A friend of mine asked me the other day what I would do with my hens when they stopped laying eggs. She had read a newspaper article about a growing problem in towns that allow backyard flocks–the problem of people abandoning their birds when they grew tiresome to care for or ceased laying eggs.
I have decided that when my girls quit laying, I will let them continue as vermin eaters (ticks etc. in the backyard) and manure producers for creating new beds and building soil. (My most established beds produce amazing amounts of food already because of the chicken manured bedding I use to build and mulch the soil and the chicken-enriched compost I add to them each year.) I figure the produce I will grow will be more than worth the cost of feed, oyster shell, scratch grain, and the 16 or so bales of hay I use in a year. I hope to grow more and more of our food supply as the years go by, and it will all be fairly organic, as well as fresh and unadulterated.
My older hens are now almost 5 years old and still producing eggs–not every day, but they could still produce as many eggs as we need to cook with. I have two of those 4-year-old hens from my first flock. Three others died of salpsyglosis (sp?), an infection of the ovaries common to laying hens that resulted in secondary bacterial infections of their lungs. (Budge, our original hen, was killed by a dog.) I have 4 two-year-old red sex links that are laying now despite the day length. They really are amazing. They are hybrids and egg-laying machines. I am told that they won’t have the long laying life of my purebred Dominiques. I hope that the very stress free, healthy, and uncrowded living environment I am providing them with will lengthen their laying time. (I could probably add another 4-6 hens to my coop and yard without undue stress to the flock if I really wanted egg production.)
My husband just finished fencing the back yard, and all that I need to do is finish lining the split rail with wire. In the spring, he will put in gates on each side of the house. (I hope to work the April elections to earn some money to pay for the lumber.) I can let the chicks free range then while I am home or out in the yard gardening. We may end up having to fence the raspberries from them, but otherwise, I don’t have a lot in the back that I am worried about them bothering.
People don’t realize how much work any kind of bird is, and they don’t understand their social dynamics. I always give people who are thinking about getting chickens the full load–especially if they have stars in their eyes and fried eggs on the brain. I am not surprised that people are abandoning their chickens much as they abandon their dogs and cats. It’s a pattern don’t you think? Also, chickens aren’t mammals. I think that people are looking for affection and devotion as well as fresh eggs from their flock, and most of the time are disappointed when they don’t get it. Chickens are reptiles at heart, and I think it wrecks the ride for a lot of people.
I enjoy taking care of the girls on a daily basis and have a number of people who are willing to help with shutting up the coop if I’m not home or we are away for a few days. I’m really looking forward to letting them be free in the yard for a part of each day. My only worry is hawks, but you can’t control everything. There is always a price for freedom. Begonia