is the average laying life of hens? I don’t know what is
considered ‘too old’ in chicken life.”
is a good question, but there’s no single right answer.
Unlike human women, who pass through menopause and lose the
ability to reproduce, chickens keep laying eggs as they age.
However, old hens lay far fewer eggs each year, so most people who
are serious about making their egg operation break even
financially only let their hens lay for one year, or possibly two
years, before replacing them.
When you read about
the laying ability of old hens, most books will tell you that
heirloom breeds lay just as many eggs over the course of their
life-times as hybrid layers do. The idea is that heirlooms
aren’t as productive as hybrids during the first year or two, but
the hybrids burn out faster, so the total number of eggs laid by
each hen comes out to be the same. However, my own
experience doesn’t support this oft-repeated hypothesis — our
old Golden Comets (a hybrid) kept laying
pretty well even into their fourth year, while our two-year-old Australorps and Marans declined drastically in
productivity after their first year of life.
Our new policy is to
raise a new batch of layers each year so we always have plenty of
eggs and aren’t giving expensive chicken feed to hens who are
barely producing. As long as you don’t treat your chickens
like pets, this method will also produce very
tasty broth and meat when it’s time to eat the old hens — even though their egg
production has declined, they can feed you one last time.
older chickens tend to drink more water, making our automatic chicken waterer
even more important in their coop.