How Long Do Chickens Live: 6 Factors That Impact Life Expectancy

how long do chickens live

We all love our chickens, but how long do they live? The answer to the question can depend on so many things.

Nowadays, hens have become productive pets for thousands of people, and we want the best for them, so knowing what to expect is really important.

Today, we will take a look at the lifespan of the average chicken and talk about some of the things that can affect their longevity.

How Long Do Chickens Live

History of Hens and Life Expectancy

Hens have not always been ‘pets.’

Only recently has there been an explosion of folks that have started out keeping hens for eggs, only to find those bundles of feathers work their way into your heart and become family.

The ancestors of our hens were wild birds, and as such, life expectancy was short. If they could survive predators, hunger, and other life-threatening events, they could actually live 2-4 years at most.

In the mid to late 1800s, the man started collecting chickens and ‘tinkering’ to meet human expectations. We irrevocably altered the chicken’s life.

We suppressed many of the wild behaviors, productivity increased, and chickens became a food source.

So nowadays, the lifespan of a backyard chicken can be anything from 3-10+ years. Their lifespan can vary depending on a lot of reasons, so keep reading to learn why.

The Lifespan of Chickens (Heritage Vs. Hybrid)

How Long Do Chickens Live

Heritage hens are hens that have been raised and bred naturally with their own kind. The benefits of heritage hens are many, including a longer life span.

They can be expected to live for up to 8 years.

They are bred to be ‘natural’ layers, so their laying period can cycle over 2-3 years, perhaps longer depending on the breed you have.

Their bodies and genetic content haven’t been ‘hybridized’ too much, so they are likely to live much longer than hybrids.

To meet the American Poultry Association definition of heritage, a bird must:

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

Almost all hens, including heritage hens, have been developed by poultry folk at some point in their history.

But once the standard is ‘set,’ very little will be done to alter the accepted bird.

Hybrids, on the other hand, have been manipulated by humanity to be productive layers. Their laying cycle is pretty much done by the second year.

They were created specifically for the egg-laying industry starting during the 1940s. The goal was to get hens to maximize production, and when they were done laying, farmers sent them to the slaughterhouse.

Sadly, because of the manipulation of their egg-laying abilities, hybrids are much more likely to die fairly young from reproductive tumors, egg yolk peritonitis, and other reproductive tract issues.

Industrial or commercial hens are done at 18-24 months of age. After this age, peak production is on the wane, and the hens are considered ‘spent.

Even though they will continue to lay for another 12 months or so.

Financially they become a loss rather than an asset and are ‘retired’ to the slaughterhouse to become pet food.

Meat birds have a concise life. Some breeds can be butchered as early as 5 weeks.

Other meat breeds such as the Red Ranger can be allowed to grow and commence laying if desired, depending on your requirements.

Factors Affecting Life Expectancy

Disease

Chicken with Guinea FowlDiseases of poultry are now much better understood, and as such, we as caretakers can do a lot of preventative things for our hens to keep them healthy.

Parasites such as mites, lice, and worms can all adversely affect the health of our flock. Mites will suck blood, causing discomfort and anemia.

Lice can cause skin irritation and feather damage, and worms can, in extreme circumstances, kill a hen.

You can perform preventative actions such as dusting and worming regularly or when you have a problem, whichever suits your management style.

If you cannot closely inspect your flock every week, I recommend regular dusting to prevent infestations.

There are still, of course, diseases which we can’t do much about, such as Mareks or lymphoid leucosis.

But with careful management, we can prevent the spread of such viral diseases.

Housing

Chicken housing has come a long way since Grandma’s day. Back then, the chickens would likely share the barn with the larger livestock.

They made their living from whatever was available to them. They could freeze to death, be trampled by bigger animals, killed by predators, and a host of other indignities could be heaped upon them.

Nowadays, they have purpose-built coops in the backyard designed to keep them cool in summer and warm in the winter.

They are sheltered from the worst of the weather and given bedding specifically for them – such luxury! No doubt, having safe, secure, and protective housing has expanded the lifespan of a chicken.

Free from drafts, warm, dry and safe from predation has improved their lot not only physically but mentally too.

