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How Long Will My Hens Live For?

how long will my hens live

The oldest chicken ever to have lived was called Matilda, and she was sixteen years old when she finally died. Her life circumstances were not ‘average chicken’. She belonged to a pair of stage magicians who took great care of her. Also, she never laid any eggs! She had quite a luxurious life with minimal stress- she apparently enjoyed being a ‘stage chicken’, even appearing on the Jay Leno show! You may ask, how long will my backyard hen live?

Aside from exceptional birds like Matilda, how long can we expect our hens to live?
The lifespan of a chicken depends on many things: breed, environment, genetics and keeper are just a few things to consider.

In commercial settings, hens are usually kept a couple of years before slaughter. The aim of commercial businesses is to have a ‘high egg to low feed ratio’. Once the hen goes past her prime of laying, she will be sent to the slaughterhouse.

Grandmas’ hens would have had a relatively short lifespan. The birds of the ‘good old days’ were expected to forage for themselves and their chicks.

They would be given the table scraps, but other than that, their diet was what they could find for themselves.

Two to four years would likely have been their average lifespan.

However over the last few decades our hens have started living longer (up to 8 years) and this is in no small part due to:

  • A better understanding of disease and parasites
  • Better genetics
  • Improved housing and sanitation
  • Feed and improved diets
  • Veterinary care and support

These improvements will give the average backyard chicken at least a 5 year lifespan and with some protection from predators and care you should expect 7-8 years.

Let’s now take an in-depth look at some of the factors which affects your hen’s lifespan.

Enhanced Chicken Genetics Can Determine How Long My Hens Will Live

Many of these changes came about after World War 2. Rationing of eggs was in full force until after the war years in England. During the rationing years an adults’ allowance was one egg per week!

The government and industry were determined that the country would be more self-sufficient with regard to eggs and poultry.

Until after the war, chickens were not considered to be ‘proper’ farm stock.

That all changed with the introduction of broilers from the US. Breeders in the US took to the task of creating a prolific egg laying breed and succeeded magnificently!

Birds started to be cross bred to produce prolific laying hens or utility breeds (good for eggs and the table).

This busy period in search of the ultimate hen brought forth fine specimens such as the Rhode Island Red and Delawares.

Rhode Island Red Chicken Breeds
Rhode Island Red

Today we have egg laying ‘superstars’ such as the Golden Comets. As may be expected, breeding a hen to lay 300+ eggs per year, takes a toll on their body.

Our hybrid hens tend to be shorter lived than the old fashioned ‘heritage’ breeds, typically around 2-3 years, depending on whether the keeper wants to cull or keep.

There are still many good utility (dual purpose) hens out there on the market for those of us who wish to have the older, more long lived varieties.

These older varieties were overlooked in favor of raising birds that could grow quickly with minimum input, but breeds such as La Bresse and Sussex are starting to make a comeback in backyard flocks.

Unfortunately, the genetic pool of many of these traditional old breeds is critically endangered these days. If you are interested in finding endangered breeds- head over to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

The main differences between the two types of chicken seen today are:

How Long Will My Hens Live

Heritage breeds tend to grow and fill out a bit slower than their counterparts. This is a blessing really, since generally speaking what grows fast will ‘wear out’ sooner.

The hybrid chickens will start laying sooner, but in general will slow down quickly- around 2-3 years of age.

Heritage layers will continue past that number, although production will be slower and more sporadic.

Overall though you can expect a hybrid hens’ lifespan is around 6 years, whereas sturdier Heritage breeds should live closer to 8 years old.


Disease and Parasites Affecting How Long My Hens Live

Diseases and parasites of poultry have been studied extensively.

Many advances in caring and treating several diseases, understanding the methods of infection, and the introduction of good bio-security have improved the overall health of poultry in recent years.

However even with these advances it still remains true that hens living in less cramped quarters with good nutrition, fresh air and plenty of space, will live longer than chickens crammed into large production houses.

The current outbreak of Avian Influenza has the production houses in a quandary. Despite all of the rigorous biosecurity practiced at the commercial operations, all but 10% of bird flu outbreaks have been commercial.

