When To Euthanize a Chicken

Blackie had been ill for a long time. Like many older animals, she walked stiffly and rested frequently. At the age of six she was well past the end of her productive life, but I’m not a farmer that has to have each animal contribute to the bottom line and so we kept her on. She was part of the fabric of the backyard community.

But, in the last two months, I questioned whether her continued longevity was the right thing. The other chickens knew that she was on the outs. They pecked her back unmercifully until there was raw flesh, unprotected by feathers. I put her in a separate coop. The feathers grew back, but not her strength. She couldn’t stand for more than a few seconds at a time. Still, her poops were normal, she was eating and drinking, and Eleanor sat by the coop, keeping her friend company.

You can’t always “let nature take it’s course.” We’ve already altered nature. A chicken, after all, is a domestic farm animal. It depends on us for food and protection and I like to think it appreciates the home we give it. Leave a chicken to it’s own resources in the wild of my backyard and it would be dead within days. The chickens stay alive because of my good care, and sometimes, they die because I deem it the time to go. I’ve had many sick chickens and watched some die. If you wait for that “they’ve given up all hope” look in their eyes, you’re unlikely to see it. Yesterday it appeared that Blackie had her final stroke. A wing fell limp to her side. And yet she pecked at corn and turned a black, shiny eye to the outside world. She was not going to tell me that she’d had enough. I’ve seen a severely wounded chicken act as if she was not in any pain. Chickens could teach the fire-walking, sleep on a bed of nails swamis a thing or two.

Because I have coddled this hen, she was already alive for far longer than she would have if I’d let “nature take it’s course.” I’d already saved her from being killed by the flock. Her water was laced with antibiotics so the mycoplasma wouldn’t infect her. She had food and water nearby so she didn’t have to stand up. I dusted her with louse powder because she couldn’t dust bathe.

Blackie wasn’t going to look me softly in the eye and plead to go.

Steve took her out of her coop yesterday and sat her on the ground. She pecked at some grass and ate. She tried to stand but couldn’t. She was no longer capable of doing even one behavior that mark a chicken as a chicken. No dust bathing, no roosting, no scratching in the dirt. It was time.

Because you’ll ask, I’ll tell you how Steve did it. He does a quick neck pull near the skull. Blackie was so on automatic pilot that, although dead, her heart kept beating for awhile. It’s brutal to watch, even if you’ve seen it before. He buried her in the meadow next to Lulu.

Blackie was a good big basic black laying hen. She wasn’t a favorite like Lulu, but we were happy to have her in the flock. I knew, when I ordered the chicks this spring, that Blackie would be gone by the time they were laying. Chickens don’t last long, but their leaving is always hard.


  1. Thank you again for the wonderful update but a very sad one,I am so sorry for the loss of Blackie, she is now with Lulu. You certainly know how to write,you make me feel as though I’m right there going through the sadness along with you.Thank you again for all the updates. Hugs

  2. I am sorry! Thank you for writing about this experience. You bring a great deal of pleasure to my day. I love your stories, and am thankful to be let in on your interesting life, on good days and bad. How lucky you are to have Steve!

  3. my fondest wishes that blackie had a swift journey. well true, that ‘humane’ & ‘easy’ are not found next to each other in lifes’ dictionary.

  4. Terry,
    Your story has touched me greatly this morning. I have so enjoyed watching your animals go about their daily lives. Watching the goats play and chickens scratch. The excitement of the new chicks and the anticipation of expanding your flock has allowed me to re-live part of my childhood on a “farm” in Kansas and brought many smiles to my day. But the sadness of loosing Lulu, stress of disease, and then the heart wrenching decision to euthanize Blackie – reminds us that animal stewardship is a responsibility that one can’t take too lightly. Sometimes hard, unpleasant decisions must be made. I applaud you for making those decisions and sharing your process with us. So often these days life’s “downs” are sugar-coated or glossed over, it’s refreshing to see unvarnished, adult solutions to sad situations. And a reminder that sharing our lives with animals is not always sunny. My thoughts and thanks are with you.


  5. Thanks for the story. Im sure it will be hard to do but I hope if one of my flock gets that ill we will have the guts to do the right thing, put them down. And there will be happy days again, as with all things there are endings but there are also new beginnings, and of course the baby chicks to look forward to!

