Hens Passing Away Due to Old Age: What to Expect

This article provides a general overview of what to expect if your hen or rooster is dying of old age.
  1. The Chickens' Maid
    In memory of Henry.

    So, you’ve done everything right. You’ve maintained your flock well; they’re healthy, fat, and happy old women. You should certainly give yourself a pat on the back . . . you’ve done a good job caring for your chickens.

    It’s been somewhere between five and ten years since you started your flock. They were adorable chicks, and now they are adorable elderly ladies. What you aren’t expecting at this point is another disaster, but one morning, you go outside to feed them and one of your girls is lethargic and extremely thin. What did you do wrong? How could this have happened?

    This is something that I have personally had happen several times. When a chicken dies of old age, there are several stages that are fairly common. If your hen is exhibiting these signs without any hint of illness or injury, don’t be angry at yourself. This is natural, and it is the best and most peaceful way that a chicken can pass away after the good life you’ve given her.

    1. Usually, you won’t notice this first stage. Chickens are prey animals; this means that they are wired to hide all signs of weakness to avoid being targeted by predators. A hen that is aging will stop eating gradually, although she will probably still drink water. She will act normally and seem interested in life, but her weight will quickly decrease to the point where she is very thin. The way to check for this is to feel your hens’ underside. There is a bone that runs from the wishbone (where the crop is) to her abdomen. A chicken that is at a healthy weight will have a solid amount of muscle on either side of this bone. While different breeds have different amounts of muscle here, if you make it a habit to know how filled-out each of your hens is when they’re young, you will notice a drop in muscle mass when your hen starts to age. When she is at this final stage of life, her lack of muscle mass will be very noticeable. It will seem like she is starving. This is the body’s natural reaction to death. She isn’t starving the way a younger chicken would be at that weight; her body is just shutting down processes that it doesn’t need anymore. It’s perfectly natural, and any attempts to force her to eat won’t necessarily work.
    2. This second stage is lethargy. This is about the point where she is close enough to passing away that it doesn’t matter if a predator finds her. She will sit away from the flock, but she will not necessarily move away if any of them come over to her. If you have a rooster, he might pay more attention to her and sit with her. She may be just tired in the beginning, but she will probably start sleeping most of the time. She won’t show much, if any, interest in food, even treats. She may drink, but probably not a lot. At this point the best thing to do is just to keep her comfortable. I have brought chickens into the house to keep them warm at this stage. Since she’s not eating, she probably won’t have a lot of waste, so the smell will be less of an issue.

    3. When your hen dies from old age, she will just fall asleep for good. It’s a very peaceful way to go. There is no pain or trauma associated with it. After a chicken dies, the brain fires randomly, causing sudden muscle contractions. It will look like she is having a seizure, but don’t worry. At this point, your hen has just passed away. These seizures are a natural process and should be expected. Sometimes, they don’t happen, but they can look very violent if they do. There can even be some fecal matter expelled from the vent and liquid from the beak. I like to hold my chicken at this point, until the muscle contractions stop. It just seems like the right thing to do.
    Rest assured, if this happens, you have done everything right. This is natural, and it is a painless way for a hen to pass away. If you keep chickens long enough, don’t be surprised if you have to go through the experience of having your ladies die from old age. Although difficult, staggering your flock with younger chickens of different ages can help with the transition. It is always comforting to know that you gave your hen the best life she could have. Having a chicken pass away due to old age is a testament to your good care and hard work.

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    About Author

    The Chickens' Maid
    Thanks for reading through my article! Please PM me if you see any info that should be corrected or if you have any editing suggestions! I'm always trying to improve my writing, so any help is appreciated!

Recent User Reviews

  1. Shadrach
    "An empathetic look at dying"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 17, 2018
    I just like the article. It’s not relevant to many chicken keepers but it is relevant to me. I have older chickens and a couple have already withdrawn from their tribes a bit, preferring a quiet life.
  2. microchick
    "Thank you!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 7, 2018
    Very nicely written article concerning one of life's natural processes. To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven also applies to the chickens in our lives. I have hens that are almost 4 years old now and starting to slow down. A few are thinner than the others. Doubly painful is that they are my Marek's survivors and they have survived this horrible disease in time to get old and die. But at least I know now what to expect from my gentle Buff O's as they toddle into their senior years.

    Many thanks.
  3. N F C
    "A subject not often discussed"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jul 28, 2018
    An important subject, not one poultry lovers like to dwell on, but good to be prepared for.


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  1. dynomy
    Thank you for this article. Very well written and informative. I had one of my Jersey Giants pass recently and it was exactly like you had described. I knew something was up when she even refused grapes (all of my chickens will step on each other to get them, they love them so much). I brought her into the house and tried to make her as comfortable as possible, and not let the trauma happen for the others. They do know, they know more than we think. I have an Easter Egger (Big Bird) that is showing signs of this as well. We got her from a neighbor about two years ago, so we have no idea how old she is. She laid eggs for a few months, green ones, but all of a sudden it was erratic and they had issues. Some had very thin shells, some were wrinkled, some had no shells. Then, she seemed ok and just stopped laying. Up until a week ago, she would go out of the coop and hang with her peeps, now she won't go out unless I take her and immediately runs right back in. The other birds ignore her.
    About two months ago we lost out chocolate Labrador, Hannah. She was part "of the flock", an honorary chicken so to speak. They all hang outside her house waiting for her to come back. It's sad to see, but they will be ok. I'm bringing Big Bird inside and will let you know. Thanks to all for your input on this site.
    1. MilleFleurs
      I'm sorry to hear that, how is she doing now?
      The Chickens' Maid likes this.
  2. puckpuck8
    One of my original bared rock hens had some issues, I took her to the vet for a cold and a few months later she had some of the above symptoms in the article. The last few days of her life, she was getting very sleepy, she looked at me like asking for help. The second time to the vet, he said the hen had some terminal issue in egg laying. She would pass natural with some pain or I could terminate her with comfort. I chose the later, it was hard to take, but I buried her, near by her flock. Chickens were sensitive to her missing, for sometime they looked for her, especially her close buddy. I eventually got two young hens to replace her. Thanks for the article.
  3. CCUK
    I had my first two hens die in my arms. I was so upset. Knowing what's happening and being so helpless. I miss belle and henrietta. I know I did everything I could for them. I still shed a tear. They were warrens a hybrid bred for laying. They aren't bred for longevity. They burn out. I still have one left from six. I know all my hens will go at some point and it never gets any easier. Great post. I think you got it just right.
      dynomy and The Chickens' Maid like this.
  4. N F C
    Thank you for this article on a subject I haven't seen much about. Very well written!

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