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What Is the Lifespan of a Chicken?

Last Updated: 09.08.20

 

Chickens have different life expectancies depending on the breed, environment – you can find reviews of heat lamps for chicks here – and the feed that they are provided with. Here you can read about how much backyard chickens can live when compared to broiler and egg-laying hens raised in factory farms. 

 

What factors impact the life of a chicken?

The life expectancy of wild hens, long before they were domesticated by man was very short. Because they had to survive the attacks of predators, hunger, as well as diseases, a chicken never lived more than four years. 

In the mid-1800s, man started to breed chickens so that they could provide farmers with more eggs and with better meat. Once this process began, the life expectancy of chickens modified drastically. 

Recent studies have shown that biologically speaking, most chickens can live for 30 years. However, the odds of this happening are very rare. To this date, the oldest chicken was a hen called Matilda. It lived for 16 years. 

The Rhode Island Reds, a popular breed among farmers who raise poultry for eggs, can live for more than 8 years in a safe environment. Similarly, Orpingtons can also live past the age of 8 years.

Wyandottes a breed known for its good genetic profile has a life expectancy of 6 years, while Easter Eggers can live for more than 8 years as well because of their robust physique. 

 

 

Diseases and parasites

Nowadays, a backyard hen can live between three and ten years. However, several factors can influence the life expectancy of a chicken. Diseases are a major factor that has to be taken into consideration. 

Some of the most common diseases that affect flocks are Marek’s disease, respiratory diseases, E. coli infections, Staphylococcus aureus infections, cloacal prolapses, gout, fatty liver syndrome, and cage layer fatigue. If you suspect that any of your feathered companions are sick, you should consult with a vet for a diagnosis and treatment.

Parasites such as lice, worms, or mites can also affect the health of these birds if preventative actions are not performed when necessary. 

Heat stress in poultry is another medical issue that affects the well being of a hen. Because birds are sensitive to high temperatures, they can start panting and even die. To protect your flock in the summer, it is vital that you provide the chickens with access to a well-ventilated area and that and with plenty of freshwater.  

 

Housing

When a flock does not live in a coop that is cool during the summer and warm in the winter, the health of the birds is also at risk. The coops should also be well guarded so that predators cannot get inside them and decimate your flocks.

It is also crucial that the birds are supplied with the necessary space. When a coop is overcrowded, there is a high chance that the hens will start to peck at each other. This might result in some hens getting injured. In extreme cases, chickens can kill each other. 

 

Feed

The diet of a chicken also influences its health. If you want to raise healthy hens, you should purchase a feed that was formulated to meet the needs of the flock. There are special feeds that can be given to laying hens and chickens raised for meat.

You mustn’t overfeed the flock as this might lead to the hens getting overweight. When this happens, the chickens start developing other medical issues such as heart problems, broken limbs or even respiratory issues. 

 

Genetics

The manipulation of breeds has had an impressive effect on the lifespan of chickens. As a result, now, birds are likely to live longer. Still, inbred birds that have a small genetic pool are predisposed to more diseases and they have a weakened immune system. 

So, if you like raising chickens, you should breed the hens that you have with roosters that are not related to your flock. You can also purchase chicks and raise them as part of your flock. This way, the genetic pool will widen and you will end up with new healthy generations of poultry.

 

 

The environment

Another vital aspect that has to be taken into account is the environment. If a hen is raised and kept in a clean and dry coop, chances are that it will live a longer, happier life. 

It is also crucial that you allow the flock to wander around in your yard during the day so that they do not feel crowded and bored.

 

Factory-farmed chickens

By comparison to backyard raised chickens, poultry raised in factory-farms has a shorter lifespan. Because of the global chicken consumption demand, companies have started to farm chickens at a higher rate without thinking about the well-being of the birds.

 

Broiler chickens

Annually, 60 billion chickens are raised in factory-farms solely for meat. 40 billion of them are raised in overcrowded sheds or in cages where the conditions are horrific. As a result, these hens suffer from a wide array of medical conditions including heart, bone, lung and skin conditions. 

The reason why this happens is that poultry demand has skyrocketed in recent years. Between the years 1996 and 2016, the demand for meat grew 40% in Europe, 183% in India and 89% in China.

To meet the demand, companies have started to force the hens to grow faster by supplying them with a special feed that makes them gain up to 50g in weight each day. Because of the rapid growth rate, most of these animals have weak immune systems and their internal organs fail rather fast.

A factory-raised hen lives an average life of no more than 42 days. This means that most of the chickens that are slaughtered for meat are still babies, even though they look like adult birds. Not all breeds of chicken are raised for meat. A small number of genetically selected breeds are privileged because they are the only ones that can reach the desired weight in a short amount of time.

Every second, 2,000 meat chickens are slaughtered around the world. Most meal chickens are raised in a crowded space that is actually smaller than an A4 piece of paper. As they reach their 42nd day of life and they are ready to be slaughtered, most birds have no space to move.

 

 

Egg-laying hens

Some farm-factories also raise chickens for egg production. In egg factories, hens are expected to make an egg per day. To meet this standard, producers often expose the birds to a constant source of light. A chicken raised for egg in a factory lives on average one to two years. However, some dispute this number and claim that the hens only  live for 18 to 24 months.

 

The lifecycle of a laying hen

The birds used for breeding have their eggs taken and placed in an incubator for 21 days. After the eggs hatch, the chicks are sexed. At this point, trained factory workers determine the gender of the chicks. 

While female chicks are sent to be vaccinated and to have their beaks trimmed, male chicks are simply disposed of as they have not been genetically altered to be raised for meat consumption. At 16 weeks of age, pullets are placed in laying facilities.

Here, they are placed in battery cages where they have no nesting spots and no room to move around. According to studies, caged hens never see natural light. They only leave these cages if they are ill and when they are transported to be slaughtered.

Due to the poor quality of air and the physical and psychological stress, many hens die before they reach the age of one year. What is more, most of the egg-laying hens suffer from feather loss and foot problems.

At a laying facility, a hen becomes aged and depleted at around 18 to 24 months. These chickens are called spent hens. Once they stop laying eggs as expected, they are taken out of the cages and slaughtered.

To make their passing easier, some jurisdictions have imposed rules that require companies to put down the hens through a CAK system. This way, the chickens are unconscious or, in some cases, dead when they are slaughtered. This is not a general rule and there are numerous facilities where the hens are still conscious when they are sent to be slaughtered.

 

 

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RICHARD MUELLER
RICHARD MUELLER
21 days ago

Interesting article ,never new about the life cycle of chickens before, sorta sad how they live.
I have a farm property and was thinking about having a few chickens for eggs but being they only lay only for a short while I will just buy from the farmer down the road.
Thanks,

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