The life expectancy of a chicken

Shutterstock.com/ Moonborne

One of the most popular foods in modern life is chicken. The way that chickens are housed, raised, and processed has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years and has been matched by a growing demand for free-range options. Yet the average consumer still doesn’t know a lot about a chicken’s life. One of the questions that few people know the answer to, that we want to shed some light on today, is how long does a chicken live?

The answer really depends on the type of life a chicken is born in to. Just like humans if you are born into a wealthy family living in a developed world country and are provided fantastic living conditions, the odds are in your favor to live a long and healthy life. If you are born into poverty with poor living conditions, little access to healthcare in the developing world, the outlook for a long life is not good. Chickens face a similar life scenario where if they are born to be a hybrid chicken, the life expectancy is not good. If they are born as a heritage chicken, things look a lot better.

Hybrid chickens are chickens that we have bred solely for the purpose of food. Over the last 100 years or so we have used selective breeding methods to create a chicken that works exactly how we want it to. It doesn’t fly, it doesn’t really move all that much, it likes to eat and basically does nothing but get fat all day. This is called a hybrid chicken. Today there are over 20 billion hybrid chickens alive in the world. They form a part of the majority of the world’s diet. If companies could get away with having more chickens, many would. There are now some regulations in place that try and restrict this industry. For example, the US Department of Agriculture only lets companies slaughter 175 chickens per minute. A strange limitation when you would think the number is not the issue but the method and living conditions.

These hybrid chickens live anywhere from seven weeks to two years. Those that are bred simply for meat usually only last seven weeks. They are fattened quickly and butchered. It is an efficient process and a process like that has no room for chickens to see old age. If they are being bred for eggs they may live as long as two years but once their production rate drops they will be slaughtered quickly. 

A heritage hen will live longer. These chickens are like the ones raised on your aunt’s farm, they are allowed to roam a little freer. If they give some eggs to the house that is great but they are really seen as part of the family. Essentially these chickens are not just in existence to provide meat. They will live on average around eight years but the number differs greatly depending on the variety of chicken.

The Rhode Island Red hen is the most common type of hen, it is good for both egg-laying and tasty meat and will usually survive about 8 years before it reaches the chopping block. The golden comet is the queen of egg-laying. This variety will live to see 10 to 15 years if it is allowed to reach its natural lifespan, most won’t. The Orpington is the golden god of hens. It is bright orange with large feathers. It can live up to 20 years but usually averages closer to five.

So there you have it, a chicken can be a great pet and could be your companion for up to 20 years. However, if you are wondering how long that chicken fillet you had for dinner was walking around before it reached the butcher’s table it was likely less than two months!