What's the Average Lifespan of a Backyard Chicken?

The backyard chicken movement really seemed to gain some serious steam around 2008-2009, meaning that many of you (hopefully!) now have flocks consisting of chickens that are getting on in years.

I'm in that boat. My oldest hen, our Australorp Charlotte, is our matriarch - she hatched in 2009 and celebrated her birthday this past February (2015).

Lately, I've been asked quite often by readers what is the average chicken lifespan, how long they will lay eggs, and what I do with my aging hens. Well, here are the answers to these and other burning questions!

A chicken (called a pullet until she is a year old), should begin laying eggs anywhere after about 18 weeks old or so. Around 20-24 weeks is normal, but I've had some not lay their first egg until they were more than nine months old!

(I've found that Ameraucanas tend to take their time starting to lay, but once they get going they're some of my best layers.)

A healthy, well cared-for hen should lay well (nearly daily when she's not molting, broody, too hot or not getting enough hours of daylight) for about two to three years, and then her production will start to taper off.

Charlotte still manages to lay a few of her pretty pinkish-tan eggs a month, even at the ripe old age of six, but often the eggs are misshapen, have soft shells or are otherwise a bit wonky.

Perfectly edible, just a bit odd, which is pretty normal for older hens.

And I've had several readers tell me that they have ten years or older chickens who are still laying eggs! So while production drops drastically, you can still expect the occasional egg from your older girls.

Regardless of egg production though, we run a no-kill farm and Charlotte will live out her natural life with us being spoiled and showered with treats and TLC, happily scratching for bugs, taking dust baths in the sun and socializing with her friends.

Older hens still are great bug catchers, they still make tons of nice manure for the garden - and they often make far better broodies and mothers than younger hens.

I notice that Charlotte is far more aware of her surroundings when my flock free ranges than some of the younger chickens - older hens tend to be better at watching for predators and teaching younger flock members how to protect themselves and also showing the young ones what is good to eat and what's not.

So how long can I expect Charlotte to live? Well, with a little luck, for many, many more years to come.

Predators are the biggest threat to backyard chickens' longevity, with domestic dogs being the #1 killer. Sadly, dogs and other predators such as foxes, hawks, weasels and raccoons take more chickens' lives than illness or disease.

So a chicken that is kept safe from predators is going to have the best chance at living to a ripe old age. With any luck and barring any genetic issues, your chickens should live for 8-12 years, with some chickens being reported to have lived for 15-20 years

Of course keeping your chickens healthy with strong immune systems is of utmost importance as well as keeping them out of predators' clutches if you want to enjoy them for a very long time.

Charlotte has enjoyed a life free of antibiotics and medications and hasn't had a single health issue in her entire six years! She enjoys daily treats, including oatmeal in the winter, lots of herbs and natural feed supplements and plenty of space to exercise and stretch her legs.

I'm hoping that Charlotte's is just entering her twilight years and will be with us for many more years to come. She's slowed down a bit, in her movements as well as her laying.

She isn't as quick to run up to me for treats as she used to be and she spends much of the day enjoying quiet time in the shade, but she's still alert and always up for an afternoon of bug hunting in the pasture!

So no, we won't be eating Charlotte. She would likely just be tough and stringy anyway at this point!

UPDATE 2/18: Sadly, we lost Charlotte in February, just after she celebrated her ninth birthday. I started to notice her really slowing down over the winter, unable to hop up onto the roost any longer. So while her passing wasn't unexpected, it was still terribly sad and has left a huge hole in my heart.

R.I.P. Charlotte

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  1. I lost my oldest hen last fall at about 9 years of age. Don't know when she laid her last egg but the last clutch she laid, I still have 1 of the 13 chicks. I must be weird, seldom eat eggs, don't do much baking since my husband passed. If I have too many eggs, I give them away. My birds are my therapy and my reason for going on. They are here for life as far as I am concerned.

  2. Beautiful words..

  3. Marie Mcclellan-StarrsMay 30, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    My oldest was 9 when she went to the rainbow bridge. I have one now that is 8 now.

  4. Good info. So far we are also "no kill", with no plans on raising meat here any time soon. I plan on keeping my Lucy and Ethel until they die of natural causes, but I feel annoyed with these mean girl chickens I inherited with the property. Still, I'm looking to treat them as humanely and create the best situation for them to alleviate the tension within the flock before I decide to do anything drastic. My last resort would be to cull them, but I'd rather exhaust all my efforts making the coop and run into a place where they can all be happy.

  5. I bought 4 bantam hens a year ago, the breeder was going to send them to a kill farm. He told me not to expect many eggs as he did not know how old they were, but thought they were too old. After about 1 month I started getting one egg a day. Now I get two eggs a day. Don't know who produces them, don't care. My prior hens and a rooster all got killed by predators, coyote and a raccoon. My dogs and cats leave them alone. They range all over my property, into the forest and the horse fields. At night they put themselves to bed in their little chicken house. Perfect!

  6. I have 4 of my original 12 hens, one is an Australorp named Esther. They are 5 this year, while the rest of my hens are a year old. We have lost hens to fox, egg bound and I believe old age. We do not kill our old ladies just let them live their lives out. Esther is my favorite and I will be very sad to when we loose her.

  7. I was just talking about the age of our Rooster, who came in a box of chicks a lady purchased for Easter. My Dad took them and raised them all. No clue how old the hens got to be, he did eat some from time to time. But Blackie the Rooster was 17-18 years old when he finally died in a fight with a younger Rooster. He was a very very aggressive bird but so beautiful and I begged my Dad not to kill him ever! I think if he didn't start the fight at such an old age he would have lived longer. I hope my current girls live a long time, they are really sweet. I love them a ton!