The longest-living headless chicken: Meet Mike the headless chicken!

Fruita, Colorado - There's nothing more bonkers than a headless chicken clucking around the yard without a noggin to put a hat on. But for just how long can a chicken survive without its head?

Mike the headless chicken was ordinary in life, extraordinary in death.
Mike the headless chicken was ordinary in life, extraordinary in death.  © Collage: IMAGO/Pond5 Images

If you have never heard of Mike the headless chicken, consider yourself lucky, because you're in for one hell of a tale.

An extraordinary creature from the 1940s, the story of this special chicken is one of resilience, persistence, and hope for all cluckers around the world.

So, who is Mike the headless chicken, and why does he hold an animal world record? The longest-living headless chicken in the world managed something extraordinary, and even got a festival dedicated to him as a result.

Who is Mike the headless chicken?

Mike the headless chicken was not born headless. Instead, he appeared as a minor speck in the annals of poultry history in the early 1940s, born at a farm in Fruita, Colorado, to his human owners Lloyd and Clara Olsen. His journey began in September 1945, when those same humans decided it was time to bring their chickens to the market.

Bundled into a shed on September 10, 1945, Mike had his head lopped off by Lloyd, while Clara waited eagerly to pluck his fair feathers. Yet, this strong and resilient chicken had no intention of ending up as someone's dinner, and managed to cling on for dear life for so long that he never made it to market.

It didn't take long for Mike to break the unusual Guinness World Record for longest-living headless chicken, but he well-and-truly surpassed it, surviving for more than 18 months after his decapitation.

It might seem impossible, but Mike the headless chicken survived for 18-months after his decapitation.
It might seem impossible, but Mike the headless chicken survived for 18-months after his decapitation.  © IMAGO/Pond5 Images

Why did Mike become the longest-living headless chicken?

According to Mike's very-own website, the Olsens were "preparing a batch of 40–50 chickens for market... but one young rooster was still alive after the processing of chickens was done for the day." It turns out that the couple decided the next morning to try and keep him alive.

"When Lloyd realized that one of the chickens was still alive the next morning, he decided to see if he could keep it alive," and it wasn't long before this two-legged feathered fellow was not only famous among locals, but was taken on the road on a somewhat morbid tour as a sideshow attraction.

Of course, Mike's extraordinary world record would have never been achieved without the persistence of Lloyd and Clara Olsen. Yet, it's not just care and attention that kept Mike alive. After all, chickens commonly run around for a few seconds after they've been decapitated, but not entire years.

Chickens often move around after having their heads chopped off because they have a ton of nerves in their spiral cord which are triggered by the act of decapitation. This in turn makes their muscles move even after death, giving the impression that they are still alive.

It would then be assumed, of course, that Mike's continued existence came down to simple muscle spasms as a result of his decapitation. Yet, somehow this was not the case when it came to this extraordinary chicken. Instead, his life continued on due to Lloyd having botched the process of decapitating him.

Shortly after his extraordinary survival story became public, Mike was taken to a number of scientists, who took a look at how he could have possibly survived. As Mike's website reported, it didn't take long for them to figure out the real reason.

"Scientists determined that part of one ear, the jugular vein, and the base of the brain that controls motor functions were left intact, allowing Mike to continue to live on."

What is Mike the headless chicken's festival?

Having become the longest-living headless chicken in history, Mike quickly became the talk of the town and a huge star in his local area. By the time he passed away, he was worth the equivalent of more than $130,000 (in 2023). It was only natural, then, that he ended up with not only a day dedicated to him, but an entire festival.

The festival is still held each year in Fruita, Colorado, Mike's former hometown. It features a car show as well as a variety of stalls and activities, musical acts, and a multitude of events which celebrate the life of this outrageous chicken.

Mike truly ran around like a headless chicken

While Mike may have been a normal chicken in life, he was a remarkable rooster in death. Fluttering around for well-over a year after his unceremonious demise, this clawed clucker couldn't be plucked until well after his shelf use-by date, and should be commended for such a remarkable achievement.

So yes, Mike may have run around headless, but became a literal legend in the process. If you had your head chopped off and then needed to carry on for more than a year, would you do any different?

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO/Pond5 Images

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