There are millions of chickens living across the United States, including domestic backyard birds, farm-reared hens and cockerels, chickens bred and raised in large-scale factory operations, populations of feral chickens that have evolved from escaped domestic flocks, and truly wild junglefowl.
Read on to learn if all chickens have the same life expectancy, as we answer the question: how long do chickens live?
Many factors will influence the length of a chicken’s life. Chickens in captivity typically live between 5 and 10 years, but this varies significantly depending on whether the bird is kept as a family pet, as a free-range farm bird, or raised purely for commercial use on a factory farm.
Wild-roaming chickens, commonly known as junglefowl, also exist, and live across South and Southeast Asia. Data on these birds’ life expectancy in the wild is limited.
Several feral chicken populations exist in the wild that have descended from birds that originally lived in captivity, but no data exists for their lifespan and survival rates.
Read on for a more in-depth study of the different factors that may influence a chicken’s life expectancy, and what the most common causes of mortality in backyard chickens are.
On average, chickens usually live for between five and ten years (Wyandotte Hen)
On average, chickens will usually live for anything between 5 and 10 years. Chickens kept as pets are safe from predators, and live in reinforced enclosures, protected from any adverse weather conditions, supplied with regular food and water, and with access to veterinary care when required.
In addition to chickens kept as pets, billions of chickens are raised on farms each year, and used for egg laying or for their meat. These chickens will have a naturally shorter lifespan than those kept in family backyards, due to the fact that it is only economically viable to keep them alive in agricultural settings for the length of their useful life.
Rescue hens are frequently rehomed at the end of their laying life rather than slaughtered, and enjoy a new lease of life provided the right care is given. Let’s take a look at some of the more common breeds of chickens that may be kept as pets and their average lifespans.
Close up of a Rhode Island Red hen
Data on the average or expected lifespan of wild chickens is lacking. Estimates place the average life expectancy of a wild-roaming chicken between 3 and 7 years.
There are four extant species of junglefowl. Their estimated lifespan details are as follows:
Red Junglefowls have been recorded of living for eleven years, but it's possible they live for longer
Chickens are susceptible to disease, and avian influenza and Marek’s disease can be fatal and highly contagious among backyard birds. In some circumstances where enclosures are not sufficiently secured, predators such as foxes, coyotes and bobcats may enter chicken coops.
However, as the vast majority of the chicken population is kept for some form of human consumption, be that eggs or meat, in many cases their lives come to a premature end when they are no longer useful to farmers.
So in this way, humans must be counted as being responsible for the highest number of deaths for chickens around the world.
Broody hens incubate their eggs for 21 days, keeping them warm, turning them, and ejecting any eggs that become unviable. Once this three-week period is over, the eggs hatch, with bedraggled chicks emerging. These chicks, sustained by the moisture from inside the eggs for up to 72 hours, develop their first feathers between 6 and 8 days old.
Between 6 and 12 weeks, chicks will undergo a mini-molt, with their first set of feathers coming through, and subtle changes to their appearance being observed. These include a sturdier, more upright stance and more obvious differences between pullets (young females) and cockerels (young males).
Females can start laying from as young as 16 weeks in some hybrid breeds, while in other breeds, the first eggs will not be laid until the hen is 28 weeks. By the time a pullet is 20 weeks old, they are around the same size as an adult female.
Females lay for around a 2-year period, and after this, productivity sharply declines before stopping entirely. Males will attempt to mate until they are around 3 years old.
The chick of a chicken going through its first molt
Backyard chicken coops are targeted by opportunistic predators, such as coyotes, foxes, and some birds of prey, including hawks and owls. Their success in evading being killed depends greatly on how secure their enclosure is. In the wild, predators of junglefowl include eagles, leopards, and hawks.
According to the Guinness World Records, the oldest chicken that ever lived was Matilda, an Old English Game hen, who died at the age of 16 in 2006. Some anecdotal reports of 20-year old chickens exist, but there is no solid evidence to support these stories.
A free range hen running around the farm
Newly hatched chicks can survive for 2 to 3 days without food and water, as they use up the nutrients from the albumen they hatched from.
Older chicks can quickly become dehydrated if they do not have access to water for 6 hours, while adult birds can go without water for 48 hours in mild conditions before becoming seriously dehydrated.
Chickens can survive without food for a maximum of 4 to 5 days, but in order to remain healthy need constant access to food or foraging sites throughout the day.
Although there is certainly no shortage of chickens in the world, some breeds are a lot rarer than others and experiencing a rapid decline in numbers. One such example is the Burmese, which is only reared by a very limited number of breeders. A Japanese breed, the Ongadori, has a global population of less than 250 birds.
Silkie Hen and Rooster (Grey)
It is possible to visually estimate the age of a chicken based on the appearance of its feathers and combs.
Chickens generally undergo their first full molt between 12 and 18 months of age. Their appearance as this is underway is somewhat scruffy and ragged. As the new, vibrant feathers come in, their plumage becomes more vibrant, with glossier feathers and bright red combs.
The feathers of older chickens lose glossiness with age, and their combs are not such a vivid shade of red. Chickens that are older than 3 years develop spurs on their legs.
Hens generally stop laying after around two years of producing eggs, and will then begin to slow down and become less active. Roosters will attempt to mate until they are around 3 years old, and as they age, they begin to crow less than younger birds.
For commercially bred chickens, males have a significantly shorter life expectancy. Many male chicks are slaughtered at just one day old as they are not useful to the agricultural industry.
Laying hens live for around a year and a half before being no longer needed. For broiler chickens bred for their meat, life expectancy is a mere 40 days, as once a chicken has reached its desired weight, their fate is sealed.
For backyard chickens, roosters live on average for 5 to 8 years, while hens may have a slight edge, with expected life expectancy of 8 to 10 years as a generic average.
Close up of a Leghorn Rooster
As chickens age, they do need to sleep more during the day. Senior chickens are a lot less active than younger birds and will lay down a lot more. Arthritis is common among aging chickens, and resting and sleeping more may bring some relief to hens suffering from this condition.
Chickens are sociable birds and thrive in pairs or larger groups. Although a chicken can live on its own, there is a greater risk of stress and isolation, if constant interaction is lacking.
The oldest chicken recorded was 16 years old, and there are no further verified claims of chickens that have lived longer than this, although some unsupported claims exist online of chickens that have surpassed 20 years.
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