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old hen how long does a chicken live

How long do chickens live? The Chicken Lifespan

How long do chickens live?

One of the most common questions I get from our farm fans is “How long do chickens live?”  This is important to know because the lifespan of a chicken tells you how much commitment you are taking on.

How long chickens live depends on a lot of factors ranging from the conditions in which they’re kept to the chicken breed to whether it is a hen or a rooster.  An average lifespan of a chicken is 8-10 years.  Having said that, the world’s oldest chicken was Matilda who lived to 16 years according to the Guiness book of world records.  People report their backyard chickens living for as much as 20 years.

Roosters have an even shorter average lifespan than most domestic birds. This is because there is no need for most farms to keep a rooster, and roosters can be dangerous and aggressive under some circumstances. Male chicks are sometimes killed immediately after sexing. Even in backyard farms, roosters are more commonly slaughtered and eaten.

When you pick up half a dozen fluffy, charming little chicks from the feed store and bring them home, it can be hard to remember—or to explain to your kids—that backyard chickens, like all creatures, eventually age and die.

But how long do chickens live anyway, and why do they die? Here are some basics about the lifetime of a chicken to let you know what to expect and look out for.

Factors affecting how long do chickens live

There are many factors affecting how long chickens live.  These factors can encourage a long lifespan or if done wrong, can shorten a chicken’s life.

Housing:  Chickens need a minimum of 2 to 3 square feet inside the coop and 8 to 10 square feet.  Skimping on space leads to stress, fighting, pecking and even cannibalism. All of this can lead to death and obviously shorten how long the chickens live.  

Chickens need a nice comfortable house.  Nothing fancy, but a coop that will keep them dry, out of the wind and warm in the winter.  They also need a spacious run in order to exercise and yes, de-stress. Proper housing can extend the lifespan of your chicken.

Diet and nutrition

Just like us humans (unfortunately), your hens and roosters can’t get away with eating a crappy diet if you want to meet and hopefully beat the average chicken lifespan. 

Chickens in their most natural state, say a pastured chicken, will eat an omnivorous diet with plants and seeds, but also worms, beetles, crickets and even mice.  Chicken feed is nutritionally balanced to provide most of the nutrients chickens need.  Greens or table scraps are good supplements, but they don’t replace chicken feed.

Supplements I feed to give my chickens a long life

My chickens have lived over ten years, but I feed them some very specific supplements.

Kelp: Thorvin Kelp supplement is renowned for its livestock benefits in all animals, not just chickens. Some farmers like Joel Salatin swear by its health benefits. I feed it to all my animals and, since starting, my chickens have lived a longer life and lay more eggs-even my old lady hens! Also check out Fresh Egg Daily’s kelp supplement for chickens for a cheaper option if you don’t need to by in bulk like I do.

Veterinary Care

Veterinary care is a surprising factor in how long chickens live.  It is surprisingly difficult to find a vet who will treat chickens.  I personally don’t even know of a vet in my area who will treat them.  Consider that if you have a sick chicken, you will likely have to treat it yourself and many times the lack of expertise results in losing your chicken or decreasing the length of the chicken’s lifespan.

For farmers, if they can even find a vet who will treat their chickens, it is so expensive that sadly it often isn’t financially worth doing.  

Genetics

How long chickens live depends strongly on their genetics.  Probably more so or at least as much as all the other environmental factors.  The chicken lifespan varies with each breed.  

How long Heritage chickens live vs how long production chickens live

To start the discussion of breeds, it’s important to divide the breeds into heritage verses production breeds of chickens.  

Heritage chickens, according to the American Poultry Association, are chickens that:

  • Mate naturally
  • Slow growth rate
  • Have a longer, more productive outdoor life
  • Come from pure stock
  • Must meet the APA standard for the breed

More commonly, we also describe heritage chickens as traditional breeds that were around before today’s modern, excessively high producing, chicken breeds.

Production breeds produce fast and burn out even faster.  Some commercial egg laying breeds can lay as much as one egg every 22 hours.  That’s insane.  Just imagine how much nutrition and energy it takes these hens to produce that much that quickly and how much chicken egg laying effects lifespan. Regular heritage chicken breeds produce only 3-5 eggs per week.  

red hens old chickens

Just like humans, making babies is hard on the body.  Commercial production hens generally produce eggs for one or two years and then are butchered for meat or just killed because their egg laying starts to decline dramatically after one year of laying.  Commercial hens that are adopted as pets after their productive years are over and live out their lives as backyard chickens still tend to live much shorter lives as their lifespan is shortened by the work their bodies have to do.  These chickens also tend to die young due to issues heritage breeds rarely face: reproductive tumors, egg yolk peritonitis and other reproductive tract issues.  

Before you get angry at the abuse, consider it is hard to blame farmers who are trying to survive.  Remember the average farmer income in the United States is negative $1700 per year meaning that many farmers are subsidizing the food you by with their own off farm income. These commercial laying hen’s egg production lifespan is usually done by 18-24 months.  Their egg laying peaks and they are now what the industry calls ‘spent’ hens.  Farmers, if they are lucky enough to be making a profit at all, will quickly lose money on hens that are not on peak production.  Perhaps if we were all willing to pay more for our food farmers wouldn’t be so desperate…

Breeds with longer than average life expectancy

Now that you know that you should get a heritage breed chicken if you want them to live a long time, certain breeds have the reputation of living a longer life than others.  Here’s a list of chickens who live a long time:

  • Easter Eggers
  • Quecha
  • Aracauna
  • Game fowl
  • Bantams
  • Cochin
  • Belgian Bearded D’uccle
  • Asil
  • Black Naked Neck
  • Silver Hamburg

What will age your chicken and shorten its life/What Are Common Causes Of Premature Chicken Death?

Disease, parasites, mites, lice, worms

Chickens do get diseases, but it’s pretty rare in backyard chickens.  Most chicken diseases are passed around because of the crowding of commercial flocks which can number in the hundreds of thousands.

Backyard chickens also are happy.  They spend time outside in the sunshine, they eat bugs, they have a loving owner who is able to keep an eye on (and name) each individual chicken.  This makes it pretty hard for diseases to get their hooks into your birds and shorten their lifespan.

When backyard chickens do catch a disease, it’s typically something brought in by a wild bird.  Having a covered coop can lower the chances of this significantly.  Also, don’t throw grain out into the open where wild birds will be attracted.  Keep the chicken’s food inside their coop or somewhere out of the way.

Chicken Predators

The number one cause of death in our own chickens and in most backyard flocks, in my experience is chicken predation-other animals killing your chickens. 

For us, people’s pet dogs have been the number one issue.  Coyotes have certainly caused their fair share of problems over the years, but they usually take one bird and run off with it.

I can respect that.

Pet dogs like to have ‘fun’ and kill every single bird you have.  Cats are the same, but at least in our area this is rare.  We had a bobcat get into our goose pen and destroyed the entire gaggle.  Not a sight you want to see first thing in the morning.

Lynx bobcat chicken predator

Areas with chicken predator issues most commonly are dealing with coyotes, opossums, snakes, raccoons, bobcats, rats, foxes, weasels, hawks and owls.  Some places even have wolves and bears thrown in.  We live in the High Desert and surprisingly have mountain lions whom we hear occasionally take off with a chicken.

Yea there’s a lot of chicken predators out there.

What happens if you get your chicken to live a long life?

Keeping an older hen

If you have pet chickens whom you love and adore and you are committed to helping them reach the full extent of their chicken lifespan, you are a wonderful person.  

As a farmer though, I can’t blame people for being concerned about the cost of holding on to an old hen.  As I’ve mentioned, the older a hen gets, the less eggs she produces and therefore she becomes more and more useless…right?

Well actually, there are some really great reasons you might want to hold on to that old lady hen!

Chickens, no matter how long they live and how old they get, will continue to eat ticks, mosquitos and flies.  This alone might be a good enough reason to keep an old chicken around.

Another great reason to keep an old hen is that the older the chicken gets, the better mom she becomes.  An older hen is much more likely to become broody and she could hatch out eggs for you, saving the expense of an incubator.  Plus it’s just so sweet to watch a hen taking care of her babies!  Experienced momma hens are also more likely to successfully raise chicks to adulthood then you are with your brooder.  That could make you some profit in the long term.

Make sure you keep an eye on older hens so that the young ladies don’t pick on her!  She might also need a little more care through cold winters and hot summers.  Keep an eye out for mites and lice.

Probiotics for a long life

For my long lived chickens, I always give them probiotics. I should probably give all my chickens probiotics, but I at least make sure I take extra good care of my old ones. Long lives have been associated with gut health in animals including humans. My favorite brand is Big Ole Bird.

So how long do chickens live?

A general rule of thumb for how long a chicken will live is that a production chicken will live 5 years and a heritage chicken will live 10 years.  This varies from bird to bird and breed to breed with some breeds, like Easter Eggers, far outliving their other feathery cousins.  Some chickens could live as long as 20 years.

There are multiple factors affection how long chickens live:  Their housing and environment, their health, their veterinary care, their genetics…and most importantly, how much you love them 🙂

When a chicken is healthy and well cared for, they have a good chance of living a very long and very happy life.

What is the oldest chicken ever?

how old do chickens live Matilda oldest chicken

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Matilda was officially the oldest chicken ever. However, multiple chicken owners have reported their birds living as old as 20 years old.

What factor affect how old a chicken lives to?

Heritage breeds live the longest as opposed to commercial production breeds, which produce fast and burn out fast. Genetics and breed is very important-Easter Eggers seem to be reported as living the longest. For a chicken to live a long lifespan, they need the proper environment and housing, good nutrition, veterinary care and the ability to happily be a chicken.

What shortens how long a chicken lives?

There are many things that can shorten a chicken’s lifespan. Disease, parasites, lice and worms are all things that need to be kept watch for. However, the biggest issue chickens face is probably predators. Domestic pet dogs are reported as the number one chicken predator.

How old are your chickens?  Do you have any old lady hens?  What do you do to extend their chicken lifespan?

Hey! This post might have some affiliate links. That means if you click a link and buy something, we make money-and it doesn’t even cost you anything! Pretty cool right?

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