How long do roosters live?

A barnevelder rooster basking in the sunshine

Roosters have an average lifespan of 5 to 8 years, though it is possible for them to live to 15 years of age. The life expectancy of a rooster is affected by its environment, whether it has competition, the quality of its care and if it's allowed to free range or not.

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Pet chickens that are properly cared for can live a relatively long time, longer than dogs, sometimes, although that is quite rare. It's common for a chicken in a backyard environment to live for 7 to 10 years, but we've also heard reports of chickens living as many as 20 years!

I currently have over 30 fully mature cockerels and the oldest is 11 years.

Below: A rooster from my flock.

If you have a confined flock that is only fed layers ration this can dramatically shorten a roosters life. The excess of calcium in the hens feed can effect the roosters kidneys and other organs.

Longevity is probably more about successfully protecting them from predators than anything else. You can keep them well fed in a good clean coop, practice good hygiene etc, but keeping the predators at bay is often the hardest thing when keeping backyard chickens.

You would think that with not having the stress and requirements of laying eggs like the hens do, the roosters job would be easier and they would live a bit longer, but this is not the case. Being a rooster is a high stress job, especially if there is competition from other male chickens. Roosters occasionally drop dead of heart attacks out of the blue.

Naturally, this will depend on the conditions under which they're kept. Commercially, layer breed hybrid rooster are killed at one day old, meat breed roosters lived between 42 and 100 days.

How long do bantam roosters live?

The breed and type of chicken can play a major part in the life span. I have kept over 100 roosters over the years and the oldest one I had was the Colonel, a Silkie that lived to 13.

That was a bantam but as a rule they have the same lifespan as a a large fowl cockerel. He was blind in one eye and his crow was like a croak. He crowed at all hours of the day and night.
Below: One of my breeding flocks of Barnevelder Bantams with 2 roosters.

True bantam or miniature bantam roosters do seem a little shorter lived. I have never had one live past 6 years of age but I wonder if that is because their small size makes them more susceptible to weather conditions.

A well treated chicken can live upwards of 8 years. I have never seen one older than 13.

The small size and amenable attitudes of Bantam chickens make them a good choice to keep even for those with small yards. They do have needs, however, so anyone who is interested in raising Bantams must be familiar with their requirements before investing in the birds.

Factors that effect the length of a roosters life:

  1. Housing: Clean draught free chicken coops with protected runs can help extend the life of chickens. Clean shelter and foraging areas are generally all that is needed for the health of your birds.
  2. Treatment: Chickens enjoy social interaction,with their own kind and humans, especially if socialisation has been present from the chick stage. They will actually like to be petted and held if raised in that manner and will seek out cuddling time with their humans. Roosters are often kept as pets, but some people abuse roosters and force them to fight for profit.
  3. Diet: Chickens, like all animals, need a balanced diet. Left on their own, they will feed upon small insects found in grassy areas, so they should be provided with a yard or field in which they can forage. Grit is necessary for digestion in chickens, which is why they can be seen pecking and scratching the ground for sand and gravel. Crushed oyster shells will provide them with grit as well as calcium.
  4. Stress: Competition mostly from other roosters, or being too tightly confined. Roosters are territorial and aggressive when protecting their hens.
  5. Illnesses and parasite infestations: Although there are problems that affect poultry, for the most part, chickens are healthy creatures especially if treated with preventative measures for parasites and the like.
  6. Hereditary conditions and deformities: Some inherited characteristics can shorten the life of a chicken.
  7. Environmental conditions: If you've got a good predator-free environment, it's not hard to keep birds to ripe old age

It is never set in stone how long a chicken will live, but typically meat breeds live the shortest, egg layers and dual purposes are in the middle, and more wild types like game birds, live the longest under ideal conditions.

Although it is not in the list above there is sometimes a problem when humans deal with noisy roosters. Neighbours killing birds there not happy with is a problem I have come across more than once.

At what age do roosters begin to crow?

Roosters crow all their lives from around 12 to 16 weeks but it does taper off as they get into old age and calm down. Roosters crow to welcome the dawn and regularly during the day to make sure his hens know exactly who is boss.

How long do roosters stay fertile?

Rooster hormones begin to wane about 5 or 6 years of age and he will crow and mate less frequently with the hens.

His sperm quality drops off, leading to fertility and increased chick mortality. A rooster who is 3 or 4 years old can still handle mating with 3 or 4 hens, but a larger flock benefits from a rooster in the prime of his life.

When are roosters fully grown?

Size wise a heritage or rare breed backyard rooster would be fully grown about 24 week old. There would still be a little filling out to do as he gained some weight and muscle and grew his fancy feathers but at 20 to 24 he will be as big as he's going to get.

The one exception I have found to this rule is the Jersey Giant, they really do take a full year to grow that big.

A hybrid would probably grow about 20% faster.

Can you tell the age of a rooster?

Telling the exact age of any chicken is quite difficult but there are a few ways you can make an accurate guess as to the age of a rooster. 

  1. The legs - A young bird will have even coloured smooth legs with no missing scales and small spurs. As the cockerel ages and becomes a rooster his spurs will grow much longer and begin to curve and the legs will take on a worn look. Spurs also have growth rings so with clean spurs you can check to see how many rigs there are around the spur. that will tell you the age of the rooster in years.
  2. Feathers - As chickens moult they don't necessarily change all their feathers and this can be seen if some are faded and others are newly grown.
  3. Comb and face - Rooster always squabble with others even if they don't fight and this shows up as scars on the face. Missing comb tips is an indication of frostbite so then you can know he is at least one breeding season old.

Below: This is a young rooster or cockerel.

Below: This is a still growing teenager

Below: A Pekin rooster, fully grown in his prime.

Below: An old rooster, past his best.

While you won't be able to tell the exact age of an old rooster, fading colour on legs and wattles will let you know he's in his golden years. With spurs a few inches long like this fella in the image above he is likely past his prime.

At what age do roosters grow spurs?

Spurs begin to grow from about 16 weeks of age and continue all their lives. A roosters spurs contain growth rings so you can get a rough idea of their age from the number of rings on the spurs.

Spurs can grow long enough the turn into a circle but this is rare.

At what age does a cockerel become a rooster? and is there an exact age?

In the old days, a cockerel became a rooster when he was given a flock to roost with. In the fancy fowl world this would be about 1 year old when he was fully grown and had his fertility tested.

So a cockerel a rooster are almost the same thing, the difference between them being one of age. There is no exact time on this but about 9 months to a year.

At what age do roosters begin to fight?

I have had male chicks spar with each other from a very early age, as little as 3 or 4 weeks but that is not really fighting. It is rare for young rooster to be aggressive until they are fully grown and have had a little practice play fighting with their flock mates.

So they start genuinely fighting for dominance in the flock from 6 to 9 months of age.

When is a rooster considered mature?

A rooster can mate with a hen from around 16 weeks of age, his technique and fertility levels at that age might not be that good but they will generally have a go. I do not consider a rooster mature until he is 1 year old. I have heritage rare breeds and the take more time to grow than hybrids would.

So there you are, a rooster in good health can live for 15 years and a chicken for 8 years. Chickens can live a long life, barring bad genetics, bad husbandry and predators.