Even though many
people choose to cull two year old hens from their flock, chickens can actually live
up to 16 years. The average natural life span is closer to five
or ten years, though, and is highly dependent on breed. Hybrids
tend to live much shorter spans since they pour a lot of their energy
into that daily egg or into putting on weight as quickly as possible,
and one site reports that Cornish Crosses will live only two years even
under good conditions.
Another way to look at a
hen’s life span is based on the total number of eggs she can lay.
Many people believe that a chicken can only lay 600 to 800 eggs before
she dies, so if she’s one of the breeds that pops out nearly an egg a
day, she may have laid just about all she’s going to lay by the time
she’s passed through two or three egg-laying seasons. Hens who
produce fewer eggs per year may be able to lay eggs for more years
before kicking the bucket.
Our oldest hens are about to
celebrate their fourth birthdays, and I suspect 2011 may be their last
year on the farm. Of the original twenty Golden Comets we got in
2007, two died of heat stroke their first year (the impetus for the Avian Aqua Miser), we gave twelve away
because we were awash in eggs, one was fatally injured by a previous
rooster, and two more have died of natural causes since then. The
last three hens in that age bracket are wilely old birds, and I hope to
snag their genetics by mating them with our young rooster and raising
some chicks this spring. And I won’t cull them from the flock
until they’ve slowed down their summer laying, so for all I know, they
may have another dozen years to go.