Bird Flu Statistics
Bird Flue Statistics USDA


However, this does not mean that the backyard chicken keeper can let their guard down, although you may be starting from a better place as far as space and more individual care goes.

Generally speaking, most diseases can be kept at bay by practicing some sensible and easy steps.

In previous articles we have talked about biosecurity of your flock. Good handwashing, maintaining a closed flock, tending to older flock members before tending to the quarantine pens and wearing appropriate clothing if visiting or being visited.

All sorts of germs and nastiness can travel on the sole of a boot.

Many of the ‘old time’ diseases of chickens have been studied and can be better treated now. For example a vaccination against Mareks’ disease was invented in the 1970s’- the disease was discovered and named in 1907.

As more and more harsh diseases and parasites are discovered and cured we can expect the average lifespan of our backyard chickens to move closer towards 8 years or more!

How Long Backyard Hens Live

Improved Housing and Sanitation Helps How Long My Hens Live

In all of history, not just poultry history, there have been tremendous strides made with the application of cleanliness and sanitation.

Epidemics of cholera and plague were rife in the Middle Ages and up until the 1800s’ in England because of filth.

The US also suffered badly from typhoid and influenza type diseases which were spread by lack of hygiene and cramped living quarters until the early 1900s’.

Once housing and sanitation improved, health also rapidly improved.

Eventually, these higher standards translated into better care, housing and feeding of most livestock.

Unfortunately, the chicken was always seen as the ‘poor relative’ of the barnyard, so change came slowly and as we have already mentioned, many of these improvements didn’t happen until after World War 2.

Chickens finally got their own coops, feed rations and bedding! Their living quarters were kept cleaner, nutrition improved and the general wellbeing of the hen improved dramatically.

And with this their lifespan in recent years has dramatically increased from less than 4 years to anywhere from 6-8 on average.


Chicken rations of today are far superior to many of their predecessors.

Whilst we may disagree with the use of GMOs’ in animal feeds as ‘unnatural’, when comparing to the ration of yesteryear it is a truly wholesome thing.

Feeding Chickens Commercial Grain
Feeding Chickens Grain

Animal feeds are precisely formulated for each stage of a hens’ life: chick starter, grower, finisher, layer etc.

The guesswork has been taken out of the process and we can be sure our birds are receiving all the nutrients they need to produce eggs, chicks and maintain their health.

This feed ensures that our chicks grow up to be strong healthy hens who not only lay well, but who also have a strong core which enables them to live longer.

All that remains for us to do is keep the coop fresh and clean for the birds!

Veterinary Care

Although it’s still comparatively rare to find a vet who has a great knowledge of all things poultry, the recent progress made in animal medicine has been spectacular!

Flock keepers too, are more diligent with their birds.

Taking notes of what seems to be wrong, isolating a hen before things get out of control and trying to tend for their birds in a more holistic way are all part of the overall improvement of the birds’ chances of correct treatment in times of need.

Of course, taking an animal to a veterinarian is an expensive proposition and many people simply cannot afford that option.
It’s perfectly alright to treat minor conditions yourself as long as the bird is not suffering any undue distress. The wellbeing of the bird is of paramount importance, so you must always remain attuned to the possibility of distress and pain in the bird.

With this care, diseases and illnesses (such as Mareks’ disease) which would have killed birds previously are now not an issue!

Breed and Savviness

Some breeds are savvier than others, and then there are some birds who are just plain smarter than the rest of the flock.

For example, some chickens are a bit more conscious of their surroundings, especially in the free-range environment. These birds keep a watchful eye out for predators, stay close to the safety of dense brush, and never stray far from the flock.

On the other end of the spectrum, you may have a hen that is completely aloof and will wander into the open with a hawk flying overhead.

When it comes to the intelligence and savviness of a chicken, whether you have smarty or not is partly within the breeding and partly the luck of the draw.

But there is something to be said for the intelligence of certain chickens. Smarter birds tend to avoid death-by-predator for much longer than a hen laser-focused on grubs.

How Long Will My Hens Live: Conclusion

So, as you’ve probably realizes now, there is no definitive answer to: “how long will my chicken live?”

