How Long Can Chickens Go Without Food?

Written by Laura Dorr
Published: September 18, 2023
© RB Stocker/iStock via Getty Images
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Bodies are amazing things and can survive longer than expected without food, as long as there is access to water. While humans are used to three meals per day, the longest a person has ever survived without food was 74 days. Irish political prisoner Terence MacSwiney went on this record-setting hunger strike before succumbing to starvation in 1920. He was truly no chicken when it came to going without food!

While MacSwiney lasted over three months, the same should not be expected for other animals (or even the majority of people). How long an animal can survive without eating depends on several health and environmental factors. Just like with people, the amount of time a chicken can go without food depends on several things, including age, health, weight, housing, water availability, and weather.  

How Much Food Do Chickens Need to Eat?

Chicken Teeth- Chickens Eating
Chickens are omnivores and will eat insects, fruit, seeds, leafy greens, and grains.

© Linnik

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Chickens are constantly foraging because they have high metabolisms and devote many calories to egg-laying. On average, each individual chicken eats approximately a quarter pound of food (about half a cup of feed) per day. Chickens being fed commercial feed will supplement this diet by scratching around in the dirt for bugs, worms, or plants. These found meals may make up the majority of a free-range chicken’s diet.

While chickens are self-sufficient in finding snacks, bugs and plants often do not meet all of a chicken’s nutritional needs. Calcium deficiencies are common in free-ranging chickens that are not supplied with a regular food source, so supplementing their diet with commercial feed is encouraged. Otherwise, lack of proper nutrition can lead to nutritional deficiencies and health problems, as well as a decrease or cessation of egg production.

Can a Chicken Overeat?

Cuckoo Marans Eating Windfall Apple
The largest chicken on record was a 22-pound rooster named Weirdo, which was reported to be so aggressive that it killed two cats and maimed a dog.


Chickens should generally be fed two pellet meals a day, either by hand or in a feed dispenser. This diet can be complemented with fresh fruits and vegetables, but the extras shouldn’t surpass more than 10 percent of the chicken’s daily food intake. Obese chickens generally get this way because of an improper diet, since chickens cannot overeat. This is because they have a crop. Food travels to the crop before it moves on to the stomach and further into the digestive tract. Once the crop is full, a chicken will stop eating until the food digests.

Since there is little risk of overeating, there’s no downside to leaving food out all day. They will not eat overnight, though. Chickens are diurnal (meaning they are awake during the day and sleep at night) and they will rarely get up from their roost to eat or drink during the night. Regular feedings are important to keeping chickens healthy, but missing a meal doesn’t necessarily equal disaster. How long they can go without eating depends on the bird.

Why Age Matters When Going Without Food

Chicken chick brooder
While in the egg, chicks eat the yolk to gain the energy needed to hatch out of the shell.

© Chamblee

A chicken’s age affects how long it can go without food. During the three weeks of incubation, chicks get albumin and nutrients from the yolk sac in the egg. These nutrients can sustain them for up to 72 hours after hatching, even if they don’t eat anything. This is what allows distributors to ship newly hatched chicks across the country without feeding them. However, as soon as a chick arrives at its destination, it should be offered water. To bolster lethargic chicks, sugar can be added to the water to give them a boost. Once the nutrients from the egg have worn off, however, chicks cannot survive longer than two to three days without food.

While adult chickens do not have the luxury of sustained calories from the egg, they are hardier than their younger counterparts. Adult chickens can last four to five days without food, as long as they have access to water. Healthy chickens will naturally fare better than unhealthy chickens, though all will succumb to malnutrition after that time period. Whether or not the hen is currently egg-laying can also affect how long they can go without food, as laying requires lots of calories.

Free-Range vs. Cooped Chickens

Maran Chickens
Free-range hens are in no danger of flying away. The longest recorded continuous flight of a hen is 13 seconds.

©Darko Mlinarevic/iStock via Getty Images

How a chicken is housed can also affect how long it can go without food. Free-range chickens can sustain themselves easily in the short term, particularly in summer, when they have plenty of access to bugs and plants. They are very self-sufficient, and will happily look for their own food if commercial feed is not provided.

A free-range chicken could survive indefinitely without food provided by people, as long as it had access to water. However, as mentioned before, not all of a chicken’s nutritional needs may be met by a foraged diet, so it is best to ensure they have other food options as well.

Chickens in a coop or enclosed run don’t have the luxury of foraging like free-range chickens. While their free-range counterparts can survive indefinitely without food, caged chickens don’t have the same access to supplemental food sources. These chickens won’t survive more than four or five days (assuming they have access to water).

The Importance of Water Availability

Domesticated chickens drink water from a bucket on a small farm.
Since eggs are 70 percent water, a dehydrated chicken will often stop laying.

©Olesya Andreeva/ via Getty Images

While a chicken may be able to tough it out for most of a week without food, it can’t do the same without water. If temperatures are cool, chickens can survive up to around 48 hours without water. Chicks can last about six hours without water. However, if temperatures are above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, they will require water much sooner.

Chickens are tough animals, but they do better with cold temperatures than hot ones. This is because chickens can’t sweat, so they rely on their respiratory system and cool water to keep them from overheating. If it is hot, a chicken may only survive 10-16 hours without access to water. Even if the chicken survives, a dehydrated hen may stop laying eggs for up to two weeks afterward.

Hydration is also important because food needs to stay moist in the crop for chickens to digest it. If the food dries out, it can’t progress through the digestive tract and the chicken will die. To stay properly hydrated, chickens need between 180-500 ml of water per day. This number varies depending on the size of the bird, the temperature, and whether the chicken is inside or outside. Some fast-growing breeds of broiler or meat chickens need more water to sustain their growth, and they may consume up to a liter of water per day.

What Happens If Chickens Don’t Get Enough Food?

Jersey Giant Chickens hens 2017
A shortage of protein and salt in a chicken’s diet will increase pecking and fighting among a flock.

©Ballygally View Images/

Chickens are resourceful and don’t want to starve, so they get creative if they find themselves without food. If a hen is currently producing eggs but doesn’t have access to food, she will eat her own eggs (or those of a neighbor) to get nutrients. This behavior will start after two to three days without a meal. Egg eating can be a tough habit to reverse, so it’s better to ensure chickens are getting enough to eat before the problem starts.

In addition to eating eggs, chickens will look to other birds for food. Cannibalism will often occur if chickens get hungry enough. Starving chickens will start picking on weaker birds in the flock. This generally starts with bullying and feather pecking, but aggression can escalate quickly as the chickens get hungrier.

Ultimately, if a chicken goes too long without food, it will suffer malnutrition, starvation, and eventually death. Like any animal, chickens should be fed regularly and provided with unlimited access to water to prevent starvation and dehydration. Remember that chickens are high-energy animals with fast metabolisms that need to eat regularly. With a balanced diet and proper hydration, chickens can continue to be healthy and happy egg producers.

The Featured Image

Close Up Shot The little boy's hand feeding chickens at a chicken farm.
Treats should be limited to no more than 10 percent of a chicken's total diet.
© RB Stocker/iStock via Getty Images

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About the Author

After years in corporate publishing, Laura left the office life to work with animals and craft creative content. Now a freelance writer and licensed wildlife rehabilitator specializing in neonates, Laura writes words in between feeding times for orphaned, injured and ill wildlife. A former dairy farmhand, wildlife researcher and dog-grooming assistant, she is supervised by her horde of overbearing cats.

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