If you raise chickens for food, there comes a time when they must meet the axe. For new farmers, the phrase, “run around like a headless chicken,” no doubt makes you wonder whether chickens can survive being beheaded.

To answer your questions, we put together this brief guide about how long chickens can survive without their heads.

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How Long Can Chickens Live Without Its Head?

When executed properly, chickens only live for a few minutes, if that. During beheading, you severe both the brainstem and the jugular. Not only does the bird bleed to death, but they also no longer have the necessary brain function required to live.

Why Do Chickens Run Around Without Their Heads?

Any running and twitching that beheaded chickens do is a natural result of the beheading. This doesn’t happen in all cases and depends on whether the nerves in the spinal cord are left intact. While the chicken won’t survive long without a brain, the nervous system keeps the body moving even after the initial loss of the head.

The phrase, “running around like a headless chicken” comes from these brief movements after death. These nerve-prompted twitches happen with all animals and humans, not just chickens.

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Image Credit: ABC photographs, Shutterstock

“Miracle” Mike

While most beheaded chickens only survive a few minutes after execution, there is a recorded case of a headless chicken surviving for 18 months after a botched beheading. This chicken was known as “Miracle” Mike, or Mike the Headless Chicken.

His story is a bit of a morbid one. In 1945, a farmer called Lloyd Olsen in Fruita, Colorado, attempted to behead his Wyandotte Rooster. Although he succeeded in severing the chicken’s head, he left the jugular and part of the brainstem intact. Both of these facts meant Mike, the now headless chicken, had enough brain function to keep living.

He had a working heart and lungs and could eat, walk, and perch like other chickens. To keep him alive, Olsen used an eyedropper to deliver food through Mike’s esophagus and cleaned up any mucus that Mike could choke on with a syringe.

Eighteen months after he was beheaded, Mike died in a motel room — a result of an inhaled corn kernel and Olsen forgetting the eye-dropper at their last show’s location. By that time, he’d earned $4,500 a month at headless chicken shows.

To honor “Miracle” Mike’s memory, his hometown hosts a Mike the Headless Chicken Day in May.

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Although it’s a morbid topic, particularly for those of us who are squeamish, the question of how long a chicken can survive without its head is a common one. For successful executions, the answer is a few minutes, and any twitching is a natural result of post-mortem nerve signals that stop after a few moments.

The exception to this is Mike the Headless Chicken, which lived for 18 months after being beheaded. We’ll leave it up to you to decide whether he was lucky to survive.

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Featured Image Credit: Ivdonata, Shutterstock