Variables such as: the breed, living conditions and cleanliness will all affect the life expectancy of your hen.

Also, other factors that will come into play will be predators, accidents and unforeseen circumstances. None of these can be predicted of course, but certainly extra care needs to be taken to protect your birds if they free range.

With this said, if you take good care of your girls and keep predators away you can even expect your girls to live at least 6-8 years old and, if you’re lucky, this figure can creep into the double digits!

Let us know in the comments below the age of your oldest hens and is she still laying?

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

How Long Will My Hens Live For

37 thoughts on “How Long Will My Hens Live For?

    1. If your hen was used to being with others before you got her, she needs and will appreciate a friend. What I did in a similar situation was to find a comparable sized pullet, introduce her to my hen’s house in the dark of night; take her out in the morning to a small wire pen in the yard in case of any aggression from the older hen; and after a couple of days when the sight and smell of the new bird are familiar to the older one…. and the new chicken familiar with where she lives now, so she will go into the house by herself, let her out of the pen. My two hens soon became bosom buddies and the older hen even brooded the eggs I put under the younger with her and is still sharing motherhood for the one winter chick who hatched.
      If your chick has never known other chickens,that is trickier. My single hen was an orphaned day-old chick saved from being fed to the alligators in a a large zoo. She was imprinted on my husband and myself, for she surprisingly survived chickhood. When my guilt over her lifestyle and welfare overcame my love for Dickens and I gave her to a non-killer who lived in the countryside with other fowl and animals, she followed him around and dominated his cats to the point where she ate their food first. She went to her new home after about a year, having laid her first egg on my washing machine in the utility room. Dickens turned out to be a white leghorn.
      Conclusion: One chicken needs and deserves a great deal of attention and creature friends of some sort, if you are not always around.

    2. I have 7 girls all over 6 yrs old the oldest is 7and 1/2 she laid an egg a few months ago…is now molting…healthy and happy.

      1. I have had all three of these suggested breeds- Rhode Island Red, Buff Orphington and I just recently got three Golden Comets, and I agree 100% that these are very friendly breeds. They come to me, let me pet them, and also lay great eggs!
        I also had a Blue Cochin that was really, really sweet, and added a nice touch of color to the flock.

    1. Our Buff Orpingtons are docile and friendly. But the Red Cross will come and want to sit on your lap and share your lunch if you bring food out to the patio. The Black Lace yandotte is lovely, and will eat out of your hand, but she doesn’t like to be picked up and held as the three others do.

  1. I have Buff Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds… in addition to an Easter Egger, an Australorp, a White Plymouth Rock and a Red Star… what seemed to determine their friendliness more than anything was how much they were handled and interacted with when they were young! I had a Buff who sadly died and she was like a “lap chicken”… the two buffs I have now are not as friendly. So whatever you get, give them lots of love and attention!

  2. We have just lost our first bought and last to pop her socks Black Rock at almost 11yrs of age, outliving all her contempories. She last laid less than 6 months ago. Now debating whether or not to continue poultry keeping.

  3. I am trying to get every color egg (green, lavender, blue, brown, white) possible. The variety of colors and personalitis are amazing.

  4. My Black Rock chicken, Betty, is in her 17th year and was still laying earlier this year. I love my girl ?


  6. I have a beautiful Wheaton Bantam that has lived in the house ever since she was born. Her mother rolled her out of the nest and wanted nothing to do with her. My husband brought her into the house and she was put on a heating pad and that was June 15, 2005. Her name is Henrietta. She was fourteen years old this year and today is September 28th, 2019. Show is like our daughter and she sleeps with me every night. She has some kind of respiratory problem going on and I’ve had her Baytril twice for this same problem but, the vet said she should see an Avian doctor at the university. I know it’s just old age and something will take her to heaven, possibly this, as she is not eating well, staying in the dark, and breathing raspy. My heart is breaking as I am typing this as she is on my shoulder now and woke me up earlier and I thought she was going. I just want to thank God that He allowed her to live this long and for all the most wonderful memories anyone could have with a pet. She is so PRECIOUS to my soul and I just don’t know if I can handle her not being her with me, chasing my toes, or wanting to go outside. She is truly an Angel from GOD that He sent me to care for or for her to take care of me. God only knows how much I love her and how very, very blessed I am again and how happy she has made my life. She is getting ready to criss the rainbow bridge as a mother knows sometimes about their children so, she can got be with her daddy know in Heaven and keep him entertained and loved. I know he misses her because she loved him so much. He use to carry her around in his shirt picket when she was tiny. I pray I can get through this as I told her when she goes, i have to go with her. What a loving, beautiful, caring hen she is and I will carry her on my shoulder and in my hear FOREVER. I LOVE YOU, HENRIETTA WOODY more than you’ll ever know.

