Whether it be by circumstance, availability or active choice you are now, or thinking about becoming, the proud owners of some new Old Girls. Congratulations!
They may not be in the prime of their lives anymore (dependant on breed and where they spent the first eighteen months of their lives) but there is no reason why you can’t still give them lots of love and get a few eggs in return. With the right food, supplements and care they can still live long and happy lives in your backyard.
You might have noticed that there is a level of concern for the chickens and the (often) unaware owners on how to best care for their new Old Girls, but hopefully you will find a lot of the answers you are looking for here. This information will be written primarily for the really unhealthy chickens, as you won’t need a lot of these strategies and treatments if your girls are more healthy. Choose what you want/need to implement and stash the rest of the knowledge away for referral should you need it ?
Where did you get them from?
Rehoming ‘spent’ hens from either free range egg farms or battery/cage farms will mean that there will be a huge variation in the feathering and overall condition.
Girls from a free range setting are normally in good/great condition with full body feathering and (often) full, natural beaks.
Girls from cage/battery farms can be almost ‘naked’, showing lots of bare skin and having lots of broken feathers and different stages of feather regrowth. Their combs (red part above their beak) and wattles (dangly part under their beak) will be large but pale. Some chickens can also have short to very short beaks, due to the lack of precision and care used when they were ‘debeaked’ as day old chicks. These girls can often look very sad and sorry for themselves and will need lots of love to get back to 100%.
Normally chooks from either setting will be around 18-20 months old at the time of rehoming. This is because they will have started laying at around 22 WEEKS old and are bred to lay minimum 300 eggs each in their first year of laying. After that first year, egg production rates drop off significantly enough for the egg farmer that they don’t want them at that point.
And that’s why you got them so cheaply…
When you get them home?
If these are your first chickens, they are fine to go straight into their new coop. Enjoy their first, awkward steps on grass and their first dust bath. It might take them a while to learn how to do normal ‘chookie’ things.
If you are looking to get them integrated into a new flock, we strongly recommend a period of quarantine for a few reasons.
All new chickens will need a worming and a check over for mites or lice. If you just want to treat for mites/lice, you can use Pestene Powder dusted under their wings, behind the top of their head and around their tail/bottom.
Spray treatments are also available, with Avitrol Mite & Lice Spray or Avian Insect Liquidator being two of the preferred and readily available products. These are to be applied to the same areas as described above.
There are a number of very effective worming products available also, with Avitrol Plus being a fantastic all wormer or Allfarm Piperazine wormer crumbles if you only wanted to worm for Roundworm. Natural solutions such as Diatomaceous Earth, Pumpkin seeds and other things can be suggested but are not recommended by veterinary practices as a treatment. Please do your research thoroughly on all natural products you might want to use for your Feathered Family Members.
Chickens can become stressed when moving to a new location. They may get sneezy and a bit hunchy. Most times this isn’t anything too serious, but think of what these poor chooks have been through in the past few days/week before they landed in your backyard. No wonder they are stressed!
A spoon of Respiratory Support Spice Mix or Healthy Chook Spice Mix in their damp food daily is a great natural way to help give them the boost they need to overcome their ‘chicken cold’.
Chicken colds can be contagious, hence the need for quarantine from your existing flock if the new comers do get sick. Not only does quarantining the new Old Girls mean your current flock won’t get sick, it means you can treat and care for your new Old Girls easier and they won’t get extra stress from bullying and flock integration issues.
As much as they are incredibly cute, chickens do not need jumpers. Yes, even if they have no feathers.
Putting clothes on a chicken can be very uncomfortable for them, as new feather regrowth will rub against their very sensitive skin and be (at worst) quite painful. All the need to keep warm is a draught free coop, a clean roost to huddle up to their buddies and good quality food to get their feathers regrowing.
If your chickens have pale combs and wattles they may need some extra time before they will produce consistent eggs for you again.
