Yesterday, Eggers was looking so perky and well that I let her back in with the other hens for the afternoon. In the evening, I closed her up in a dog crate so that she would drink her medicated water. This morning, she was dead.

I recently attended a chicken necropsy workshop; this was the right situation to use that information. Egger’s daughter, whom I gave to a friend, also died under similar circumstances. First the hen looks uncomfortable and lethargic. Then, she responds to antibiotics, and then she is dead. I wanted to know what was going on. Unfortunately, my first attempt at a necropsy didn’t show up anything obvious.

To my inexperienced eye, all of the internal organs looked fine. Although there were no eggs making their way down the oviduct, the ovaries looked normal with tiny pearl-like eggs. The intestinal tract was unobstructed, and the liver, heart and lungs were the right sizes and clear of blemishes. I made use of one of the most useful, clearly illustrated books in my library, The Prairie Farmer’s Poultry Book, from 1925, which has line drawings of chicken anatomy and photos of diseased birds. Another helpful book is Poultry Sanitation and Disease from 1939.

Perhaps Eggers had an unseen genetic heart abnormality? I’ve no idea. Eggers was only three years old. Alma, a Wyandotte, also died at three of no apparent reason. Ginger, my beautiful sex-link hen, was three when she died, again of no known illness, and without any warning symptoms. Perhaps this is age-related? I’ve heard from other chicken keepers who say that their high-producing hens give out early. There’s so little known about older hens. After all, hens aren’t bred for longevity; breeders focus on desired traits like egg production or feather color. I’d like to see us backyard chicken keepers keeping accurate records and then sharing them. I think that much could be learned.


  1. I was upset because Egger died. She was so cute. But I’m sure she was happy.

  2. Hi Terry,
    So sorry about Eggers. I cannot figure chickens out. I have had so many die for no apparent reason and then have been able to pull some from the brinks of death. I am proud of your attempt at the autopsy anyway. Hope you have a good weekend. We are off for spring break the next 2 weeks but I will have my HenCam up at home!

  3. May Eggers rest in peace and bless her. She will be well remembered and loved in our hearts. We thank you so much for sharing with us your experiences and for expanding our knowledge and skills. Losing a pet and family member is never easy.

  4. SO SORRY to hear about Eggers, Terry! Will be thinking of you today…

  5. Poor Betsy Ross will miss her sister. Where one was, you’d always see the other close by.

  6. I hate to hear that. But as backyard keepers we know that our hens couldn’t possible have a better life.
    Terry I think you are on to something about the 3 year thing. I have not kept records but the hens I keep as pets (as compared to the hens I keep two years and cull) seem to die for no reason around 3 or 4 or live to be 9 like my Wrongway, my black austrolp, buff minorca and golden laced wyondotte.

    • Ken – I agree. They either drop at 3 or so, or they go on for years. I’d like to get some stats to back this theory up! I also wonder if certain breeds or lines in breeds have shorter life spans. Look at the differences in dogs. Irish Wolfhounds only live to be 9, but Chihuahuas get into the late teens.

      • My Daisy Mae, a dach. mix, lived to be 20. When I finally had to have her put down my vet said, “Wow Ken do you realize you’ve had this dog half of your life?” The thought was well meaning but for some reason it hit me hard and I ran from the building crying like a baby.

  7. I’m so sorry to hear Eggers didn’t make it, and disappointed there was no evidence of why. Bless her, and you as well for sharing your beautiful hens, your knowledge, and life with us. I’m learning so much from you – to be applied when I eventually get my “girls”.

  8. Terry, so sorry to hear about Eggers. I too have experienced the “three year” syndrome with a Buff Orpington and a Silver Laced Wyandotte. On the other hand, I had a hen who damaged her leg and lived well past 6…limping her way through life. thank you for sharing your experiences with everyone- even when it is hard.

  9. Eggers will be missed by all those people who met her as “Tillie” at all the readings and demonstrations where she was presented. She made many friends as an ambassador of goodwill toward all animals!

  10. So sorry for your loss. My heart sank when I read your blog.

  11. I agree with Ken as well. My always healthy and hearty bantam, Meg, died just a few weeks ago. She would have been 4 this summer. One thing for sure, we know we have given our birds and animals the best preventative care and then we do all we can to make them well when they fall ill. I’m so sorry for the loss of Eggers; I know you did everything right for her.

  12. By the way, I applaude your attempt at necropsy. I wish there was a course I could take to learn more about it. I know a necropsy is the only way to figure out what went wrong in many cases.

    • The necropsy workshop that I went to was given by the big poultry show here on the east coast – The Poultry Congress. I think that poultry shows should provide more of these learning experiences. A lot of us who don’t show our birds would come out to learn more even if we never plan on entering the competition. Also, it’d be good to make the connections with the experienced breeders. We all have a lot to learn!

