Chickens Die

Many people new to chicken keeping are shocked when a chicken dies. They’re used to comparatively long-lived dogs and cats. With a pet, when something goes wrong, there’s a vet to hurry to. There’s time to nurse the illness. Money is spent. The animal lives. But, chickens, being prey animals, often hide their ailments until it is too late. Or, they sicken and die within 24 hours. If you do call your vet, you’ll find out that he/she only treats small animals, or that the avian vet knows parrots, but knows nothing about poultry, or that you can make an appointment and the bill will come to upwards of $200.

I got a call from a woman in town who has a new backyard flock of seven hens. Their favorite, a Jersey Giant, wasn’t looking well. The chicken wasn’t roosting or eating and looked uncomfortable. I asked a few questions. The owner got back to me. She isolated the hen and kept it warm. An hour later, it was dead. I drove over to check her remaining birds. I brought antibiotics in case the flock had some respiratory ailment.

I arrived to see her two-year old son holding his much loved Belgian d’Uccles Mille Fleur. This is why backyard chicken keepers treat their flock as pets. This hen is as loved as the family dog.

lorna's son

The mother confessed to me, in a hushed, slightly amazed and a tad embarrassed tone, “I didn’t know I’d love the chickens so much.”

The remaining six hens were as healthy as could be. They were taking dirt baths in an unfrozen corner of a flower bed. They were eating, scratching the ground, and bright eyed. No antibiotics needed. My best guess is that the Jersey Giant, a pullet in her first season of laying, had a bound or broken egg. It’s unlikely that the owner could have saved the hen. (It is possible, though. Read about Eleanor.) It’d be useful to know if my guess is right, but a necropsy would have cost the owner $300 (quoted by her vet.) I’m going to take an autopsy workshop at the Poultry Congress. An odd thing to look forward to, but I am.


  1. I too was shocked by how much and how quickly I came to love my hens. When my dog got one of my favorite girls, sitting on eggs no less, I cried for three days. And got rid of the dog!

    Thanks for the links to the other pages. I’ve got SO much to learn…

  2. WOW! How much snow did you get there?! I just tuned into the Hencam and was truly shocked to find mounds of snow and no hens out there in the yard. They look happy enough inside with their cabbage.
    My girls hate the snow. I put a large tarp on the ground before it snowed here in Iowa so they would have a place to play. Now I must shovel it (along with the walk and the drive)—all for the love of chickens.

  3. I love my hens like my pets as well. I had my dogs kill one of my hens this summer and couldn’t blame them for it, but I was mad as could be and had trouble looking at the dogs for days!!! I learned to never leave them unattended since (i have one dog in particular who likes to go in the coop and retrieve the eggs).
    currently I have one hen living in my house due to a huge pecked open area on her back (which is healing nicely)! I knew if i left her outside with the other ladies they would continue to “eat” her alive. She gets to be cozy in the house (although somewhat lonely i might add) while the others brave the cold and snow!

  4. California has free necropsy for any chicken. UC Davis has the best agriculture program and I believe they do the exam and tests and the owner gets a very detailed report. Perhaps other states departments of ag also have free programs.

    • Massachusetts also does autopsies – but with budget constraints they are limited to flocks with what appear to be dangerous contagious diseases. The necropsy has to be approved by the state vet.

  5. It’s hard not to make pets out of them, especially when you hatch them yourself. Little Chicken is our baby, even though he’s a full grown rooster now. But having the knowledge of sudden death incidents and predator attacks, both of which we’ve experienced, helps tremendously. But ya gotta love the little things.