  6. Thank you Terry for posting such an honest piece – hen-keeping is sometimes tough so it’s good to tell the whole truth.

    I have been in the same situation with Ruby, in similar circumstances to Blackie we kept her going as best we could. We have a rooster – and he saw it as his duty to rid his flock of a weak member – a rooster’s attacks can be more brutal than a hens. And like you I have a husband who helps me when we have to make the final decision.

    But still the highs of hen keeping far out-weigh the lows – a sunny day, 5 happy hens and 5 eggs in the nest box and a proud rooster showing his girls where the best food is – a wonderful stress buster!

    Take care and I hope your other hens have weathered the storm.

  7. Terry,
    You are a terrific writer. You have made me care about your chickens something I would not have really believed possible six months ago. Any animal that lands in your hands is very lucky and has a blessed life. I am quite certain that whoever created these creatures smiles at you.


  8. Terry, thank you for an honest, heartfelt post. I think too often people who don’t keep critters think it is all romance and butterflys. It isn’t, but the joys do outweigh the heartbreaks. Blackie had a wonderful life, and we should all be so lucky.

  9. So sorry about Blackie but nice to know you gave her so many chances!

    I still cling to the “maybe they will just die in their sleep” mantra whenever dealing with our aging flock….sometimes it happens. When it doesn’t unfortunately we have never been brave enough to do it ourselves and have gotten many a strange look carrying a chicken or duck into our vet’s waiting room. Luckily, he understands.

    So Yay! for Steve!

  10. oh, Terry. you have had a spring so far full of wonderful joys and extreme lows. but spring is like that i think. And farm life for sure has that ebb and flow to it. Blackie and lulu can keep each other company. Plants and animals and even people don’t always make it. No matter how much we tend to them or care for them or love them.

    Over a two year period I had 3 house/barn cats come down with feline lukema. and it was just the worse thing to watch them go through. As the person that has taken on the responsability to care for them, I had to be the one to decide to end their suffering. Never easy, but I knew it was the right time to do it. The farm we lived on at the time had a patch of cat graves outside a little garden, like you have a small place for Lulu and Blackie. No matter how right it was, it did not mean I still did not cry a tear and feel a loss.

    but it is spring and your chicks are coming along nicely. They will soon be out and about. pecking at the ground and chasing each other around.

  11. I did let a hen of mine go naturally recently – an ex-batt, now three years old, still top of the pecking order. It was just as hard to do as taking matters into my own hands, but in this case I think it was for the best. It doesn’t get any easier however many times you have to make this sort of decision.

  12. Awwe SS about Blackie!! She had a great life with you!! How are Siouxsie and Maizie doing??

  13. Oh dear, another one gone; but it is a grim fact that animals need to be helped in this way, and well done for knowing it was time and just getting on with it. I had to dispatch one of Babbs’s chicks last week and it was one of the more unpleasant things I have ever had to do. It’s buried in the ‘chick plot’ under that little Lilac you admired! Lots of other babies and dead-in-shell chaps in there too for company.
    How is Eleanor?

  14. My continued thoughts are with you. You did the right thing, I’m sure, and Blackie had a wonderful life in a wonderful place. I’m sorry for the loss.

    • And before you know it you’ll have the new babies running around with a whole new mix of personalities. It won’t make up for today’s loss, but it’s something undoubtedly positive for the future.

  15. Thank you everyone for your kind words. I’ll post an update on the rest of the hens later this week. I’m still waiting for the lab report to confirm that the respiratory ailment that I’m treating is mycoplasma. Meanwhile, Betsy is feeling fine and we visited a preschool today – she patiently let 60+ children pet her. So, as always, there’s good mixed in.

  16. I’m so sorry chickens don’t live longer than they do. We do get so attached and their time with us can seem so brief. I had to take one to the vet last year because I just couldn’t do anything myself. Like you, I am loving my young ones this year. We just expanded their yard and they are having such fun. I love the way they put their head down and run toward each other, then body slam. I could sit and watch them for hours. And such is the circle of life:-)

  17. At the age of six, Blackie had a very long and wonderful life with you. Considering her deteriorating condition, you and Steve did the kindest thing for her. Again my thoughts are with you. I’m so sorry.

    Regarding the chicks: I’ve been scouring the internet about Cochins. Many report that the blues have a tendency to develop slowly, so I’m thinking your little pint-sized slate gray one will eventually catch up. I’m rooting for her! And as for Betsy: What a trooper. Bless her little heart.

