After raising chickens for around 7 years, I’ve started to notice some concerning behaviors in my birds. Things like decreased egg production and slower fertility had me wondering about other signs of old age in chickens. But particularly symptoms of old age in my rooster, because he’s special. And I’ll miss him when he’s gone.
Like some of you, I’ve lost birds to predators, freezing weather, heat stress, and obesity. Shoot, I even lost one to a heart attack. But I’ve never actually lost a chicken to old age. Well, I might’ve. There were the Black Sex-links. Though this is different, because these birds are actually . . . getting old.
How Long can Chickens Actually Live
It’s more of a guesstimate than fact to say how long chickens live. And that’s due more to breed, predators, stress, illness, and any number of factors. But generally most people agree that chickens can live anywhere from 4 to 12 years. Although there was a hen named Matilda who lived to be 16.
Typically the birds on the lower end will be hybrids, but not always. I have one remaining Black Sex-link who’s 6 years old. And I think she’s completely healthy. However, she no longer lays eggs.
Signs of Old Age in Chickens: Appearance
Sometimes the first sign of old age in chickens is their appearance, such as
- paler combs
- dull feathers
- dryer, scalier, and thicker legs and feet
- and some hens have spurs
Activity, or Lack thereof
As chickens age, (read get older) they move slower, take more breaks, and rest more often. They may even walk stiffly. Also, for senior birds, they may have a more difficult time getting on roosting bars than they once did. Megatron started walking with a limp ever since his major fight with Baby Nay a year or so ago.
Egg Laying Changes in Hens
But for laying hens, they’ll also produce less eggs. And their eggs tend to get bigger each year.
Sex-link chickens have a good run of egg laying for about 3 years. But heritage breeds can lay longer. As in everything, there aren’t consistent numbers as to how long though. However I have some Ameraucana chickens that are also 6 years old. And they still lay eggs, but not everyday.
Changes in Roosters
One of the signs of old age, or aging in roosters is decreased fertility. You all know you have a cockerel full of raging hormones when he’s all over the yard, going from one hen to the next. And he doesn’t settle down until maybe the second year, if you’re lucky. But if you’re not one of the lucky ones, then it could just be the third year that he finally mellows out.
I read an article that said roosters stop crowing and mating by their third year. But the person who wrote the article didn’t have any chickens. So how do they know roosters do this, I’d like to know. My 5 1/2 year old rooster still crows all day long faithfully. And he still mates, even if he has slowed down a bit. His son just happened to be more enthusiastic about mating than he was.
Chickens love to eat. And they’ll eat just about anything. That’s why it’s important to feed them a proper diet, with the right amount of protein. And only about 2 tbsp of treats per 1/2 cup of feed.
But once hens are on the retirement path, they tend to rest more, as I pointed out. And they forage less. Thus, they’re not getting as much exercise, which means they’re likely to end up overweight from overeating.
Things You Can Do
If, like me, your chickens do more than provide eggs, then there are things you can do to help them as they age. Provide lower roosts or a ladder to help them get on the roosts. Continue to provide the correct feed for their diet to help prevent them getting fat. And since they aren’t getting around as easy as they once did, maintain a predator-proof yard.
With the proper care, chickens can live into their teens. Although most don’t. (It’s comparable to us living into our 100s.) In reality most chickens live 5 to 10 years, depending upon the breed. What is the oldest chicken you have? Your comments are appreciated.
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