How Long Do Chickens Live And How To Kill Them Humanely

We learnt how to build a Chicken House for free and have our almost free Chicken nesting boxes for the lovely Eggs but there is a VERY important thing to bear in mind when raising Chickens and egg laying.

Are you going to keep them for ever? What will you do if one gets ill or hurt?

The reality is that Chickens raised for Eggs will not keep on laying indefinitely. As Hens get older Chicken egg laying will slow, they start to lay less and less. Chickens will lay well for about two years and even by then you will not be getting an almost daily egg like you did when it was younger.

chickensgrassAll Chickens are born with a preset number of Eggs. Once these are laid there won’t be any more. It will take years for them to lay them all but it becomes more and more sporadic. Part of a more Self Sufficient Life means being practical about things. The return is not there after a few years. Feed costs will outweigh the value of the Eggs.

I am not saying you HAVE to get rid of the Chicken at this point. You may decide that you will keep it for the duration, keeping Chickens as Pets rather than for the Eggs. Just bear in mind that Chickens live a long time.

How Long Do Chickens/Hens Live?

I am talking about 12 years plus in some cases. That is a long time to feed a Bird that will stop being productive after a few years. It really is surprising how long Hens live.

You also need to think about what you will do if the Bird becomes sick or injured. Going to a Vet will cost a fortune but there are few alternatives. You need to think about what you will do.

Personally, and I know it is not what everyone likes to think about, I will dispose of the Chicken in the most Humane way I can. In the past we raised Chickens for Meat. I killed them by breaking their Necks. I can honestly say it was one of the most horrible things I have ever done. The stress of ensuring it died instantly, the feel of the head coming away from the body were horrendous. I had sleepless nights and did not like it all all.

That being said, at least I know that I can put a Bird out of its misery quickly. The Birds we have now will be killed once the are no longer productive. That is just the reality of the situation. Trying to be Self Sufficient means that you need things to be as productive as possible for as little outlay as possible.

Whether it is preserving food surplus or killing animals that are no longer productive, we need to look at the realities.

If you do, or want to, raise Chickens for Eggs then think about these things. Are you prepared to kill the Bird yourself? If not then make sure you know someone who can come around quickly and do it if it is suffering. You may decide that keeping Chickens as Pets for their lifetime is what you will do but there is still the matter of illness. Ensure you know what to do.

I hated having to kill the Birds but I knew where the Meat came from. It was free range in the extreme and I know it had a happy life.

Know how to kill a Chicken in advance or know you have someone you can call on quickly. I would recommend that you have a Humane Dispatcher very handy. This will quickly and Humanely kill the chicken. It will mean you do not have to break the neck by hand and will not be as traumatic for you if you are not really the type to kill animals (as I have found out I am not). Humane Dispatchers work by breaking the Chickens neck and killing it instantly.

Remember, a Chicken can live for a very long time, so make sure you know what you will do in advance. You do not want an animal suffering because you are unsure what to do or who to call.

For a more self sufficient future

19 Responses to “How Long Do Chickens Live And How To Kill Them Humanely”

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  1. JoHart says:

    I absolutely agree! Must be prepared to deal with own stock – our 1st chooks (hens) were from friends moving interstate. Most oldish when we got them – happy chooks & laying every 2-3 days. They had names & when time came were quickly dispatched (and not eaten!. We have organised a set-up to hold head still and then chop head so removing risk of failure to clean kill – oldest (best layer) was about 10 when started to fail. We have had various since (including several wjho just died – no apparent reaon – possible snakes!). We raise ducks for eating & these too are dispatched using the quick stretch out and chop of head – sounds gruesome but is very quick – all our birds are handled so don’t find being picked up stressfull as they are used to it.

    JoHart’s last blog post..Batch Supporters – Save up to 80%!

  2. JoHart says:

    apologies – my blog host has put some sort of sales pitch in as my last blog – will try to sort this now

    JoHart’s last blog post..Batch Supporters – Save up to 80%!

    • jane says:

      here is an other humane dispatch method…first place the chicken in a card board box……put some dry ice in a plate put a long tube up to it….make the chicken box air tight with duct tape. the chicken will die withen 7 seconds it works every time!!….it is like euithenaisa but it will not contaminate the meat!!

  3. Springtime says:

    Keeping chickens is something that I’m really keen to start doing as soon as we have the space. But the thought of what happens at the end has been a concern of mine. I’ve found your post really helpful and honest about this problem – thank you.

    I’m really intrigued by the Humane Dispatcher, I assume this is a gadget of some sort, rather than the code name for a willing friend?!

    Springtime’s last blog post..Springtime in snow

  4. JoHart, sounds fine to me. It is important to know how to do it for anyone that keeps birds. Even if it is not for meat.You need to know what to do if they are ill anyway. Thanks for the great comment.

    Springtime, go for it! They are very easy to keep. A Humane Dispatcher can either be wall mounted or like a pair of pliers. The contraption is simply squeezed and breaks the Chickens neck. It is quick and painless and better for anyone who wants a slightly more “hands off” approach.

  5. feralchick says:

    All the links that I find for “humane dispatcher” point to UK sites. Is it called something else in the US?

    Video of one version here: (disturbing, but not *too* bad)

  6. Feralchick, sorry I have just been looking. Like you all I can find are UK sites. Very odd indeed.I assumed it would be a common thing worldwide. Maybe order from the UK?