    I’m keeping good thoughts for all of your sick girls, and hope you have a much better week this week. : )

  18. I’m sorry for Lulu and Blackie
    Why Candy is not out of your house?

    • The water in the chicken house has medicine in it and I don’t want Candy to drink it. I let her out early in the morning before the chicken house is opened up.

  19. I am sorry you had to put Blackie down, but at least you had a chance to say goodbye and be their for her. It can be so hard when they are in failing health be they human or a chicken.

  20. I’m so sorry to hear of Blackie, it must have been a difficult decision, but she knows how well you took care of her, especially during her last weeks. She will be happy there with Lulu.

  21. So sorry to hear of the loss of your dear hens. I appreciate your willingness to share so much with us. Glad to hear Betsy was such a good girl – I hope she got some special treats!

  22. I’m so sorry for your loss, Terry. We owe it to everyone in our care to make the hard decisions for them at the end of life. There should be an oath for every caretaker of every animal (humans, too): “First, do no harm; second, love as hard as possible (in whatever way makes sense for you); third, do the very best you can; fourth, constantly evaluate quality of life; fifth, protect from suffering.”

    In the past, I have waited for that, “I have had enough” signal. You’re right, it never comes. I have dogs, not birds (yet), but it’s the same with pack/flock animals…it’s also the same with reptiles…the will to live allows them to tolerate impossible suffering for heroic periods of time sometimes. My heart goes out to you for your losses and the hard decisions you’ve had to make.

    Rest in peace, Blackie. And Lulu. Wishing you and Steve peace, as well. You’ve had a hell of a few weeks. Hoping you’ll be able to catch your breath soon.

  23. I’m so sorry to hear about Blackie, but thankyou for giving her so many chances and for sharing it all with us. Like everyone else has said, she’s with Lulu. And good for Betsy!!….I don’t know if I could handle 60+ children all around me!! haha
    I am still praying for good results with the rest of your flock, and the little shicks, especially the runt!!
    Take care and hang in there, you are a huge blessing for all those animals you care for!!


  24. Thank you Terry. So honest and informative. To hear that makes me feel better. It still hurts though. I too have a hen on the brink. It is one of the hens with black feathers that turned white I sent pictures of. Normal eat and drink but others are pecking her vent until it bloody. I separated her and gave her epsom salt sitz baths all week but noticed black skin around it. I put antibiotic oitment on it but it is not looking good. She is an older hen that doesnt lay eggs on a regular basis. I tried to put her back with the others but they pecked it bloody once again. She is back in her sick box. I just don’t know what to do.

    • Jude – a hen won’t tell you. You have to decide. A hen needs to fully heal before going back with others, or they’ll open the wounds. If she can’t heal fully, that’s another story. I think that a hen that can’t live with a flock is a hen that needs to be euthanized. But, all of us have different criteria.

  25. Oh Terry… Reading about dear Blackie has made me cry. So sad :(

  26. I’m so sorry for your losses this past week. Thank you as always for sharing the whole story with us. My Maizy that I wrote to you about several months ago lived another 8 weeks with her swollen abdomen, then peacefully died under a large oak. Up until the end she was still exhibiting chicken behaviors everyday, so we simply watched and waited. Sad, but part of the whole picture of keeping hens.
    Blessings to you all this week, may it be filled with peace in all the “homes” in your care.

  27. Terry, gee whiz. I hate to hear that. I’ll tell you what though, if recarnation is a possibility after this life I would agree to come back as one of your animals ;-)

    Here is sending you good and warm thoughts…

  28. My son Steve had to euthanize one of his chickens recently. He told the same story as you. I so felt for him as he said it was such a horrible experience but that he beleived it his responsibility to do it as part of keeping chickens and doing his best for them. I felt a swell of pride at his additude (at 25 he is still my child being a responsible grown up).

    I feel for you but as eveyone else says you did your best and the new chicks will continue lifes cycle. I hope things pick up for you soon.

  29. Looks sunny there today, Terry….Maybe some of that sun will dry things out and kills off some germs? Thinking of you and the girls today…D.

  30. Terry – thanks for relating your experience. You’re a passionate yet matter-of-fact henkeeper. Great to learn through your experience.

  31. That’s so sad, but you did the right thing and with compassion and love!