Commercial hens kept in ‘warehouse’ conditions are more susceptible to respiratory disease because of the close quarters and dust and dander.

Fresh air is essential in keeping respiratory problems at bay.

As we have seen in the past few years, Avian Influenza has taken a huge toll on commercial poultry operations despite precautions being in place.

Diet and Nutrition

Chicken Eating out of Feeder

This is another area where tremendous progress has been made.

Chickens used to subsist on whatever they could find in the way of grains and morsels, plus whatever the farmer might toss their way.

Today’s poultry diet is specifically manufactured for every stage of life.

From chick to old biddy, appropriate nutrition has played a tremendous part in increasing the lifespan of poultry.

In fact, today’s hens may be a bit on the ‘plump’ side from too much feed and/or treats – this is becoming a problem for some breeds.

Overweight hens are prone to health issues such as leg and back problems, heart problems, and respiratory issues.

It would help if you gave all treats in moderation, and exercise for the hens should be encouraged in reward games such as cabbage tetherball.

Too much protein in the diet can cause kidney problems, so our hens turn into ‘coop potatoes’ from scrawny self-sufficient birds!

Overfeeding aside, the nutritional value derived from the commercially manufactured feed helps to give a great start to chicks and helps maintain hens throughout their lives.

Environment

The conditions in which a hen is kept will ultimately contribute to her long-term health.
A hen kept in a clean, dry, warm coop with adequate food and water will live longer.

Longer than the neighbor that is kept in filthy conditions, with marginal nutrition fending for herself.

Genetics

We have mentioned above that the manipulation of breeds to maximize egg output can hurt the species’ long-term survival.

Bird breeding can be tricky with breeds that have a small genetic pool. Oftentimes birds are interbred excessively to the detriment of the species as a whole.

This clearly impacts lifespan.

Diligent breeders who bring in new stock from unrelated lines try to increase the gene pool and create some diversity within the breed.

But it is a long and costly process and fraught with failures and disappointments.

Veterinary Care

Chicken Swing Park

Hens were always the ‘poor relations’ of the barnyard. They really weren’t considered ‘livestock’ until well into the 20th century.

As we paid such little attention to their welfare and health issues. Thankfully much progress has been made about the study of the humble chicken. As a result, diseases and wellness issues are now much better understood.

Although they are still ‘as rare as hen’s teeth,’ veterinarians who specialize in poultry are becoming easier to find.

As the keepers of the flock, we can do much in first aid for our hens. The longer you keep chickens, the more practice you will care for their feet, including bumble removals.

Health checks, medication administration, and possibly stitching up small wounds are essential.

You can usually take care of minor things at home before they become larger problems that may require more extensive care from a veterinarian.

 

How Long Do Chickens Live

5 Popular Breeds and Their Life Expectancy

As always, it’s hard to choose 5 popular hens – we love them all!

Rhode Island Reds

These are hardy, prolific egg layers and talkative birds. There are 2 lines of Rhode Island chickens.

The most common is the production line to talk about them.

As heritage chickens, their genetic makeup has been left pretty much intact since the breed’s creation.

They can live 8+ years in ideal surroundings and with adequate nutrition and care.

Wyandottes

Another heritage hen with a good genetic profile.

If this hen is given good care and nutrition, she should live to 6+ years.

Golden Comets

A delightful chicken created for high production. As a hybrid that can produce an egg per day, they can literally lay themselves to death.

They are prone to reproductive tumors and other problems. If they live to 5 years, they are considered old.

Orpingtons

The fluffy backyard favorite! Orpingtons are a heritage breed, so they tend to have longer life spans than hybrids.

Orpingtons are generally mellow and can live 8+ years under ideal circumstances.

Easter Eggers

These darlings are cross-breed or hybrid hens.

However, although they lay colorful eggs and many people buy them just for the colorful eggs, they were never meant for high egg production.

This is fortunate for the Easter Egger as it means they are more robust than many hybrids and can live for 8+ years.

Summary

Generally, you should expect hybrid breeds to live between 2- 4 years; this will vary from bird to bird.

Heritage hens are more likely to outlive their commercial sisters by several years.

We can place the average age around 8 years. Landrace chickens are particularly hardy, self-sufficient.