  7. arlene says:

    I was wondering, what is the best way to clean a chicken after you break its neck. Is there an easy way to remove the feathers and guts without ruining the meat? I have laying hens right now, but eventually they will slow down or stop. Is there an age when the meat is not any good to eat? Thanks!

    • Hi Arlene. There are loads of different methods but the one I found the easiest was to cut the head off and let the blood drain out while the bird is perched upsidedown, over a bucket, on your lap. Alternatively despatch them in the evening, leave to hang overnight and then cut the head and neck off where all the blood will have collected. If you do hang the birds they’ll need a warm bath to help the feathers loosen again when you come to pluck them. Pluck as quickly as possible (legs and wings first as they get cold and more difficult to do, quickly).

      As for gutting – it is pretty easy to do without tainting the meat as once you’ve made the cuts everything comes out in one rather smelly handful. If you aren’t going to serve the bird whole anyway you can slit it completely open and sort of joint and quarter it, around the innerds which means you don’t have to put your hands anywhere too grim!

      The only real concern about spoiling the meat we had heard of was an oil gland in the ‘parsons’ nose which is supposed to be cut out or it will taint the meat. But, here birds are sold with that gland still present so I don’t think even that can be that much of a problem.

      Once birds are more than three months old they’re not likely to be that great roasted. But any bird will do as a boiler no matter how much she’s getting on. Simmer for one to three hours depending on toughness and you should end up with succulent flesh to use in pies etc. Or add some rice/potatoes and fresh carrots & leeks, to the boiling water for the last twenty minutes, shred all the meat and enjoy a chicken supper with a lemon butter sauce. Send them off in style!

  8. if you dont know what you’re doing call in someone to do it for you, or get them to show you how before you try it.
    chicken and hens can live for a good few years, but they lay less eggs as they get older

  9. shane says:

    i have 4 chickens 2 r bantoms i get 1 to 2 eggs a day they have a nest box each how can i get more eggs a day i am new to this.

    • Shane – they should only need 2-3 boxes between them. If you’re only getting 1 or 2 eggs a day, some are either too old to lay regularly, haven’t begun laying, are in molt or are simply not a breed that is a good layer.

      • shane says:

        thanks, ive got a little dog next door that keeps yapping all the time do you think that could have somthing to do with it.

        • Shane – yes if the hens are upset by the noise it might cause a problem. But they should get used to it anyway. If you are in the UK don’t forget that laying time is only really getting started since hens will slow right down over winter whilst the days are shorter.

  10. shane says:

    thanks for your advice,i have closed 2 nest box’s off now.touch wood things should inprove.

  11. Little Bright Feather says:

    I’m a 5th generation chicken rancher – family farm.
    I have some chickens 17 years old and still laying.
    They were all born (hatched) here on the farm and grew up the natural way. All are free roaming (much to the horror of my veggie garden).
    A few old time secrets keep the birds healthy, happy and laying.
    From day old, they get drinking water only from my well – no city/county water with all those chemicals and killer Fluoride. And I add a splash of ACV (Apple Cider Vinegar) to their CLEAN water daily.
    Not only does this keep them healthy, but for older birds that you may want to eat, they keep the flesh youthful / non-tough.
    All chickens need a rest time and usually once a year they will stop laying for a few weeks. They need this rest. Laying those daily eggs takes a lot out of them. Always work WITH nature and you will have long-lived laying hens.
    This is also why you want different aged hens, so you will not be without eggs – some will always be laying while the others take their ‘time off’.
    To get them back laying mix some warm water in their mash and mix some Cayenne Pepper in with it. Stir well so all of them get some. Do this daily until they are laying again.
    Myself my chickens are also my pets and I can’t kill them or eat them. I know, I’m an old softy.
    But if you are more robust for this then I am, a clean fast chop of the head with a sharp hatchet will do the best job and then already have a large hot tub/bucket ready to plunk them in after most of the blood has drained – don’t wait too long or the feather plucking will be harder to do. After the feathers are all plucked, have another hot tub/bucket ready and put them in it and wash them good with soap and water. Rinse well, and then the next step is to gut them, and be careful NOT to cut the bile or it will put a bitter taste all through the meat. I had this set up like an assembly line outside many years ago when I had to have several roosters “taken care of”. It’s good if you have several roosters to do, to have about three or four people to do it to keep the line going and things moving fast and it can all be done in two hours or less depending on how many roosters you have. You want to get the meat cleaned and wrapped and frozen as fast as possible. Each person specializes in their own part of it. One to chop the head off and drain, the next person to do the hot tub, plucking and then the soapy wash tub, and one to cut open and gut and cut into sections and rinse, and one to do the final rinse and take the butchered parts to wrap and freeze.
    This can all be done in your back yard on a sturdy outside table.

  12. karen says:

    can you tell me what should or COULD be done with the chickens innards after killing and gutting them? I mean can they be left out for magpies and other meat eating birds to have lunch on? Or would they go poisonous in the sun after a while?
    OR… maybe they can be boiled and left for the birds?

    (I am sort of jumping ahead of myself a little as keeping chickens is only a thought at the moment and I am still doing all my research on them etc. Love your blog btw and love all the tips for self sufficiency and other info… cheers :-)… )

  13. Lucky Scrunchy says:

    My dream is to someday, hopefully soon, own a small farm, raise chickens and turkeys and maybe have a cow. I loved all the tips I read here, thank you!