    1. Your story is so sweet. I’m so happy you have been able to spend so many wonderful years with your sweet bird. I hand raised one inside as well and she snuggled on my shoulder every night before bed. When she grew up though she made it pretty clear she preferred to be with the big birds which is where she now is. She is still my special little bird and is the first out of the coop and the first to greet me every day! She is a Welsummer which is a historically flighty bird. I can still see that tendency for flightiness in her but she definitely has her own personality.

    2. Well that just made me tear up while I’m researching getting chickens for the first time. This is the exact relationship we want, as our first interest is that they’ll be pets. I absolutely loved your touching story and it has convinced me this is something we want to move forward with.

  7. I have an Ameraucana that is still going strong at 11 years old. She laid less than a dozen eggs last spring, no eggs so far this spring. Since she made it through the winter OK, I got her some hatchery chicks for company this spring. She had a twin that passed last spring at 10 years old.

    1. Oh! I hope mine live that long! I’m surprised she was still laying! Can I ask what you feed your hens?

  8. My favorite pet is the Sebright. A friendly bantam and fair egg layer. The rooster is nice too.
    This is a true bantam. There is not a full size version.
    This is a breed that needs saving. There are not enough around, and the ones I see are too big, or their lacing isn’t sharp.

  9. I had a black Japanese bantam who lived to be 12. She was incredibly sweet and a good mother. She could hatch any size egg and even hatched buff orpingtons and Easter eggers. I sure loved that hen. My son named her “Mrs. Peep” when he was four years old. We have buff orpingtons and Easter eggers now who also like to cuddle with us, some more than others. They are definitely spoiled! I’m trying hard to keep their run safe. A fox has been about and got my neighbor’s entire flock of six hens a few days ago. She didn’t have a secure run or hen house. I love having wildlife around, but that fox had better keep away from my hens!

  10. we have a hen whom hasn’t layed for an unknown number of years however we recon she is probably about 15 yrs old. She is now blind and deaf on one side and has the occasional down period however general over night she bounces back to continue to surprise us with her resilience and strength. We have lovingly called her ‘momma’ as she is probably the mother for most of our current flock.

    1. I just lost my Barred Rock hen tonight from old age at 11.5 years old. She was the light of the farm! She waited every night to be picked up and brought inside to sleep in her “bed” on the enclosed porch. If I putted around too long before picking her up, she would voice her displeasure by pulling my pant leg, or shirt for attention. I would frequently sit with her on the swing or by a bonfire at night. I loved that little hen and will miss her so much after almost 12 years of seeing her every day.

      1. Just read about your sweet little girl – mine is 11 now and I worry about her endlessly. So, sorry for your loss.

  11. My pet hen is now 11 years old – I am wondering if there is anything I need to do to keep her healthy as far as feeding her. She lives in her chicken condo under our living room stairs at night and during the day she is either outside pecking at things or in through the dog door when the weather gets to cold or too hot for her.

    We bought her as a gift to my 3 year old granddaughter for Easter. My granddaughter is now 14.

    I would appreciate any help you can give me on this issue.


  12. Hi does anyone know the life span of Sagitta hens? I can find nothing on the internet. We lost a Hyline Brown after two years. I want a heritage breed at pullet age but it’s very hard to find where I live. The poultry business that sells the Hyline Brown also has Sagitta. I read they are a cross between 2-3 breeds so assume their life span is also shorter?

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