They have a wide genetic base, so they are likely to live to a respectable age of 8+ years.

The oldest hen ever recorded was Matilda, who made the Guinness Book of Records at 16 years old.

As a general rule, hens with good housing, food, and care should thrive and express their natural behaviors.

When they are healthy and well cared for, their immune system is in great shape to fight any possible disease threats.

How old are your hens? Do you have any really ‘old ladies? Let us know in the comments section below…

READ NEXT: How To Do A Chicken Health Check (Checklist Included)

How Long Do Chickens Live

40 thoughts on “How Long Do Chickens Live: 6 Factors That Impact Life Expectancy

  1. I have a Jersey Giant, she is 6 years young and going through a hard molt . What can I do for her, she’s not eating too much at this time.
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated !

    1. Hi Judith,
      We have a New Jersey Giant named Molly. She is 5 1/2 years old. Is your Giant still alive. Thank You.

  2. My oldest chicken is a Wheaton Ameraucana who was hatched 3/22/2010. She is in good health and still lays an occasional blue egg.

  3. I have one girl, Candy, from my first flock of eight. I got them in 2005. She is still as sassy as she was when I got her as a chick. She makes her own rules. Candy moved into the barn with the goats about 8 years ago. Now she will hang out with the other chickens, but doesn’t want anything to do with the coop at night and goes back in the barn by herself. Obstinate, headstrong girl.

  4. My girls are good layers each will miss one day a week the 3 that I have are spoilt and come to work with me for show and tell to our senior residents.

  5. Hi there . So I have a Isla brown rescued from the egg farm she is currently 13 ish years old and as tough as a pit bull.. she still lays eggs occasionally and is showing no signs of slowing down..

  6. My barred rock will be 11 yrs old on April 1st. Her legs are a bit arthritic, but she is hanging in there! Still has a great appetite and personality. I believe she stopped laying at 9.

  7. My 3 girls turned 7 this February, one barred rock Ruffles, one black giant (though she is not any bigger than Ruffles) we call Shadow and a Cornish game hen who always gets out we call Scaredy , they took their usual winter break and started laying again a week or so ago, just curious what their life expectancy is, I don’t mind giving them a retirement home

    1. There are many people here that have stated anywhere 5-10 years. You are right in that range, do you want to raise new chicks again?
      Kindly
      Claire

  8. I have a group of two Vorwerks and a Marsh Daisy that hatched together and are now 9 1/2 years old. Last year they decided the big coop was too much and took to sleeping in the smaller coop with a low ramp. I also have three Aracauna x White Leghorn sisters just shy of 9 years old. One laid a nice blue egg just a couple of days ago. My two La Fleche girls are now 7 years old but suffer with arthritis diagnosed by the vet.

    1. Hi!
      I think Marsh Daisy is really a beautiful breed.
      I would like to ask you a few questions.
      Is the Marsh Daisy a good forager?
      Have you or do you know someone who has or had roosters Marsh Daisy? I heard they have heart problems, can you confirm that?
      Thank you in advance.

  9. I’ve just lost Mable – my beautiful gold laced Orpington. She was 8 years 4 months old. It’s completely broke my heart….

  10. Just lost one of my 5 Easter eggers. Only 3 years old. No apparent reason. Family broken heart.
    Worried about the other 4 girls. Anything I should do?

    1. I’m sorry for your loss. I just lost my easter egger bantam Myrtle. She was only 3 years 4 months old. Seemed healthy, happy and fine. Very sad. 🙁

      1. We have also lost a few, on as recent as yesterday. Not sure the cause. The flock is only about 4 years old. We lost another one about a month ago.

  11. I have an average size white chicken that lays brown eggs ,cant remember her breed but she is 12 and gives me 6 eggs a week. I love her dearly.I use a flimsy metal 6 ft.fence with tent staples every 6 inches.preditors can’t climb the fence because it wobbles and they get scared and run away.I make sure she is locked up before it gets dark.

  12. My RIR is 6 YO and on her death bead as I type this. Her name is Little Red and she has had a good life but I am in tears and there will be a fluffy feathery shaped hole in my heart for some time.

