Chicken Retirement

I got a call yesterday from a reporter who wanted my opinion on “chicken retirement” – sending older hens who’ve stopped being productive to a local farm. Apparently there are farms in Portland that take in aged birds, allowing owners to get new egg producers without killing the nonproductive ones. (See this blog post for a first-hand account.)

How sustainable is this model of “chicken rescue?” What are the costs to the farmer who puts time and resources in keeping a flock of nonproductive hens? Does the fertilizer gained offset the feed consumed and lack of eggs?

Before you get chickens, consider the lifespan of the bird (6-8 years). Then consider that the most productive years are the first 2-3 years of life. Are the birds pets? Are they stew birds?

We are promoting urban agricultural practices in keeping backyard birds, but are we sidestepping the reality that animals are domesticated and brought to live with humans because they are a food source? In short, are we exchanging one unsustainable practice (large-scale egg farming) for another (the potential of filling rural farms with former urban pets)?

Have comments? I’d love to hear them.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ed on May 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Stelle’s Center for Sustainable Community has operated a Chicken Co-operative for about six years now. Although living in central Illinois puts us very close to many farms, it has been the co-op’s practice to process the hens once they become non-productive. I might add that we also raise flocks of roosters for meat so we are well acquainted with methods for the respectful slaughtering of poultry. We regard our birds as working animals and distinguish them from pets, even though the peeps are cute and the behavior of most of the grown birds is typically too funny for words. I would urge anyone to determine the ultimate fate of any poultry acquired before starting to raise animals. Finally, I would remark that I don’t know any farmers who would be willing to keep non-productive urban birds until they keel over with age.


    • Ed, thanks for your comment. I agree; it is simply not profitable for a farmer to feed a flock of hens that are past production age. I agree that it is important for chicken owners – or people considering getting chickens – to have a plan for what they are going to do with the adult birds who are no longer productive, which I see as a hallmark of responsible animal ownership/husbandry.


  2. Posted by Melanie McAllen on May 2, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    My neighbor, who works in Animal Control for the City of Chicago, states that they are starting to see chickens – nonproductive, dumped, escaped, or adoptable? He was uncertain. They are unclaimed, he said.


    • Hi, Melanie – Yes, this is definitely a concern and something the Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts and I are working to avoid. If someone wants to adopt the birds, introducing them to a new flock can be tricky, and there may be some issues with disease.


  3. This issue is one that is woefully under discussed on all of the backyard chicken sites I am familiar with on the web. It is not an easy issue for people to deal with, it is not a responsible practice to plan on taking you old hens or unwanted roosters to the pound or the nearest park. The discussion boards and bloggers that avoid the subject aren’t the offenders here, I see it as the retailers marketing coops and other supplies that don’t include responsible culling information in their FAQ’s and how to guides as the ones perpetuating a problem that may create a backlash against the trend towards allowing urban chicken keeping.


    • Max – I agree completely with your comments about those who do not mention the drop in egg production. This (and the destruction of male chicks) is something I always mention in my classes. Not fun facts, but we should be aware of these issues. I’m very concerned about companies that want to promote a product or make a quick buck in lieu of considering humane treatment, responsible ownership, and proper care.


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