  13. Went to your work shop in Westford and have been watching your girls ever since. So sorry to read about Eggers.

  14. I was shocked and saddened to read about Eggers. We are new with chickens and we had 6 hens which will be just a year this May. One of ours died for no reason just a month ago. We were very upset and have no idea why she died. I feel somewhat better to know that this just happens, but mine was younger than 3yrs.

  15. So sorry to hear about Eggers – it’s been a bad year for animals all round so far! But she had the best care and I’m sure on some chickeny level they appreciate everything you do and are comforted by the normality of everyday noises and smells around them. At least chickens tend to slip off in their sleep as their hearts slow down at night. Have you a spot in the garden for her?

  16. Oh Terry, I am so sorry. She seemed like such a sweetie.

    And hats off to you for doing the necropsy…. not sure if I could do it for one of my own girls right after their death.

    The 3 year thing certainly seems like a commonality. Hopefully backyard chickeners like ourselves keep good notes and one day there will be on on-line database for such details. I, like you, record daily egg counts. When I can, I keep track for specific chickens based on color or shape. I also write down births, deaths and personality characteristics…..

    Again my condolences…..

  17. Terry, I am so sorry for your family’s loss. We do our best and then nature steps in with other plans. It seems many chickens are born with predetermined limits.
    You know, chicks hit plateaus at three days, three weeks, three months. In a large batch of chicks, I’ve repeatedly seen all losses happen exactly at those ages. Perhaps you are on to something with three years as another plateau.

  18. Terry,
    I am so sorry to hear about Eggers, this is the exact thing that happened to my four girls, I have been told that the pure breeds although do not lay as well as the hybrid they do tend to last a lot longer. My first girl only lasted 18months, the second three years and the last two went within 3 months of each other. I am giving my chook house a rest just in case there were any diseases hanging around, seems like the ones that lay their little hearts out wear out their insides. I spoke to an ex vet and she confirmed this as most farmers would only keep them for about 12 months then get rid of them……….very hard to get grips of this when you are a true animal lover and have the chickens for pets. I really feel for you, I know the morning I saw Eggers sitting there I knew it did not look good but was really surprised when I looked at your Blog this morning, congratulations on your attempt of autopsy, something I wouldnt be able to do myself I am proud of you!. Warmest Regards Ann-Marie …Australia

  19. Terry – how sad for you to lose little Eggers. I have to admit I was worried when I read about her strange behaviour – they do that, don’t they… hide their symptoms, go a bit weird, rally and look OK and perky for a day or so, then drop off their perch over night.

    I’m impressed you did the autopsy – it’s a good way to learn more but I’m sure you did all you could and the outcome was inevitable.


  20. I’m so very sorry to hear that you lost Eggers. She was a little sweetie & she’ll be missed by all of us who regularly enjoy watching your girls on Hencam.

    It’s amazing how we get so attached to our pets, whether they’re dog, cats, chickens or otherwise. They bless our lives in so many ways.

  21. Terry, so sorry to hear about Eggers! I really got a kick out of seeing her in her Epsom salt bath:) Thought she was going to pull through. What nice life she had!

  22. Thank you everyone for your kind comments! You’ve made me smile, and cry. Let’s all keep good records and see if we can make sense out of the chicken mortality rates.

  23. Terry, I’m so sorry you lost Eggers. She looked so sweet. You did the best forher and she had a wonderful life with you. RIP Eggers.

  24. I join all the others in my sadness over your loss of Eggers. There are so many questions about poultry lifespans. I wonder if bantams or backyard mixed breed types live longer than larger more “designed” breeds, and do the types closer to the wild have longer lives when kept on fenced ranges. Are hens wearing themselves out, having been bred for production. I also wonder about too much corn in the diet, or anything that causes weight gain in layer breeds, or the use of soybeans which I am skeptical of. I know soybeans are supposed to be really healthy, but lots of things are overdone until there are health problems. In any case, good record keeping and observation may give us all some idea of what is going on with our girls…also the health of our wonderful, if occasional, roosters! I wish everyone took such care of their hens. Some think we overdo it with our mother hen attitudes, thinking hens are units of production rather than living creatures. Take care Terry, and may the spring bring you many good things. Lucy Suitor Holt

    • Hi Lucy,
      I found your comment very interesting what you said about too much corn in a chickens diet, I fed my girls corn almost everyday, I would mix up corn, cucumber and bread and wheat (sprouted) for their good morning treat. I might just look into it myself but would appreciate your further comments
      Kindest Regards
      Ann-Marie Australia