    1. Jay, I’m so very sorry to hear about your lovely little hen. You obviously adore her and gave her a great life.
      She was lucky to have you. Most people don’t understand how individual and wonderful chickens can be, just like any other pet, but there’s something special about chickens.

  13. how can you tell if your chicken is healthy or not or if they are fat
    one of my chickens is acting strangely I don’t know what breed she is but she is super skinny and won’t eat or drink
    just stays in the nesting box
    what should I do?

  14. My Rosie is 7 years old and is my oldest surviving girl..she was separated from the others 4 years ago when she became sick and has lived on her own ever since not wanting to return to the others sadly the other girls have now all passed away but my beautiful Rosie is still doing fine…no more eggs but one happy friendly lady

  15. We have 6 hens and one rooster. We got four of the hens as chicks from our local farm supplier, and they will be turning 7 in May. Our rooster came with them. Two of our hens came from a local farm who needed to place their chickens, and we are unsure of their age. Every once in a while we get an egg from someone. We love our chickens because they keep our property clear of ticks, which other people in our rural area seem to complain about.

  16. We must be doing something right with our birds! We have mostly a mix of various breeds, both hybrid and heritage. We’ve had several Golden Comets live to more than 5 years, and all the others have lasted 8-10 years on average. And we’ve also discovered that, if you cross a Golden Comet with an Americauna, you get one tough bird; those can easily exceed a ten-year life span. Our oldest one was twelve when she died.

  17. our barred rock, Josephine died this morning. She was 7. We found her in the henhouse-it looked like she might have fallen from the roost. Could she have had a heart attack? 7 seems a bit young. She was slow in her movements had been sort of keeping to herself in our flock of 6 but she was always that way so we weren’t worried. I think she was laying right up to her death. I hope she didn’t suffer. Anything I should check her for before we bury her?

  18. I have a light brahma named JubJub that’s 13years old(as of 2020)
    She roams my large suburban northern California yard, with 2 other hens (cuckoo-Marans), that are going on 11* years old!
    – I hope they live for a long time to come! As long as no raccoon or possum figure out how to get to them!?
    Nor eagle/hawk/falcon try to kill them!?
    Thanks for the info!

  19. currently have a Hyline Brown we bought as a day old chick, still going strong at 4. Hasn’t laid an egg for probably 6 or 7 months, and we are certain she is done laying, but she still wanders the yard quite happily with the rest of our assorted flock. (A duccle, 2 silkies, an australorp, a cream leg bar and a polish/cream leg bar cross)

  20. I have an Americauna that just turned 7 and she is still laying like a champ. She had stopped laying for a while. When she was the only one left from our original 2 flocks, we got 2 pullets to keep her company and she started laying again. Got her as a day old chick.

  21. I have 3 hens that are 18 weeks. Not sure of breed I’m thinking isa brown tho. (When I bought them description just said straight run). They just started laying and 2 are laying normal eggs but 1 is laying soft eggs. I have crushed oyster shell always available for calcium. Any idea why this is happening to only 1 of the 3? I’m a first timer so any advice is appreciated. Thank you!

  22. I have a mixed cream colored hen who is 3 years old and is turning into a rooster! I have even caught her trying to mate with another hen. She still looks female, but she crows too. I take good care of my hens and I really love them, but I probably won’t keep a hen that doesn’t lay. All my hens are 3 years and I am watching closely for signs of aging. Thanks for all the egg-cellent info you have all shared!

    1. I’ve had that happen before too ! My neighbor gave me a homaphrodite to keep my one rooster company. They got along great for several years then “Pat” turned into a rooster ! One day the fighting began so I had to get rid of the original rooster and I kept “Pat”. He lived for probably 10+ years and was the best rooster I’ve ever owned. He always showed me where the girls were who were sitting on eggs in the woods {without fail !}, he’d clear everybody out to the other side of the house when I was mowing the lawn, and he systematically drove the wild turkeys out of the yard and over the stone wall. Sometimes there would be 20 or 30 wild turkeys but Pat kept everything under control. Absolutely the best rooster that ever lived ! Thankfully he died of natural causes at a ripe old age. I’ve never had another one who was even remotely as helpful as Pat !

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