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Pets or Producers?

By Audrey Pavia, Urban Farm contributor

Monday, January 16, 2012

hens

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my hens haven't been laying for months. My neighbor’s chickens haven't been producing either, so I chalked it up to some weird weather we've been having, and the fact that it's winter, and egg production goes down when the sun is scarce.

After posting that blog, I received several comments from readers saying that, after about three years, hens stop laying. I was surprised to hear this and was inclined to dismiss it, not only because I'd never come across this statement in anything I'd read about chickens, but also because my neighbor's hens also aren't laying.

Then I found out that my neighbor's hens are also three years old.

If it's true that egg production slows down or stops altogether when a hen hits three, have a dilemma on my hands. One of the main reasons I got chickens was so I could have fresh eggs. Well-cared-for hens can live to be more than 10 years old. Does that mean I'm going to have these chickens for seven more years and not get any more eggs?

It seems that some people get rid of their hens when they stop laying. They put them in a pot and turn them into soup. Since I can't bring myself to do that, my only other option is to just add younger hens to my existing flock.

The problem with this solution is that I don't have room in my coop for more chickens. Also, with this approach, I'd have to add new hens to my flock every three years. In about 8 years, I'd have a hell of a lot of chickens.

So what do I do? Get rid of Billi Jo, Betty Jo and Baby Jo? Slaughter them and fry them up?

Maybe a more dedicated urban farmer would do just that, but not me. Because it turns out what I love most about having chickens is not getting fresh eggs, but just having them in my life. Watching their little dramas; hearing their funny noises; seeing their reactions to the antics of the other animals in the yard — this is the real joy I get from keeping chickens. The eggs are secondary.

So, it looks like my unproductive flock of bantams will remain. Maybe if I'm lucky, come spring, I'll get a few eggs here and there. But if I don't, that's okay. I'll still happily call myself an urban farmer with a flock of retired hens.

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I say let them live their lives out.
Austin, Roseville, CA
Posted: 2/3/2012 9:43:45 AM
Enjoy them into treir "old" age.
Carl, Livermore, CA
Posted: 1/21/2012 2:05:28 PM
It does present a problem of sorts. I choose to get new hens every fall. I take my girls out to a farm and pick up new ones that are just coming into laying age....problem solved....but, every so often, I do fall in love with a hen that is really sweet and likes to be held, so sometimes she stays a bit longer. Your hens should still lay pretty well come spring, but not like they have the past years. I had one old girl that was 8 yrs. old and still layed once or twice a month, but she was an amazing mother hen. She would raise a new clutch of chicks for me every year from the time she was about 3. So, keep the ones you can't part with, they may raise your next flock for you.
Sheri, Roeland Park, KS
Posted: 1/18/2012 4:24:33 PM

About the Blogger

Audrey Pavia

Audrey Pavia
Keeping farm animals in the city can be a real hoot. Follow freelance writer Audrey Pavia's adventures in Southern California with a yard full of urban livestock, including horses, chickens, a Corgi and an urban barn cat. She somehow manages all these silly critters by herself while working full-time. And you thought "The Simple Life" was out there?

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