People are concerned about the average chicken lifespan for different reasons. If you are a commercial egg-producer, you may ask yourself, “How long do chickens live?,” in order to calculate how many eggs you can expect from a hen over her lifetime.
Others have chickens, like myself, just because we love tending to them and enjoying them as chickens, and maybe a few fresh eggs every so often.
Even though there is nothing we can do about poultry mortality, we can at least try to give them the longest lifespan possible. When the inevitable finally happens, we can console ourselves by knowing that for every death, a new life is born, most of the time.
On the average, you can expect your chicken to live 5-7 years, depending on a lot of factors, such as breed, general health, genetics, predation, and so on… Of these, the most important longevity factor, barring outside influences, is the breed.
Average Lifespans of 6 Of The More Popular Chicken Breeds
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Reds are a very popular and hardy Heritage breed.
They are very good layers, and can supply up to 6 eggs per week for most of the year. Strong and healthy, they love to be outdoors, and are very brazen and cocky. They will inspect everything they can get to.
They are a very long-lived chicken that can live on average to 5-8 years. It’s not that uncommon for them to outlive this average with good care.
The most popular breed Down-Under, Australorps are good layers, and are often raised as dual-purpose chickens.
They have a mild disposition and get along well with other non-aggressive breeds. With proper care, they live an average of 6-10 years.
Barred Plymouth Rock
Plymouth Rocks are incredibly tough and disease-resistant. Non-aggressive with a mild temperament, they get along well with similar-sized birds.
They average a whopping 6-10 years lifespan on average, A great breed for those new to the hobby.
A very affectionate breed that loves to be cuddled and carried around. They are only average egg layers, but make up for it with a very mild temperament.
They get along well with other non-aggressive birds. You can expect them to live 8-12 years on average, with proper care.
Cochins are a beautiful breed, and a welcome addition to any non-aggressive flock.
They are calm and friendly. They have very fluffy feathers, giving them a cotton ball appearance. They are susceptible to a few diseases and parasites, as well as a tendency to become obese when over-fed, but with proper care, they can live from 8-10 years.
A very popular breed with striking plumage. A very hardy bird with a mild temperament…usually.
Once in a while, you’ll see an extra-aggressive cock try to assert his dominance, but that can be trained out of him with some patience. They usually do well with other birds.
They are not good egg-layers, which contributed to their longevity due to less stress from laying. You can expect to get 6-9 years from a good silkie.
Breed are sorted into 3 classifications:
Production Chicken Lifespan
These are chickens bred for specialty functions, either meat or egg production.
They are bred to grow fast and mature early so they can quickly get to the grocery store, or get to laying as soon as possible. Meat chickens are obviously not going to live long at all, because they will be “processed” and shipped out as soon as practical.
Their lifespan is only going to be 21 to 170 days old, with the average being around 45 days. Egg Layers will live around 4-6 years (if you can call it a life), due to the fast maturity, and stress of laying eggs as fast as possible.
They also never get to set foot on the ground, spending their whole lives in a cage with maybe 3 other chickens.
They never get to see sunlight, or do other things chickens should be able to do. The exceptions to this are Free-Range chickens, which may get to live to 6 years or so due to being allowed limited exposure to sunlight and exercise.
But even these, “lucky”, birds have less exercise and sunlight than most prisoners in US penitentiaries do.
Dual Purpose Chickens Lifespan
These are unspecialized breeds that are raised for both meat, and eggs.
They grow slower, and mature later, so they tend to live a little longer, usually 6-8 years, if not ‘processed’ for meat. However, for the most part, their lives are little different than those of the Production breeds.
Backyard Chicken Lifespan
These are the most beautiful birds, kept for their appearance and temperament. They are usually allowed to live in chicken runs and open coops, where they can be admired and enjoyed by everyone.
They lay eggs when they feel like it, and are seldom used for food. They mature the slowest and have the longest lifespans, up to 10 or more years.
Factors That Affect The Average Chicken Life Expectancy
The next two important concerns for the average chicken lifespan are diet, and their environment.
These factors will have a significant impact on how long your chickens will live. But longevity is not the only thing to worry about. You also want your birds to remain healthy for as long as possible.
Poor quality chicken feed can cause nutritional deficiencies in your flock, and shorten their lifespans. Chickens require proteins, carbohydrates, proper vitamins and minerals, and high-quality fats to remain healthy. The amounts of these nutritional requirements will change as the chicken goes through several stages of life.
Young birds will need a ‘starter’, or ‘grower’ feed. This usually contains 15% to 20% protein, and a high content of fats, carbohydrates and calcium. This is to help young chickens to grow, develop strong bones, and a healthy metabolism.
When pullets begin to lay eggs, their nutritional needs will change.
They need less protein, and less calcium. In fact, too much calcium will weaken the eggs, rather than enhance them. It results in thin shells, and a watery albumen. The yolks will be pale yellow instead of a healthy yellow-orange, be very thin, and easily broken.
This is when to switch to laying food, which has the correct amounts of the required nutrients for chickens at this stage of their lives. 16% protein, and around 4.5% calcium is just about perfect for grown birds.
During a hard molt in late summer, it’s a good idea to add mealworms to their diet to speed up the feather replacement process before winter cold hits.
Proper housing also has a big effect on chicken longevity. If the birds will be kept in the coops for extended periods of time, such as a long-hard winter, good ventilation is very important. They must have good air quality. Also, to be very healthy, they must be allowed to Free-Range in a safe chicken run, when weather permits. They need to be able to scratch in the dirt to find bugs, worms, and take dust baths. They also need the exercise and social interaction that roaming provides.
Next on the list of things that cause poultry mortality is predation. Chickens are pretty, and fun to keep, but they are also delicious, and not just to humans. Almost every predator and omnivore there is will grab a tasty chicken any time the opportunity arises. Unlike their wild relatives, domestic chickens are easy prey for any hunter, including rats, snakes, dogs, cats, skunks, weasels, racoons, badgers, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, cougars, wolverines, opossums, and birds of prey, like hawks, vultures (buzzards), eagles, and owls. Protect your flock by having them in a covered chicken run, and make sure they all go into a secure coop at night. A good trained dog or two really helps to keep predators away by patrolling outside the coops and runs, especially at night.
Lastly, and maybe the scariest thing that will affect the average lifespan of chickens is disease, and this includes parasites. Many are treatable, but some, like the dreaded Marek’s Disease, are incurable and will cause you to lose the entire flock. The best that you can do is to take all the preventative measures you can, such as keeping the coops and runs clean, use the highest quality feeds you can afford, and make sure your flock gets all vaccinations and proper veterinary care on a regular basis. It is heartbreaking to lose a bird or flock to disease. It’s never happened to me, but to several of my friends, and I share their pain.