If you’re thinking about keeping a few backyard chickens then you might be wondering how long you’ll enjoy their company. Well, the average chicken lives for between five and ten years. Now there’s a pretty big difference between those numbers but then there are a huge number of factors that will affect how long your chickens will be with you. From the food they eat through to the size of the coop, all can influence the bird’s welfare and in turn, their lifespan.
In this guide, we’ll dig into more detail to answer your question on how long do chickens live before then looking at the key influences on your chickens’ life expectancy.
What Affects The Lifespan of a Chicken?
So, let’s start off by looking at some of the main factors that you need to consider. We have to say that in our years keeping chickens, we also know that sometimes Mother Nature has different plans to us and to what all the textbooks say. So, while there are few certainties, we hope that we’ll give you a little more guidance and information.
You’ve heard the saying that you’ll get out what you’ll get in? Well, nutrition and chicken life expectancy is a perfect real-life example of that saying. Sure you can get the cheapest chicken feed possible and feed only that and your chickens will be okay. But if you supplement that feed with a range of fruit and vegetables and give your flock the opportunity to scratch around for bugs and worms then you can be sure that their nutritional needs will be met.
On the flip side of that, you do also need to make sure that you keep an eye on your chickens’ weight. Obesity can be a problem and when that happens then it can lead to joint problems as well as issues with the functioning of their kidneys. Balance in all things is probably a good saying when it comes to nutrition.
Just as health care for us humans has come in leaps and bounds over the years, it’s just the same for animals, including chickens. When you’re considering just how long do chickens live, well that can come down to the effectiveness of the care they receive.
Vaccinations and worming can be key to keeping your chickens healthy and extending that life expectancy. Sadly there are still some disease risks that can cause problems and these include:
Caused by the Coccidian protozoa, this disease spreads from one bird to the next through contact with infected faeces. It then leaches all of the goodness from whatever the chicken eats and results in diarrhoea, appetite loss and lethargy. Our full guide on Coccidiosis can be found here.
This is a bacterial disease caused by Pasteurella multocida. The symptoms that you’re likely to see in your birds include lethargy, purple discolouration of the skin and mucus coming out of their beak. Sadly Fowl Cholera can also result in sudden death and it’s highly contagious. Once your chicken has had this disease they remain as a carrier for the length of their life.
Avian influenza, which is also known as bird flu is a viral infection that infects not only birds, but also humans and other animals. The main symptoms include a swollen head, a blue discolouration of the neck and throat areas, and problems breathing. If you suspect avian influenza, it’s essential that you notify the authorities in your local area immediately. In humans, the symptoms are very similar to standard flu.
Living conditions are important to your chickens. So getting the right chicken coop, to begin with, is an important part of planning for your flock
Size is important, when birds are cramped then conditions quickly deteriorate and any illnesses will quickly spread through the flock. It’s recommended that every chicken has between 2 and 4 square foot of space within the coop. Whether it’s the upper or the lower end of those sizes is going to depend on the size of breeds you’ve chosen. Bantams for example will do fine with 2 square feet while heavier birds will need the 4 square feet.
Now, these figures do assume that your flock will also have access to an outside run and fresh air. If they only have access to the chicken coop then you should aim for between 5 and 10 square feet per bird.
We recommend that you go for larger rather than smaller. It’s easier to keep a larger chicken coop clean and you’ll have fewer issues with humidity. And of course, you may end up with more chickens than you originally planned for so now you have space for them!
Much the same as humans, genetics can play a large part in how long your chickens live for. Breeding tactics over the years have meant that as a focus was placed on appearance or rapid growth, then other aspects of the chicken also change. Some of the hybrid chickens have a lower life expectancy while others see an increase in the age they lived to.
This is definitely an area that needs further research before you make a decision on the breed of chicken that you’ll keep.
