Have you ever wondered how fast a chicken can run? It does beg the question if you’ve ever watched them sprint across the yard in pursuit of a treat, or when chasing off a rival.
It is always surprising because the usual, cautious waddling gait of a chicken does not do much to inspire confidence in their speed.
But we should remember that all of the domestic chickens we have today are descended from the red jungle fowl, a pretty athletic bird! So, just how fast can a chicken run?
Chickens can run at an average speed of 9 miles per hour (14.5 kmh). Some birds can reach 15 mph (24 kmh) or even 20 mph (32 kmh). Top speed depends on the breed, size, age and health of the bird, with mature, healthy birds typically able to reach higher speeds.
So next time you’re being chased by a rooster in hot pursuit, remember this little fact to reassure yourself.
All you have to do is top 15 mph, and you are home free! Or, you know, just shoo the thing away. It is only a chicken.
Anyway, read on to find out more about how fast chickens can go and more facts about our favorite feathered friends.
What Determines the Top Speed of a Chicken?
When considering the top speed of a chicken, several factors play a part, including many you’d expect. Size, weight, age, injuries and overall health all play a role.
Generally, a larger, fitter, younger chicken is going to show a much higher ground speed than a very young or very old chicken that is out of shape and injured or carrying too much weight.
While smaller birds may have an advantage when it comes to sheer maneuverability, such as when foraging for food, larger birds tend to have more muscle and longer legs, and use their extra mass to reach higher speeds overall.
Additionally, diet plays an important role in a chicken’s speed: a balanced diet rich in protein helps to build lean muscle that is needed for performance, and a healthier chicken is more athletic overall.
Lastly, chickens that have dealt with injuries or persistent parasite problems probably won’t be as quick. Even something like chronic pain from a bad bumblefoot infection could slow them down significantly.
So, while chickens are generally pretty quick keep in mind that breed, size, weight and health all play a role in determining their top speed.
Are Some Chicken Breeds Faster than Others?
Breed is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to overall top speed. Certain breeds have maintained excellent running abilities and can reach speeds of up to 20 mph, whereas other breeds are lucky to do half of that.
When it comes to chicken breeds, the debate over speed is a topic of heated debate between fanciers and farmers alike.
It seems that the general consensus when it comes to the fastest breed of chicken really comes down to personal preference as some swear by certain breeds.
However, what’s certain is that some breeds are more likely than others to set records in feats of avian athleticism: an example being the tall, muscular and powerful Malay or the energetic Leghorn, both breeds known for their quickness amongst chicken enthusiasts.
Generally speaking, the closer a breed is to its ancestral jungle fowl counterpart, the greater the chance that it will be a swift runner.
Chickens Usually Only Run in Short Bursts
Chickens are usually seen poking around at a fairly sedate pace unless they are disturbed, but they capable of running hard and fast when necessary.
Of course, chickens typically reserve their energy for short bursts rather than sprinting around constantly all over the place. That is why you usually only see chickens run when absolutely required, and not for fun.
Now, sure, sometimes it seems like chickens get the “zoomies” just like our dogs and cats sometimes do, but if you watch it will usually be for a reason, good or bad.
Chickens Will Run When Fleeing Predators, Alarmed or Fighting
Chickens, like all prey animals, are naturally inclined to run when they sense danger and feel threatened.
This is a survival instinct which is deeply ingrained in chickens, and is responsible for them achieving absolute top speed.
In the wild, chickens will flee when they detect the presence of a predator. Even in captivity, chickens can sense danger from an approaching animal (or human!) and will run or fly away as fast as possible if they can.
Chickens may also run for it when they are alarmed by a loud noise or are startled by sudden, explosive movement, especially overhead movement.
This is more likely in nervous or “flighty” breeds, but all chickens will when scared badly enough!
Chickens are also known to get into fights with one another, and this is especially true of roosters that are establishing who the top bird is.
Chickens may also fight with a different breed or sometimes flockmates over personal space or resources like food and water. If you see a chicken dashing at or running away from a pursuing one, you’ll know the fight is on.
Chickens Will Also Sprint to Get to Food or Reach You
Chickens don’t always run over serious or scary reasons: sometimes they are running for a “good” reason.
Exhibit A is food: chickens are highly food motivated, and every keeper knows the joys of watching a flock run full speed to you when they hear their “dinner bell”. They will also sprint to be the first in line when treats are being handed out!
Chickens are likewise able to recognize their favorite people and will often run over for extra attention or treats.
If a chicken establishes that you are a reliable source of affection (or treats) then it may come running to you whenever they see you.
Chickens Might Flap Along the Ground as They Run
Some chickens run fairly gracefully along the ground: wings back, head lowered, tail straight.
But some chickens run “ugly”, flapping and fluttering along the ground while they run, perhaps using their wings to help them achieve greater speed or balance to keep themselves going.
There does not seem to be any hard and fast rules on chickens behaving this way, as it appears to be down to almost individual preference.
That being said, most flighty breeds or birds that have recently had their wings clipped seem more prone than others.
Are Bantams Slower than Standard Breeds?
Since bantam breeds are smaller, weaker and shorter than standard breeds it makes sense that they would be slower, right? Not so fast! Most bantams are actually about as fast as their larger-sized counterparts.
Though the physicality of the two types does vary greatly, it is not a major factor except on totally flat, smooth ground.
Bantams are smaller and also lighter, which does help their acceleration a bit compared to their larger kin.
Are Roosters or Hens Faster?
Roosters tend to be faster than hens, as they have more muscle, a longer stride length and sturdier legs. All things being equal, you can bet on the rooster of a given breed beating the hen to the finish line.
That being said, we must also remember that some hens are bigger and stronger than certain roosters, and some individual hens of any breed are just extraordinarily fast.
In a battle of the sexes, bet on the rooster but don’t count the hen out.
Can Chicks Run, Too?
Newborn chicks can’t run nearly as efficiently as adult chickens because they haven’t built up their muscle mass or developed fully functional legs yet.
Chicks tire very quickly, and are all but defenseless for the first few days of life. Additionally, hatchlings don’t have the same balance and coordination that adult chickens have.
This does not last forever, though: most chicks can run quite well, if comparatively slowly, by three weeks old, and will only get faster as they grow up and gain strength. By five or six weeks they should be able to keep up with most adult chickens in a footrace.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.