Chickens need 12-14 hours of daylight to produce the hormones that triggers egg laying, so depending on what time of year it is when you got your Old Girls, that might take a while. If you are getting them from late Feb/March onwards, it might take until the following September until you get eggs (Springtime). Also, I’m sure you want them to be beautiful, healthy girls, which will also take some time. So be patient, those eggs will be worth it and taste better from happy hens.
Food and supplements
Commerical layers do much better when they are fed a high quality, high protein food. Generally 17% protein food or higher will help them return to egg laying and faster feather regrowth also. We use and recommend Laucke Showbird Breeder Micropellet or Barastoc Poultry Breeder.
They do cost a little bit more than your cheaper foods but you are getting a quality food for your new Old Girls and they will do better, look better and feel better. Much like us when we eat junk food versus a balanced diet.
Don’t feed to much scraps or human leftovers when they are settling in (or anytime, really) as you want them to be eating most of their nutrients from a balanced commercial food source.
There are lots of research into gut health and overall health, both in animals and Humans, so we definitely recommend feeding your chickens an avian specific probiotic or specifically formulated Healthy Chook Spice Mix to give your chickens a great all around health boost and help with feather regrowth.
If you want to indulge your chickens, please read our article ‘How to Make a Healthy Mash for Your Flock’.
Free-ranging and teaching them about their new home.
If you are happy to allow them, your new Old Girls will be happy to explore their new home at their own pace. They might be timid and flighty at first at so with much open space and new sounds, but they will settle. If you have a designated run area, it might be better to confine them to this limited space and they can acclimatise slowly without being overwhelmed.
They will need to be shown where to return to at night and how to roost, as this might not come instinctively. This means you will have to herd them to the coop at dusk and literally lift them onto the roost to show them where to sleep.
As tempting as it may be to let them sleep huddled up in a corner of the coop or in a nesting box, this isn’t good for them long term as they will be sleeping in their poo. And you don’t want poopy eggs in nesting boxes in the future so a measure of prevention is better than cure.
A Return to Egg Laying and Beyond.
Your first egg is always a cause for celebration, no matter how old the chicken is that laid it. So, congratulations!
There is, however, a caution that comes with commercial hybrids and the eggs they will produce now and going forward. Your Old Girls will now be in dangerous territory (in terms of their age) for egg laying and reproductive complications, including prolapses, tumours, lash eggs, cancers and other issues. These are a cruel result of the genetic selection process used to produce commercial strains of laying chickens.
You might find quirky shaped eggs and funky textures and bumps on your egg shells – they won’t affect the taste of your eggs but may be due to your Old Girls getting close to the end of their laying life. This is not a death sentence by any means – there are many chickens living out healthy lives in backyards Australia-wide, having earnt their retirement and with owners who aren’t bothered by the empty nesting boxes.
However, commercial layers do have a decreased life expectancy related directly to their first year of extremely high egg laying (as compared to a heritage breed chicken, which will lay more eggs over their lifetime but less eggs per year) so it isn’t all that unusual to hear of them crossing the Rainbow Bridge between 18 month- 24months old.
Are we helping these chickens or helping the industry?
I’m all for caring for animals, irrespective of whether they are old/young, popular or ‘in’ breeds or not. There is a place for everything in my eyes… but now that you have adopted Old Girls you will come across haters. Why?
There are two camps in this world of rehoming chickens – those that want to give them a good life, for as long as they can (hopefully this is you). That they have earnt a life of love and retirement. The others say that commercial farms are now able to rehome their spent hens without worrying about mass burials (yes, that is what happens on some farms) and now have an avenue to rehome those they don’t want. This now makes you part of ‘the problem’ instead of the solution (apparently) as you are helping the commercial farmers move on their ‘offcasts’.
Not saying any argument is less valid or more true that the other, just be aware that you may cop flack for your new Old Girls.
Chickens are wonderful pets, inquisitive creatures with individual personalities and will soon take over your heart. Australia has more than 50 different breeds and lots of colour combinations, so if you want to expand your flock at any stage/when you are feeling more confident, feel free to do so by adding a minimum two new chickens at a time.
Welcome to the Wonderful world of chicken keeping!