They’re not ‘proper’ chooks at all, really.

      I love the idea of the maggot feeder and will give it a try.

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  4. Chris Says:

    I have a tip to help with chicken digestion. Have you heard of fermenting their seeds? Basically you soak grain in a container with water. They’ll soak it up so you might need to top the water up a little as they do. You have to stir it once or twice a day. After three days the seed is ready to eat.

    Basically what this does is break down the coating of the grains to make it easier for digesting the nutrients in the kernel. Probably a good strategy for older chooks.

    Use a slotted spoon when dishing it up in their container. We stopped using the seed dispensers and went straight to open containers. Only feed them enough that they can eat, otherwise they can spoil in a day.

    It’s also a great strategy for reducing your feeding costs. Because the seeds are swollen with water, the chicken won’t eat as much as dry grain. We buy half as many bags of seeds for our girls when we ferment their seed.

    If you google “fermented chicken feed” you’ll come up with some good articles to read on the matter. I’ve noticed our chickens have slightly more energy with fermented feed. They’re not as lethargic. All that extra digestion can take its toll on an old chook. 😉

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Thanks for that, Chris. I have read about fermenting grains for chickens, but haven’t tried it yet. Must get onto it.

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  5. narf77 Says:

    I have to say that Ms Jackie French has chooks that are MUCH older than 3. She says that modern breeds are not chosen for their longevity and hers are allowed to live out their lives (and they are positively ANCIENT compared to 3) on her property.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Someone commented to a previous post here saying she had a 17 year old bantam. Yikes!

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      • narf77 Says:

        Yeah, “old” is very subjective and if you ever read Jackie French’s wonderful book (GOT to get me that book!) “The Wilderness Garden” you will see that her hens live a lot longer. Probably all of that competition with the native animals 😉

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  6. Jodie Says:

    I landed on your blog from Bek’s garden…. We also have 3 Barnevelders. The lady we got our first 2 pullets from had 8 year old girls still in her breeding flock! We lost one of our hens when she was 2. After that we had our remaining hen ‘Boss’ sit on some eggs to raise the next generation. Having raised her family of 5 including the 2 girls I kept she has never been better. Her 3rd laying season was her most productive ever. I think partly because she lost the urge to go clucky last season- because she’s learnt the ‘consequences’ of that and partly because she has lived up to the reputation of her name and is very happy as the dominant hen. So anyway don’t write off your girls yet.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Hi Jodie, thanks for the comments. I have bookmarked your blog and hope to enjoy your experiences with Barnevelders.

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