While your chickens may have a predicted life expectancy, the local predators will have little interest in that if they’re looking for their next meal! No matter where you live in the world, whether it’s chickens in your backyard or in a field in the middle of nowhere, the chances are that there will be those who will be tempted by your flock to meet their nutritional needs!
This one is easy to fix by ensuring that your hens are safely enclosed in a run or an area that is inaccessible to predators. Make sure that everyone is safely back in their secure coop at dusk and you should be able to avoid predator problems
How Long Do Chickens Lay Eggs For?
Many chickens are kept solely for their egg production abilities and so when that volume of egg-laying reduces then that also means the end of the hen’s life span. Now, chickens don’t stop laying eggs at a certain age, but they do lay less as they get older. Generally, most breeds, such as the Rhode Island Red, who have been bred for laying eggs will be productive for up to five to seven years but it’s not unknown for a chicken of 10 years of age to lay every now and then.
Debunking the two-year myth
We often see it written that chickens lay eggs for two years and after that point, they are considered too old to be productive. Sadly, this is the case on many production farms but this is only because in that setting they demand high production levels which can only be achieved by the younger chickens. This then means that the hens have a very short lifespan. So, when asking someone how long do chickens live, it’s important to find out if that’s their natural lifespan or when they no longer become high production laying hens.
For most chicken keepers, a few less eggs each week isn’t big deal and so their hens get to live longer, provide a few eggs and live the life that all chickens deserve to have.
Do Roosters Live Longer Than Chickens?
Roosters and chickens live for pretty much about the same amount of time, so that’s between 5-8 years. But just like hens, some can live much much longer. We have a local rooster who is still strutting his stuff at the grand old age of 15! Now he is less active with the hens so you wouldn’t expect to see many chicks but he still takes his role as flock leader very seriously.
Which Chicken Breeds Live The Longest?
The Plymouth Rock
As one of Americas’ oldest breeds of chickens, the Plymouth Rock is still a popular choice amongst hen keepers. They are not prolific producers but they do average around 200 eggs per year so that’s roughly 4 eggs per week, more than enough for most families. These are an easy-going breed of chickens that are known for their docile nature and for being a pleasure to be around.
The Plymouth Rock is also well known for having few health issues, there are no diseases or conditions that are particularly associated with the breed. When well cared for, these hens are likely to be with you for as long as 12 years.
If you were to imagine a backyard chicken in your mind, then it will probably look something like the Buff Orpington. These heavy and broad bodied chickens come in two sizes, large fowl and bantam. Docile and friendly they will soon come running when they see you approach, just in case you have a tasty treat for them!
You can expect between 200–280 eggs per year making them great layers, while if raising for meat, then they are ready at around 22 weeks. While their productive lifespan is around 5-7 years this is a breed that will live for much longer if kept in great living conditions.
This breed of chicken got its name due to its ability to lay eggs of a wide variety of colours. Developed from crossing the Araucana and the Ameraucana breeds of chicken they were passed the gene for laying blue eggs. As well as being popular due to the colours of their eggs they are also well known for being a pretty laid back hen.
The Easter Egger has a life span of around 8 years which is longer than many other breeds.
Which Chickens Have the Shortest Life Span?
Now as we’ve already mentioned a chickens life expectancy is controlled by a whole range of factors. However, there are some breeds that are known for having a shorter life span.
Golden Comets are bred as high production layers. Sadly as with many other breeds where the emphasis is on production, the breed tends to succumb to a range of reproductive issues.
The production of eggs can start when the hens are just 16 weeks and it’s likely to continue until they are around two years old. At their prime, they will be lay eggs five to six times a week. After the age of two, they will still be laying eggs but in much lower numbers.
The lifespan of the Golden Comet hen, is on average, around four to five years.
Heritage vs Hybrid Chickens
Before we look at the variation in lifespan between the heritage and hybrid birds, lets first look at what the differences are between the two types.
