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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