My Geriatric Flock

Living with older chickens

My Geriatric Flock

Geri Spieler When I began to keep chickens over 25 years ago, all I knew was to build a safe place for them to wander around and eat, have perches for them at night, and a cozy place to lay eggs.  

I joined a chicken blog to ask questions and learn more, contacted anyone I could find that had chickens, and subscribed to Backyard Poultry magazine as soon as I learned about it.  

I never asked about what happens when chickens get old or sick, though. I thought it might be the same as for dogs or cats? I never thought that far ahead. I was totally consumed with getting a few adorable baby chicks and bringing them home to my newly built chicken coop and fenced chicken yard within our yard.   

I was very much a “suburban chicken Mom” and had no experience with livestock prior to this new chicken venture. These chickens were going to be my pets with names and a chicken doctor if necessary. I intended to keep them throughout their whole natural lives even after they stop laying.  I did spend a lot of time on the chicken board and found lots of wonderful help there and in the magazine.  

I started with three chickens until one turned out to be a rooster and I couldn’t keep Zorro who actually started out as Zoe.  

Fortunately, a neighbor knew a woman who lived a few towns over that had communities where people could keep roosters. The woman traded Zorro for two hens. So now I had four.  

My four girls laid lots of eggs and stayed healthy for a long while.  However, what I didn’t expect came as a terrible shock. The “run” I created turned out not to be safe enough. One morning when I went down to see the girls, three of them were dead.  Their heads missing. Their enclosure of 75’ x 25’ x 15’ chicken yard was built partially with chicken netting and a raccoon chewed right through it.  

I was devastated and so guilty. I had not done the most basic thing any animal keeper should do and that was to create a safe place for my girls. They couldn’t get away from the predator and so they were bait.  

My lone survivor needed to find a safe haven until I could figure out what to do. Fortunately, there is a farm a couple of towns over that was created to educate children about farm animals and they said they would take Tango, the survivor, to join their other hens. I cried all the way to the farm but was so grateful to find a safe place for her.  

Now I needed to make some tough decisions. I wanted a second chance at being a responsible chicken keeper, so I tore down the old yard and coop. I did more research online and saw that just about every post and article talked about building a chicken run with hardware cloth. If you are not familiar with this wonder product, it is a very heavy gauge galvanized steel wire screen mesh that is so strong, raccoons cannot chew through it.    

In addition, I had it dug down a foot and flared out to keep predators from digging down under it. I also bought a locking door and a brand-new adorable Hobbit House coop made by Wooden Wonders of Maine that sits inside the yard with room for ten hens.  

Chicken Alcatraz

I called my new set up Chicken Alcatraz and I started with four new pullets as I didn’t want to experience another issue with a rooster. My four turned into six quickly as the city saw my setup and called me when they had rescues that needed a new home.  

These girls were very safe and I could rest easy knowing they were well protected against harm. Things continued on. I lost one girl overnight and I don’t know what happened as when I went out in the morning one day, she was dead right where she slept. As is my practice, I bury my chickens very deep on the property. It’s closure for me.  

The years went by and I would add a couple of new pullets over the years to supplement the hens who were barely laying. One of the originals, Hannah Banana, was the queen and sticking around although she lost all of her original flock. As they died off from unknown illnesses, the “Banana” was going strong and even popping out an egg every so often, even though she was at least over eight years old.  

I’m not sure she appreciated the newbies as she kept her own counsel, ate, drank, and pooped along with the rest of the flock. She was the first to perch for the evening and the first one down in the morning.  

As I was standing outside the run observing the morning antics of my now flock of six, it occurred to me the Banana was no spring chicken. I went back upstairs into my files where I kept my city permit to check on when I first listed Hannah Banana and sure enough, she was now 12 years old!  

Wow. That seemed pretty old to me for a chicken. And she did well for that year, but she didn’t make it to 13.  

As I was standing outside the run observing the morning antics of my now flock of six, it occurred to me the Banana was no spring chicken.

This brings me to my current flock of nine hens. Again, observing the flock and their morning rituals of grooming, breakfast, and exploring their yard with trees, bushes, and branches to sit on. The matron, Thelma, has serious vision problems. I can’t see into her eyes, but it is clear her ability to direct her beak in a straight line is greatly impaired. However, she compensates and does just fine eating and drinking and walking around, getting to where she wants to go.  

She is also the oldest of this flock at 13 years old. Her eight flock mates are a mix of ages nine, seven, and six and two new girls at nine months.  Three of my flock are rescues. Hei Hei, a Silver Laced Wyandotte, is blind in one eye and has never laid an egg. Laverne is also a rescue and laid for a bit then stopped. As I’m no longer getting eggs from these ladies, I bought two new pullets, both Easter Eggers. Unfortunately, one of the newbies has some deformities. She has one leg shorter than the other and skips and hops. While her mate, Chaja Fajga, has been laying quite well, Regina, the gimpy one, has never laid an egg.  

I thought I’d get a couple of new pullets this spring, but I’m having to rethink my plans. I really thought with so many older hens no longer laying, I might lose a few to the natural order of things. Legally, according to our city laws, I’m allowed six chickens. However, because I have so much room and the city likes to call upon me to take rescues, I’m already pushing it to nine.  

As I stood outside the chicken yard watching the activity, it was clear to me these girls don’t appear to be slowing down or leaving this world any time soon. Even Thelma, marching around the yard and poking at one of her flock to move over as she has decided to go after that tasty piece of spinach for breakfast.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *