How Long Do Chickens Live?

This morning we found one of our hens dead in the coop. She’d died near the feed bin, which shows she was a true chicken right to the end. This is our first chicken death. I’ve been gone most of the weekend, but Erik says she didn’t seem ill, though in retrospect he thinks maybe she was little slower than usual for the past few days. The other hens seem healthy enough. There was no sign of predation or injury.

I suppose we’ll find out soon if there is some kind of infection that will take the remaining three. But for now we’re chalking it up to age and general frailty. This hen, Jane, was always the smallest and the weakest of the four, and lived a hard life at the  bottom of the pecking order. Poor Jane. She’s the hen I’m holding in that picture of Erik and I over at the right hand bar. None of our ladies like to be held, but Jane was always the most patient with photographers.

Our neighbor, Sue, has twenty years experience with backyard hens, and once she told us that she figured their average lifespan ended up being about 5 years. I’ve read that chickens have a theoretical lifespan of 13 years, but of course, so many die young of mishap or disease. Sue’s estimate always sounded sensible to me. Jane died at 4 years and a few months old.

How long have you had your chickens? Do you cull them when they slow down their laying, or do you have some Methuselian hens pecking around your yard? What’s the oldest hen you’ve even had? What do you think the average lifespan of a backyard hens is?

Of course, this leads to lots of interesting questions about backyard flocks, how and when to rotate in new stock, to cull or not to cull, the danger of naming, etc. I think all that will have to wait for another post, because it’s a big subject and needs its own space. Maybe we’ll do that tomorrow. Right now, let’s hear about lifespans.

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  1. I always felt that chickens were food sources like the garden and never kept them longer than 3-4 years. One year we were forced to move and could not take them with us. We adopted them to family members and one of those chickens lived at least 9 years! I miss having them, this last flock was all lost in the space of a week to ? (predators we think). We are now helping our daughter get started (she has 4 right now). We have had the occasional death but never a spreading illness. Hoping you don’t!

  2. I’ve also heard that five years for a layer is good. I have a thought that freerangers have a better chance of living longer, just like us a good diet should help. (predators not withstanding)My first set were four when we had to adopt them out. My newest are not even laying yet so I can’t give you a long time opinion.
    Good Luck!

  3. Ours are going on two years and we just had one die. Like yours, she was the bottom of the pecking order (of only three hens) and had isolated herself even more 48 hours before we found her dead…her coop mates occasionally pecking her carcass.

    When we raised chickens 30 years ago when I was a kid, I think the average life span was about 4-5 years. The laying lifespan is around 2-3…which is about what we’re starting to see now with intermittent to nonexistent egg production.

  4. I’ve known chickens that lived 11 years, and others that dropped dead at 3. We generally turn ours into soup around their second molting, or when they get crotchety and start fights with the other hens, whichever comes first.

  5. I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I don’t have chickens yet, but I’m in the process of getting a house with a backyard and can’t wait to get chickens! I want to start out with 3 different types (I already have the names picked out) and I love the 3 in your picture. I’m curious, what are the different breeds of your ladies? Any recommendations for a first-timer like me?

    • Road island reds are the best breed as far as im concerned. Bigger hens bigger brown eggs. The roosters are smart but the hens are not.

    • My first set were three Delawares and they were awesome for us beginners. We named them Marti, Natalie, and Emily (after the Dixie Chicks) Poor Emily died at two from some kind of illness, she wasn’t feeling so good so we brought her inside to keep a closer eye on her and she ended up having a seizure and dying right in front of me. ): Natalie died pretty recently at about five, she just went to sleep and never woke up, Marti was devastated and would hardly eat or socialize with the others for days. Marti is almost six now and still laying pretty regularly. Delawares are big white chickens with speckled necks and wings, mine were very hardy (except Emily) and great layers. I handled them often when they were little and so they all turned out tame. Marti and Natalie weren’t afraid of anything and they would chase cats out of the yard. One feral cat only has one eye now because it tried to get at Emily while she was laying and Marti clawed it right the face. All in all these are very low maintenance birds and quite tame if properly socialized. I would highly recommend them to a beginner, just make sure to socialize them because if they don’t like you (Marti hates red heads for some reason) they’re kinda scary.

  6. I am sorry about your chicken. She was a very pretty girl.

    I read somewhere (I think Storey’s Guide) that the average lifespan barring attacks and such is 7 years.

    Do you have a poultry club in Los Angeles? In Austin we have one with over a thousand members and there is all kinds of support and good info. Here is the Austin one:

    http://www.meetup.com/AustinBackyardPoultry/

    Looks like there is this one for LA, but I don’t know if it is as good as the Austin group:

    http://www.meetup.com/Los-Angeles-Urban-Chicken-Enthusiasts/

  7. I read about a hen that lived 19 yrs and laid an occassional egg until she was about 13 yrs old. My three hens are 2 yrs, 5 months old. One of the four I kept was murdered by a raccoon on October 18, 2010. Hopfully, mine will live a long life, thanks to lots of natural food, sunshine, grass, exercise, lack of mental stress. I won’t eat them. If I raised hens to eat, those would be eaten. These will be pets when they quit laying eggs. At least Fancy stays!

    • I have 5 RIR and they are wonderful girls,they are very tame and loveable chickens.And I am planning to keep them as pets also.Fell in love with these girls because as you know every chicken has their own personality,and they bring so much joy when your feeling down and out.I’m glad you love your gals also

  8. I’ve had chickens for a few years and will harvest them if they become broody or lay infrequently.

    My oldest hen is about 3 years old and stopped laying in June once it got really hot (Austin, TX.) But I’m giving her a reprieve until it cools off to see if she resumes production.

    I had a similar experience as yours recently with a juvenile hen. No sign of trauma or disease, and the rest of the flock was just fine. So I wouldn’t worry.

    Over the years I’ve lost a few to predation and a few to heat.

    Ideally I have about 3 age groups of birds in the flock to make adding a new batch of chicks easier once I cull.

  9. Interesting questions. As an adult I’ve been keeping them for seven years. So my original five are down to three at seven years old. I have added two or three every year or two so now I am up to sixteen. They range in age from seven to six months old. I will not cull them I can understand why people do but for me personally I can’t say thank you for years of wonderful eggs by popping them into the soup-pot. In all fairness I am a vegetarian. I hope to have ancient hens roaming the yard eating bugs and influencing the younger ones for many years to come. It seems to be working out well so far. The older ones really take to the babies and it is so cute to see them all snuggled on the roost at night. I do think your friend is correct in that five years is about average for a hen.

  10. Sorry to hear about Jane.
    My oldest chicken (Maude) is one of my very first pair of chickens (Mabel died a few years ago) and she’s 8 1/2 and still laying the occasional egg. When I got them I knew they’d be pets as well as egg producers, hence the names, so culling was never a plan.
    For that reason I introduce 2 or 3 new pullets a year so that I never end up with a very elderly flock all laying intermittently.

    We’ve had a few deaths over the years, including a set of sisters who I think came from poor stock (they all died young although several months or even a year apart from each other), but never anything infectious. I’m sure your other hens will be fine.

    A farming friend of mine says chickens have two speeds- go and stop, meaning that they are generally either well or suddenly so sick that there’s nothing you can do. Any bird that I have nursed back to health has generally keeled over a short while later.

  11. When I was younger my teacher had a 10 year old rooster.. as for myself, I kept a hen for 9 years (not sure how much longer she lived, as I was going off to college at the time and my mom gave her away to someone that kept chickens). I’m fairly sure 10-15 is not uncommon..

  12. The oldest chickens we’ve had were 3.5 years old. We slaughter our hens when they slow down with laying too much. Sometimes chickens just keel over and give up the ghost from one moment to the next – for no discernible reason, with no apparent distress or slow decline. Not common and usually seen with layers over two years old. But it happens.

    We’re in the market for new layers right now actually. We’ll probably get some in a month or so. If it weren’t for the occasional egg-eating I might keep them another year. But it’s time for fresh layers, and anyway I’m very low on chicken stock.

  13. I had a bantam White Cornish hen named White (I am not too creative at the naming)She lived to be 11 yrs old.She survived the red-tail hawk attack and the Great Skunk Attack of 2007.Both attacks were not directly aimed at her but she was close enough to the action and figured out to get out of Dodge and save her butt.After those episodes even though she was not longer laying I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of her so opted to become a chicken retirement home.She finally died one afternoon under the chicken house.My other longest lived one was Red,a bantam red cochin.She lived to be 8 yrs old and survived the attacks but a crazy wildfire ended up getting her this last spring.She most likely would have lived a long time too.

  14. We lost our oldest hen in July she was 9.She was from the first flock of hens we got and was the sweetest girl so she was saved from the soup pot.I think she was 4-5 when she stopped laying.

    Non-laying hens are for soup here at our house but so far our hens have either died or been taken so we have yet to eat any of our layers.

    My Dad had a hen who lived to be 14.She stopped laying at 9.He kept her around because faithfully every year she hatched huge clutches of chicks.And was a great Mama.But my Dad says this is rare.

  15. I adopted mine from our neighbors when they moved away 4 years ago, so their age is about 5 years. They free-range around our yard and still lay, but have long periods where they stop during and after molting.

    Sorry about Jane (I only had a few hens and with their silly personalities, couldn’t help but name them).

  16. Thanks everyone for your stories!

    @Hazel: I agree. Someone told me something similar a long time ago–chickens have 2 settings: on and off.

    @Brett Barry: The three chickens pictured above are, from front to back, a Rhode Island Red, a Barred Rock (Plymouth Rock) and an Ameraucana.

    All three are very common, easy to find breeds, the kind you’d find easily in a feed store–which is where we got ours as chicks.

    (An aside: in future we’re going to get our chickens from reputable breeders rather than feed stores. We’ll find these breeders at poultry shows. Feed store chicks come from mail order hatcheries. Hatcheries are cheap, but we’ve come to realize they are chicken factories and are not much interested in either the welfare of the chickens or improving breeds. Breeders are interested in these things. So while we’ll pay more for our future hens, we’ll feel better about it.)

    What kind of chicken you want to get will depend on what you want the chicken for. If you see them primarily as pets, you don’t have to think so much about egg production or meat quality.

    For instance, if I wanted a pet chicken, I’d consider Silkies. They’re soft and wonderful looking, and I know of many people who’ve developed relationships with Silkies in a way that I could not with my hens, who were all as independent as goldfish.

    If I wanted a pet, or just something that would be fun to have running around a garden, I’d also consider the bantam breeds (mini chickens). They are *so* darn cute, and since they’re small, you can have more of them. They lay tiny eggs, but they “work” as eggs–you just need more.

    If you want gorgeous creatures in your yard, you will be astounded at how many different types of exotic chickens are available from breeders. It’s mind boggling. Get yourself a chicken picture book (aka chicken porn) and start making notes.

    If you are considering raising chickens for both meat and eggs, you might want to look at breeds that are categorized as “dual purpose” — good for both purpose. These tend to be the more old fashioned breeds.

    If you really want eggs and lots of them look for breeds that are known as being productive layers and also noted to *not* be broody. Broody is bad if you want lots of eggs. Broody is good if you want to raise chicks.

    And I have to say I know some people who have given up on hens altogether and keep laying ducks. Just another option.

    As to the breeds I have now, I’d say I prefer the Barred Rocks. They are sensible birds who lay well and while not fancy are attractive. They are also considered a dual purpose breed. They were once the most popular backyard breed in the US–back in the days when keeping chickens at home was pretty standard practice.

    Our Rhode Island Reds is our best layer–even in old age she’s still cranking them out– and her eggs are big and beautiful. But we call her Stewpot because she’s so often naughty–kind of a bully, prone to feather picking, etc. And she’s none too bright, even for a chicken. She gets trapped in corners and things like that. I’ve heard from other people that Reds have a rep for attitude problems–but I can’t say that’s universally true. I’m sure there are big red fans out there.

    The last one is the Ameraucana. These are gorgeous birds. They all look a little different–different coloring, different head tufts. They lay blue-green eggs, which is fun. I found ours to be a really good, hardworking forager. She’d be great out free ranging, whereas our other ladies are lazy–they like to have the food brought to them, so they can spend more time sunning themselves. Ameraucana are also lighter bodied, so can fly a little better than their large bottomed sisters. This could be bad for an escape artist, but good for getting away from trouble.

    Last piece of advice– Google “Henderson’s Chicken Breed Chart”

    http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html

  17. I have 2 rhode island reds left from my initial flock, which we got a little over 3 yrs ago. Geraldine and Georgina are champion layers, goofballs, trouble-makers and they were at the bottom of the pecking order (the 2 buff orpingtons beat them up regularly, the 2 black australorps tried to fake-mate with them regularly – these 4 birds were culled and eaten in the winter and then in the spring.) Anyway, the flock numbers at 7 now with my older ladies, and everyone seems to get along. And everyone’s laying eggs.

    I am partial to dark cornish (Hazel) and delawares (Ruby and Pearl) now. Both breeds seem well-adjusted compared to the buffs who were brutish little sumo hens, always bruising for a smackdown. And they understand the reds are their den mothers basically. We wound up with a couple gold comets because the feed store had them. They’re sweet birds, but man they matured fast, and I fear we will not have Maria and Lupita very long for that very reason. I have read that when they lay at 16 weeks they tend to not thrive more than a year or so, but I would imagine mileage varies.

    I’m keeping the reds for as long as they wish to be their oddball chicken selves. Even if they quit laying eggs.

  18. I’m working to settle into a cycle where I hatch chicks at the end of Summer so they can mature during the Winter and start laying in the Spring.

    On the flip-side, hens that are two years old get retired at the end of Fall before they slow or stop laying. I don’t want to feed something that’s not feeding me.

    I’ve kept a couple of hens that are good mothers but they earn their keep by raising the chicks so I don’t have to mess with brooders.

    I do prefer to keep an older rooster because the young cockerels never think to challenge him, so things stay a little calmer. My main rooster is 4 years old now.

  19. I started the summer off with 5 hens, now down to 2, found one dead this morning when I went out to feed. The two that pasted this summer I would say was from the heat, 100+ temps all summer. But yesterday it was a high of 59, all the chicks where about 2.5 yrs, I both free range and feed, depending the rain and grass growing. Not a lot of free ranging this summer. Hopefully my last 2 girls will survive until spring so I can introduce a few new chicka. I started with 12, big dreamer I was, all from the feed store where I watched a lady with a pencil tied to a string tell me they where all hens, I bought it hook line and sinker. After a slow start we had 11 by the end of the first month, rocked on with 11 for a few months, one vanished ? still unsure where that one got off too. 10 was the magic number for another few months, then we start seeing spurs on 2 of my girls, haha string pencil trick did NOT work, 3 roosters later and 7 hens, ok I can work with that. Life for the hens went on, and the roosters well, the roosters where not my friends, although I loved to hear them every morning at the butt crake of dawn, again about 10:30 ish and later at about 3 pm. After having the boys beat up and kill a hen or two, they got kicked out of the house. Then they turned on me, flogged me at every chance they got. Until that one faithful day, on my way to feed the horses I could hear the little stomping of feed running up behind me. After kicking the crap out of one and having to call the dog on the other two, well I told my husband they had to go, I truly tried giving them away, you know to some kid for a 4-H problem, I mean prodject. No one wanted them, can’t say I blamed them, because I did not either. And they went by way of the ax, poor stupid birds. So, lesson learn buy from the Chicken Farm not the Feed Store and the lady with a string and pencil. Now I really don’t know if there is such a thing as the “Chicken Farm” but you get my drift. Happy dancing today; it is raining on my little piece of heaven!!

  20. We have ours as pets and layers more than anything and let them live their life till they are ready to go, we have had a few deaths due to illness and an attack but spite it all my Silkie Bantam lived to be around 15.

  21. Hi. Egg production farms (and I guess farms in general) keep chickens 2-3 years. Sadly, this is when the egg production drops (sometimes drastically) Chickens in good health live generally 8-10 or 12 years, but some have, like horses, lived a great many years longer, the oldest being noted at 20 years! (not sure where that was documented!)
    Bantams can live a long long time. Here I have animals for life. They can expect to live, for their lives, here whether they are producing or not.
    Some roosters are nasty…depends on the breed (LOVE Aracauna roosters…very mild..gentle…smaller but do the trick. They REALLY do protect and put the hens first.. Not as brutal with the hens OR us.) We’ve had chickens for over 25 years..seen a lot..

    If you want a few go to MyPetChicken.com (you can get as few as 3 or as many as you want0 and if you want a lot, you can go there too, or you can go to Murray MacMurray..

    • Nice to hear from someone with the same mindset as me – we have no right to prematurely end the lives of our fellow earth dwellers. Thanks Janie.

  22. We have a small flock that I aquired three years ago Some were already two years old. Some are younger such as a roster just over one year. Mostly free ranging during the day. Lots of predators including hawks and fox/coyote. Also bobcat and the occasional lone wolf. Vet claims the average life expectancy is 5-10 years with many falling ill prior or later than the average. Just like humans some die from early heart defects and various chronic ailments. This flock are good egg layers. We enjoy watching them amongst our other animals including my many shepherds including my law enforcement dog They interact with the dogs well and add stress to the dogs as they keep the dogs stable from harming other creatures which we forbid. We do eat chicken but not this group of pet layers as we believe in loyalty to this flock. I’ve discovered that chickens are quite intelligent. More so than many of the subjects that I encounter in law enforcement.Except for one of my roosters who is agressive to my entire family and I am thinking about giving him his own flock, the flock are very gentle/beautiful birds from 5 different breeds. Older birds appreciate heated quarters during our frigid periods of sub zero F weather. If you raise older birds than people who cull younger birds you’ll find that they behave differently in interesting ways. This will give one more experience than the self proclaimed bird expert in the chicken magazine Backyard Poultry.

  23. i am going to get chickens in about 3 months. i am going to get americana , road island red , road island white , and a silkie. but i don’t know how long those breeds live. could some one tell me????????????????

    • Unfortunately there’s no solid answer to your question. It varies a lot. As Erik says below, we have this theory that production breeds, which are usually the types you’ll find at the feed store (like our Red and Rocks) probably live about 5 years on average. Our single Americauna has lived longer than her flock-mates because–again, this a theory–she stopped laying early, so didn’t get worn out.

      And of course many mishaps and diseases may take carry them off early. And yet on the other hand, everyone has tales of their 10, 12 or 13 year old hen. So who knows?

      The government and chicken industry are just not interested in the longevity of hens once past laying age (most hens are culled at 2) so as far as I know there’s no studies on the matter, just anecdotal evidence.

  24. Hey, I have chickens and they are looking very healthy, appart from one pecks out her feathers, we re not sure why as she isn’t bored, has a healthy diet and has plenty of communication with my other hen, have you got orpingtons my any chance, my two hens look like your grey speckled one and your one at the front, the brown one. they are roughly 1 year old and they look healthy, i think the life span can vary as there are so many deseases and illnesses, i have known chickens live to 11.

  25. I have an Ameraucana who is 12 years old and a Sex-Link that is around 10 or 11. Both have survived predator attacks, drought and, in many cases, my own ignorance. The little sex-link hobbles a bit most times but yesterday she literally FLEW to get some melons I was distributing. The Ameraucana is fit and keeps up well with the younger girlies. I swear to God, I never would have thought chickens lived this long but I am here to say, I own a couple and I treasure those old gals!

  26. Hi, I have a white silkie hen that will be fifteen years old in the spring. We got her when my oldest son was four years old, and he will be nineteen this week.

  27. I raise a chicken named Chick-chick since I was 5 and we got her on easter from a family friend’s farm. She was just 3 days old and just so cute! We had a special bond and she always trusted me. She had a brother named Count-Chickula but we had to give him away because we live in small town neighborhood and kept them in our back yard to where he would crow. She was the fattest chicken I’ve ever known and my best friend. She was out in a secured yard every day from sunrise-goes back in during noon to eat-then sunset. She lived to be about 7 or 8 and she died yesterday (11/19/13). I came home from the graveyard where we walk after school to say hi to old family. My best human friend was with me. I saw Chick-chick roosting in the sun and I went out to feed her. I jokingly said “I’m gonna go check to see if she’s alive”. I saw her toppled over in her cage when I was right next to it. I thought she was asleep and I went to open the door for her. She usually jumps up when she sees or hears me approaching.. I got close enough to her and a fly flew from her face. I screamed and a minute later my friend, my mom and my sister came running out. She died peacefully in her sleep. My brother wasn’t home to dig for us, so me and my sister did it. We buried her by her favorite tree with corn all over it to welcome her bird friends to spend time with her… My mom said a few words because I couldn’t talk due to tears screwing me up! I woke up this morning thinking it was a bad dream. I went out to fed her, she wasn’t there. I looked out beside the Hao tree and saw the grave. I stepped around and knelt down beside her. I loved that bird like family. Now who is gonna come up running to me for worms, or sees me crying and tries to comfort me? No other chicken will amount to that great, big cuddle machine! I’m just 14 and I hope I never feel this way again!
    R.I.P. Chick-Chick Mattos: 11/19/13
    a true friend, my loving baby…. I love you!

    • Oh, and 6 months ago, she was attacked by a rat while she was sleeping but hobbled on one leg till she was better. Boy she was a trooper! R.I.P.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss! But thank you for letting us know how long Chick-Chick lived. People don’t realize that chickens can make loving pets, and that they can live for quite a long time. It sounds like Chick-Chick was one of those extra special, people-loving chickens. You were blessed to have her!

      Part of the deal with having pets is that they leave us. It hurts so much when it happens that you say to yourself “I’ll never do this again!” but we just have to remember how much joy they give us every day of their lives. If you balance the the hurt next to the love, the love wins out every time.

  28. I have a now 16 year old Americauna rooster. He has cataracts in both eyes and his balance is not as great as it should be, but he is otherwise still going strong, crowing loudly and jumping at me when I carry him to and from his bed for daytime play. Most of my hens lived to about 8 or 9 years old, but egg laying takes a lot out of them, even when fed specially for this. Roosters should not be given this same diet as it gives them kidney stones, poor fellas. Even with the special diet, the hens would drop off in egg production after the second year, production reds and Rhode Island Reds maintaining a bit longer. Moulting, of course, is a non-egg laying time, but they get back to it soon after. None of my bird friends get eaten, as I am an ovo-lacto-vegetarian, meaning I will take milk, eggs, and vegetables/fruit only. They know it and get quite demanding (cute) too!

  29. Our beloved bantam called Chook, died on Sunday at the age of 13 and she laid three eggs this year. We miss her so much, we are heartbroken.

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