Heritage chickens are those which are raised and bred naturally with their own kind. This then means that they:
- Mate naturally
- Have much slower rate of growth
- Come from pure stock
- Meet the American Poultry Association standard for the breed
Hybrid chickens have been manipulated by breeders to achieve a high level of egg production. These laying hens were created in the 1940s for the egg industry. The aim was for them to start laying when young, have a high level of production and then the laying cycle would be completed by the time they were around two years old.
Because the focus was purely on high volume production, once the birds are past their prime, then they are sent to the slaughterhouse to become pet food. Additionally, because of genetic manipulation, they are much more likely to die younger because of issues with their reproductive system.
So, it probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to know that heritage chickens do live longer than hybrid chickens. That said, If there was the acceptance of a lower egg-laying rate, hybrid chickens would likely live for a few more years.
What Are The Common Causes of an Early Death in Chickens?
One minute your hen is pecking way, looking for tasty bugs and sunning themselves in the summer heat and the next minute she has passed on. As a chicken keeper, it can be upsetting when a chicken dies and when that happens suddenly, it can be even more distressing. Sadly, it’s not unusual for this to happen and the more chickens that you have then the odds of it happening do increase.
Sometimes understanding the reasons for this type of thing happening, can help us understand whether there is anything we can do to prevent it from happening again or whether we have to learn to come to terms with it.
Sudden Chicken Death Syndrome
Some of the most common reasons for a chicken to suddenly die come from:
- A hen becoming egg-bound
- Being trampled on by another chicken, though this is less likely with a backyard chicken.
- Heart failure
How Does A Chicken Become Egg Bound?
‘Egg bound’ means that a hen has an egg stuck within her oviduct, usually between the uterus and the cloaca. Normally, when eggs are ready to be laid, the cloaca shuts the intestinal opening meaning that the egg doesn’t then get covered in poop. However, when it doesn’t pass then the hen can’t poop and there’s a real risk that she will day within twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
Causes of the problem include:
There are a variety of things that cause binding to take place. Some are manageable, others not so much.
Passing large or odd-shaped eggs. The oviduct can only stretch so far and a large or misshapen egg can get stuck.
- Malfunction in the reproductive system due to genetic issues
- Double yolk eggs which are larger than the single yolkers
- A diet that is low in vitamins, minerals and protein.
- An overweight hen whose muscles have been weakened.
- Hens who start to lay when very young
- Elderly chickens who have weak muscles and who are inactive.
- Retention of eggs– if there aren’t enough nest boxes then sometimes a hen will ‘hold’ her egg.
What Causes a Chicken to Have Heart Failure?
Heart failure is well known as being a common reason for losing a chicken and there are a number of reasons why it can happen:
This again is likely to be more of an issue in commercial settings where the chickens are kept in full light conditions, all the time, to encourage a greater number of eggs to be laid. The problem with this is that the bird never gets into a correct sleep cycle which in turn places huge pressure on the heart.
If you do provide artificial light for your chickens during the winter months, do make sure they also get periods of darkness so that they can fully rest.
Diet High In Sugar
Once more, a greater issue for settings where chickens grow at rapid rates for the meat market. If, however, your chickens are a little on the heavy side for their breed then it could be putting pressure on their hearts and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
Do check the ingredient list on your chicken food to see how high glucose is on the list and consider swopping if that might be causing problems.
Lack of Exercise
Just like us humans, when your chickens have a lack of exercise then it’s going to cause problems with their wellbeing and how long they live for. Ideally, each chicken will have the opportunity to get out of their coop and be able to roam each day. When this isn’t possible, or safe for them, then a secure run will allow them to get some exercise each day.
So, How Long Do Chickens Live For?
Well, with good housing, high-quality food and a focus on health care, your hens could live long lives and ages of over ten years old. Also, remember that the healthier your birds are, the longer their laying period will be.
But we like to think that our chicken keepers will enjoy the company of their hens even when the egg per bird rate has dropped a little, the chances are they still have several years of life in them yet. After all, we all like to live a happy and carefree retirement!