How Long Do Chickens Live?

How long do chickens live? I’m asked this question a lot. I’ve kept backyard hens for more than 15 years, and yet right now I have the oldest hens I’ve ever had, and they are eight. I don’t expect the most elderly of them to live past the summer. (Although I’ve said that about them the last two years running, so who knows?)

Chickens are not designed for long lives. Birds bred just for meat are harvested before they are mature – anywhere from 8 to 14 weeks of age. Kept longer, for breeding purposes or if they lucked out and are in a backyard flock, they’ll still not have long lives. They’re designed to put on weight quickly and their bones and hearts can’t handle the strain.

Chickens bred for high egg production, like my Golden Comets, Agnes and Philomena, are constantly depleting their systems in order to produce eggs day in and day out. Sometimes you lose a hen to what I call “sudden chicken death” (SCD). There are no warning symptoms. They simply give out and you find a bird, dead on the floor. If they live past three, they’ll often have health issues and stop laying.

Many of the so-called “heritage” breeds, (most of which were created about a hundred or so years ago), are “dual-purpose.” They were designed to lay eggs the first two years, but still have a quality carcass to be consumed as meat in their third. Breeders didn’t select for longevity beyond that. Some of these chickens, if not put in the stewpot are long-lived. Some aren’t.

All that said, with proper feed, housing, protection from predators and TLC chickens can live for years. The hens in my little barn are proof of that. They’re all retired and, for chickens, elderly. None are vibrantly healthy, but they do manage to dodder along.

Buffy has been on the brink of death numerous times and has pulled through. After her last bout, she’s back with the flock. I’m keeping a close eye on her to make sure that the bullying has stopped. Her comb is half gone, but she’s put herself right back with the others.

Twinkydink is the grand old age of eight. She’s an unassuming hen. Lately, I’ve notice something odd about her right nostril. See how it’s disfigured? I think it’s an old age thing.

Eleanor and Edwina are also eight.They used to be the worst bullies in the flock, but now they couldn’t be bothered. They haven’t laid eggs for years. They spend a lot of time resting – Eleanor especially. Edwina is the more active and healthy of the two – you can tell by her red, upright comb that her systems are still working.

Contrast that to Agnes’ comb. Agnes is only three, but she’s a hybrid and she’s done in. She stands hunched and fluffed, napping. Her comb is dark and shrinking. This bird is not well. I’ve done what I can, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.

Her sister, Philomena, is doing fine. You can clearly see the contrast between them in this photo. But, Philomena isn’t laying, either.

Tina and Siouxsie are the same age as the Comets, but they’re a fancy breed that doesn’t wear themselves out egg-laying. Tina lays about 3 eggs a week and takes a long break over the winter. The other day Siouxsie left a tiny, robin-sized egg in a nesting box, (these yolkless eggs are called “wind” eggs.) The effort was accompanied by much hollering and clucking. She appeared quite proud of herself, but hasn’t done anything as productive since.

Betsy Ross, is, at the age of 5, an old hen. I used to take her on my school visits, but she’s retired now. There are moments, when she stands still with her wings down, that I worry about her.

But then she perks up and looks like this:

The queen of the barnyard isn’t a chicken at all. It’s Candy, and she’s the most elderly of the bunch. She is eight, which is quite old for a rabbit. Candy still reigns, although I’ve noticed some subtle changes. In order to get up her ramp she has to get a straight, running shot (I’m going to lower her hutch soon to make it easier on her.) Awhile back she tore the lid of her right eye. It healed fine, but it does make her squint. I believe she’s hard of hearing, too. None of that appears to affect her status, or the joy she gets out of blocking the hen’s pop-door.

This is Candy’s attitude about aging:

A role model for us all.


  1. I’m laughing and I have tears. I’ve had pets that have lived to be 21 and others that didn’t live past 10 years. The picture of Candy is priceless – amazing you caught her just at the right time!

  2. My oldest hen was a Leghorn named Beagle. She was around 9-10 yrs old when she passed away.They are a very healthy breed. She was never sick. Bunnies usually live 10-12 years, so she can still have another four years.

    • I had a hen who made it to ten, and even laid a teeny egg about once a year.

      I have owned bunnies for all of my adult life, and despite the best care, they never made it past 8.

      My backyard is like a small cemetary. It’s sad, but, c’est la vie. Make their little lives as happy as possible. All we are is dust in the wind… Some dust being cuter and fuzzier than others.

      • Some dust is “cuter and fuzzier than others.” Thanks for that. After getting goats I learned that they’re not long-lived either. I was hoping they’d be like horses, and be healthy into their twenties, but the average lifespan is half that. There are of course always exceptions. And, The Beast is going to be around for decades!

