Chicken Retirement Options
While chickens are a wonderful addition to an urban backyard, those with limited space (and zoning restrictions) need to be prepared to deal with the difference between a chicken’s lifespan and its productivity.
Most chickens lay eggs regularly for 2-3 years. After that time egg production doesn’t typically stop outright, but it will slow significantly. However, well-cared-for chickens can live to be 8 (or more) years old.
Therefore, those who live in cities need to plan for what they will do when their chickens stop laying. There are a variety of options, depending on personal preference and the relationship you have with your birds. The following options are geared toward those who are raising chickens in Denver, though similar options exist in other cities. If you are dealing with the challenge of rehoming a rooster, you can find more information here.
Keeping Older Chickens as Pets
Many people who acquire backyard chickens relate to them as pets. Chickens make wonderful pets, but if you want to keep a chicken for the duration of its lifespan it is valuable to plan ahead so that your family doesn’t go without fresh eggs.
Denver’s Food Producing Animals ordinance allows the keeping of up to 8 chickens or ducks. This number was decided on in part to allow the following situation:
If you’d like to keep all of your chickens as pets, start with just a few (3-4) birds. After 2-3 years, when their laying slows down, add 2 more young chickens to your flock. The older birds will still be laying occasionally to supplement the laying of the young birds. In 2-3 years, add 2 more chickens (now you’re at your 8-chicken maximum). 2-3 years after that, your initial group of chickens will likely have died from natural causes, and you can continue to supplement your flock as described above.
Adding new chickens to an existing flock is not without its challenges, but it can be done in a way that is safe for the birds. Visit the forum at BackyardChickens.com or consult a chicken-keeping book for additional information.
Finding Old Hens a New Home
Although it sounds unlikely, there are some people who will take in older hens and allow them to live out their lives peacefully. Generally these are folks with a lot of land, who will let the chickens roam and forage during the day and secure them at night. These people like chicken, enjoy the occasional eggs that older birds provide, and don’t process chickens for meat.
You can find people who fit the above description by placing an ad on Craigslist. Be specific in your ad, stating that you don’t want the chickens to be used as meat. Be prepared to be patient (and plan ahead) — it may take a little time to find the right fit. You should definitely plan on delivering your chickens to their new home yourself, rather than having someone come and pick them up from you. That way you can see for yourself whether you think it will be a good place for your older birds.
Giving Away Older Hens (possibly for meat)
If you’re not concerned about whether your chickens end up in the soup pot, you will likely have a much easier time finding someone on Craigslist to take your birds. Just place an ad (include the age of your chickens) and offer to deliver them.
Rocky Mountain Raptor Program
The Rocky Mountain Raptor Program in Fort Collins rescues and rehabilitates birds of prey. These birds are carnivores, and they need to eat. If you choose to donate your chickens to the raptor program, you can help support their efforts in rescuing threatened and endangered birds.
Denver does not allow the slaughtering of chickens within city limits (unless it’s a commercial business that has received special permitting for processing animals, and no such facilities currently exist).
However, you can take your chickens out of the city to be processed. The following places are willing to process small batches of chickens, typically during a time when they already have their equipment running to process their own birds.
Long Shadow Farm in Berthoud
Northern Colorado Poultry in Nunn
Hudson Lockers in Hudson
If you find a facility or individual living within an hour or so of Denver who is willing to process small numbers of chickens, please let us know so we can add them to the list.
You can also place a note on the message board for the Greater Denver Urban Homesteading meetup group, as there are people in that group who live outside of Denver and know how to process poultry. Placing an ad on Craigslist is also an option, though you need to be specific about the number of birds you’d like to have processed.