As with any other pet, hens suffer from age-related problems and may need extra attention as they age, but with good care hens can live beyond six years with certain breeds living to the ripe old age of 10 years or more.
Ex-bats come to the BHWT as end of lay hens (aka spent hens) and are described as retired at 18 months old from a commercial perspective. However, most will transfer into their new lives immediately with ease and either continue or come back into lay once they have adjusted to the change of routine.
Below are some tips for your hen as she ages.
Check your hen house and run area: as an elderly hen starts to slow down she may need help getting in and out of the hen house. Ensure ramps and ladders are not too steep and shelter can easily be accessed during wet, windy and hot weather conditions.
Personal hygiene: personal hygiene can start to fail. An ageing hen may not preen herself or create a dust bath area so provide an easy-access dust bath using something like a child’s shallow sandpit to encourage regular dust bathing (see image).
Vent and tail cleanliness: an aging hen may become messy around her vent and tail feathering. A regular check, especially in the summer when flies are around, will ensure she does not become vulnerable to fly strike and an occasional wash with warm antiseptic water (such as Savlon or Hibiscrub) around the vent area may be necessary.
Leg rings: veteran hens tend to have naturally thicker scales on their legs and can easily pick up scaly leg so if a hen has a leg ring ensure it has not become too tight; remove if necessary.
Egg production: egg production may drop as a hen ages, but as a hen grows older eggs typically may become bigger and less frequent with egg shell quality beginning to show defects such as wrinkles and irregular-shape (this does not impact the egg itself).
Arthritis: hens may develop arthritis in their legs which may impact on their ability to move around easily.
Obesity: older hens may be more inclined to obesity, so try not to overfeed treats and titbits as being overweight puts strain on the major organs, joints and muscles.
Annual moult : the annual moult may take longer with older hens so ensure your hen is protected during extreme weather conditions by providing good shelter and deep bedding (as she may stop perching).