  3. This is my first comment, though I’ve been reading for about 3 months or so. I am so glad I found your blog. I absolutely love coming here every morning to watch the hens on the cam…..seriously makes my day. And then I get so excited when I see a new post. I sit reading, taking it all in. A wealth of information. I love how well you know your hens and it shows in your words how much you care about them. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. And the pictures make me smile. We started our backyard flock with four Buff/RI Red mix and we lost them all to a weasel in early March. I miss them every day. Almost feels funny to say that about chickens, but they sure do become part of your life.

  4. A lovely post Terry.

    My oldest hens, Sylvie and Phoebe, are both over 5 yrs old now and still lay eggs, not everyday but about 3 a week. They are hybrids, Coucou Marans (Marans x a quarter Rhode Island Red) bred to be back yard egg layers. The 2 Copper Marans I got at the same time, both had health problems, and the breeder told me this was more common in the Copper Marans hybrids, so it must be a genetic thing which makes them weaker.

    I love my two older hens dearly, they have been part of our household for 5 years, we know their little ways and their distinct characters. Phoebe laid an egg today, just as I chanced to look into the nest box! She must have laid over a 1000 now, aren’t hens wonderful?! (But then, you know that already.)



  5. How interesting. I saw you taking pics inside yesterday morning and was looking forward to seeing what you’d do with them.

    • I also saw you taking pictures of the old girls. We always get excited here at work when we see you out at the hen house!

  6. I really enjoyed this post. I am still waiting for my chickens, I should get them in May. This sort of information is invaluable to help me know what to look out for. It’s the sort of information you can only get from someone who keeps animals and knows them so well. I loved the comparison pictures and love Candy’s attitude!

  7. I’m wondering, since you mentioned Candy’s hearing, how is *your* hearing coming along? I’m hoping one of these days, to see a happy post about stereo hearing and being able to tell where a sound is coming from!

  8. I met a Netherland Dwarf rabbit in my village last week, name of Duke, who is 14. Still hopping about and playing with the family’s red setter. He’s never needed his teeth trimming or claws clipping as he is so active. I have, however, never seen him stick his tongue out. Tell Candy if the wind changes her face will stick like that.

  9. Couldn’t agree more about the fancy breeds living the longest with relatively good health. This has been my experience into my old age.

  10. I have a hen that isnt well, Bertha is around 16 months old I think, she has been a great layer and was top hen. She is now blind in one eye but is still eating, drinking, pooping and doing hen-ly things. We will see! Candy is funny, she is great when she blocks the girls ladder :o)

  11. This blog really helped me to understand that this is not easy.

    Watching them everyday during this slow reference season, I was shocked at how what seemed like such a healthy hen could crash so quickly.

    Here I have been so concerned that Buffy might go, but no, she is a fighter. I hope Agnes snaps out of it.

  12. What a lovely piece about your hens and Candy, too. I’m glad you could put Buffy back with the old gals. I often see Betsy visting Candy either on the ground or near the hutch. She’ll stand on the ladder looking in at Candy. If I am seeing what I think I am seeing Candy is sticking her tongue out. Just shows her great personality.

  13. This is by far the best website/blog! I visit daily and can’t wait to see what’s new. Terry- by reading this daily I find so many others feel the same way. I’ve learned so much and think I love your hens as much as mine. We’ll be adding 3 rabbits in a week or so, I can only hope they will be as fun as Candy.

  14. I am sure someone somewhere will develop a chicken breed that will focus more living longer than producing eggs, espically if the trend of them or some breeds go from egg laying and meat to being seen as a pet. Serama’s I am sure on their way to being one of the longer lived breeds.

  15. What a great post Terry….Very well said and makes the rest of us feel better when we have a hen that suddenly “kicks the bucket” for no reason!

    • I had a Ameraucana that died very quickly last week. One day fine, next day on her way out. I tried everything I knew to help her, but it it didn’t work. I am always amazed at how quickly they go and the remaining girls do seem to morn.

  16. I have a friend who has or had a hen who was 15. Have not asked her lately if this hen made through the winter. Must do that and report back!

  17. By the way, what a helpful blog you have. I love reading it and seeing that others are dealing with the same issues. Chicken lovers unit!!

  18. Okay, I love this post, Terri. Every day I look at Lucy and wonder how much more time I have with her. When I see these pix of your old girls who just keep on ticking, I realize that Lucy’s in great health, comparatively. And Candy, you ROCK, old gal!