You’d think the life expectancy of a chicken was pretty simple. After all, chickens on a poultry farm live a sheltered and routine life away from natural predators and with plenty of food available. They don’t even have to hunt. So, it might surprise you that a chicken's lifespan is not necessarily as clear-cut as that.
Several factors can affect how long chickens live, and if you are responsible for chickens on your farm, it’ll pay for you to know them. We’ve outlined everything you need to know about how long chickens live. Read on for more.
What Is the Average Lifespan of a Chicken?
As one of the most domesticated and farmed animals in the UK, the average lifespan of chickens highly depends on the type of chicken and its intended purpose. For example, chickens that are farmed for their meat will obviously have a shorter lifespan than those used for eggs.
In the wild, hens can live for up to around eight years, and it's possible for farmed hens to also live that long if they are looked after well. Whether or not they are heritage hens or hybrids will also affect the length of their life, as hybrids tend to live much shorter lives.
Factors Affecting the Life Expectancy of Chickens
As with many of the factors on this list, housing affects the life expectancy of just about all living creatures. But how does it affect chickens specifically? It’s all in the level of purpose in the design of the chicken housing.
In the early days of chicken farming, it wouldn’t have been unusual to have chickens in the same housing as other, much larger animals. Not only was this not socially safe, but it didn’t consider what chickens need most from their coops.
Dryness, warmth, fresh air, shelter, and decent bedding all lead to chickens living longer and happier lives.
While they might not be the most tested animals, chickens have been used to help with scientific progress for many years. One of the advantages of that is that we have an excellent understanding of many diseases that chickens are privy to. And with that understanding comes the ability to prevent.
Lice, worms, flies, and mites are all chicken disease carriers, and if your birds are infected, that can be catastrophic for the flock - especially if the disease is contagious. Ensuring your chickens are protected from insects and diseases is a great way to extend their life.
As you’d expect, predators can be a real issue in the lifespan of chickens. It doesn’t matter how well-housed, well-fed, or well-cared for they are; if a predator gets into the coop, your chickens' lives will be cut dramatically short.
While all the other things on this list are important factors in keeping your chickens alive for as long as possible, this one is the killer - literally. Ensuring you have adequate fencing and protection from outsiders is a must if you’re working to keep your chickens alive and healthy.
We (and our chickens) are fortunate to live in a time when we’ve been able to research dietary needs adequately. Science has helped us understand precisely what our livestock needs at each stage of their lives, which means they’ll have the best chance at living as long as possible.
That said, be careful not to overfeed your chickens, as they are very susceptible to diseases that occur when overweight. That can include respiratory problems as well as weight-based issues with their legs.
As long as your chickens' diet and nutrition are specific to their needs (and provided to them in suitable feeders), you should find that they live a long, happy life.
If you’ve spent any amount of time around chickens, you won’t be surprised to learn that they are very intelligent creatures. That being the case, they must be entertained and enriched. Just like with humans, boredom can have a tremendously harmful effect on your birds, so it’s best to ensure they have adequate tools in their pen to keep them occupied.
The environment in which they live will also significantly impact their quality and length of life, so make sure it’s a good environment and one that is explicitly designed with chickens in mind.
While all the other factors on this list can be controlled to a certain extent, there is one factor that cannot. No matter what you do or how hard you try, you cannot control your chickens’ genetics. That’s why it’s essential to understand which breeds you have and - if possible - learn about their genetic history.
As with many other animals, some chickens will live longer or shorter lives depending on their genetics. Most of the time, the genetic reason some types of chickens will live shorter lives is due to a history of breeding where the goal has been to be at egg-laying age for much longer. Unfortunately, this has negatively impacted the entire species and will mean those chickens will live shorter lives than heritage hens.
While diseases can potentially wipe out a large chunk of your flock, you shouldn’t become complacent with more minor medical instances. If left unchecked, small wounds or issues with your chickens’ feet can be fatal. To combat this, ensure you have suitable poultry health measures in place and the local vets on speed dial.
If possible, try to work with poultry specialist vets, as this will give you the highest chance of keeping your chickens as healthy and happy as possible. And as you can imagine - the healthier and happier your chickens are, the longer they will likely live.
How Can You Tell How Old a Chicken Is?
In the same way that humans change appearances as we get older, so do chickens. In fact, it follows a pretty similar pattern. When chicks are young, they tend to be small and scruffy. This is especially true when they lose their first feathers and wait for the new ones to come through.
In healthy adult life, they take on a much neater and glossier look and will be obviously in their prime. But, as they get older, they will get less and less glossy and even develop some spurs on their legs.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Do Chickens Lay Eggs and Live For?
Genetics is the main factor in how long a hen lives and how long her laying period lasts. A chicken bred to lay more eggs will likely live a shorter life (up to two years) and have a shorter laying period (up to one year). A heritage hen can live up to eight years and has a laying period of up to three.
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