      • Hello Ann-Marie, There is an interesting article in Backyard Poultry magazine current issue, about the use of corn. Cracked Corn has a good amount of betacarotine, which helps color the yolks a nice bright yellow, but it can cause the hen to gain too much weight. Too much fat around the vent area can cause problems with laying, heart problems, and inflamations. I feed corn, too,and the hens eat it like candy! I’ve decided that a little is great, and too much is harmful. Just like overeating anything. I wouldn’t take away the corn treats, but I am going to try to find out more information on portion size per hen. I am opting for more greens, especially dandelions, which I have read will help prevent parasites. I think Terry’s site is a great place for henkeepers to gain appreciation of all aspects of henkeeping. I will keep in touch to see if anyone else finds more information on diet and longevity. (by the way, Terry’s method of cooking hard boiled eggs is in the magazine, too!) Lucy Suitor Holt

        • Thankis Lucy for you lovely long reply I will look into that, being is Australia we may not get that magazine but will search for it.
          Thanks again!!

          Kindest Regards


  25. Terry, I’m so sorry to hear about Eggers. One thing is for sure she got the best of the best possible love and care.

  26. There’s a lot of information out there about feeding chickens, both in vintage books pre-industrial agriculture, in “back-to-the-land” do it-yourself sites, and in more mainstream sources. Backyard Poultry Magazine is a wealth of good information. But, understand that most everything out there is opinion and not solid facts! Most people have chickens because they are fun and easy animals to keep. Don’t overcomplicated it! I suggest relying on a good brand of commercial laying hen pellets as your base feed. The chickens will do fine on this. Next, make sure that they get greens throughout the year. Kitchen scraps, cabbages, etc. fill this need. It’s important for chickens to stay busy, so if they’re in a small yard, have an area with composting leaves, etc, or hay, for them to scratch in, and toss in corn for them to find. Corn is chicken candy. They love it, just don’t overdo it. You all know how much I like to hang cabbages for them to peck! That’s it.

    • I totally agree, and I will take away the hens’ corn when I have to give up chocolate! I sometimes think that the longevity factor is built in, so that in the wild, the population of chickens won’t over tax the territory. Just my own thought on that. I am torn between wanting my hens to live as long as possible and the fact they would be nonproductive lawn ornaments. Either way, they are getting the best care I can give with the knowledge I have. I have to pen my hens because of hawks, but if they had their own way they would range in a much larger area and eat more bugs instead of sweets! Thanks Terry, for this site and the information that comes within! Lucy Suitor Holt

        • The novel is finished to first draft, and new short stories are seeking new homes! Gardening season is here, and the hens are laying! I will attend a chicken swap on Saturday. So many good things! Will you be adding to your flock, or herds, this spring? Lucy Suitor Holt

  27. I got up this morning to find one of my Buff Orpingtons in distress. I tried to help her as best I could but she was died around noon time. Bless her heart she was one of the best—a good layer and a very docile girl.

      • She was almost two. She had been limping for a few days then got over that or so it seemed I guess. She never looked droopy or anything just had a slight limp. When I went out early yesterday morning she was in distress and later died. I will miss her because she was such a good girl. A little on the bossy side but always had a minute to let me pet her. She was the chicken I believe I told you about that reminded me to stop for a minute in my busy day. She would come in front of me and just stop so I could go no place but bend over and pet her. She will be missed by me and my other Buff Orpington.

        • My buff orpington just past like yours only she was not even 1yr yet. sounds just like yours too, abit on the bossy side but loved getting petted. I had no idea she was in trouble, just died in the night. We miss her ruling the roost as she did, was very funny. I think the rest of our flock is trying to figure out whose the boss now.

          • Mine too. She was the boss and yes now the others are trying to figure out who is going to fill her role. The others are 3 Rhode Island Reds and 1 Buff. The one remaining Buff looks so lost without Faith.

  28. Aww I was surprised with that name “Eggers” huh. Probably there are cure about this heart abnormality if it does have. It usually comes in genetics, you know as what had happened most to that Wyandotte.

  29. Terry, I was so sorry to hear about sweet Eggers. She knows you did your best for her.

  30. I have not been able to post until this morning. I got up Saturday morning and I had a dead “easter egger” laying on the dropping board. Fell dead off the roost. Didn’t have clue there was anything wrong with this hen. Guess what? I recieved this hen 3 years ago as a day old chick the 3rd of this coming April.

  31. I am sorry to hear about all these dead chickies but a little relieved since I just lost my first one “Oh Susanna” less than one year old. I am new to raising these wonderful little pets and so I was feeling very guilty about her passing but didn’t know what happened, just found her dead in the nesting position. My little 6 year old neighbor and her Mom joined me in a memorial burial, along with the Bugel Song as we buried her in my back yard. I did notice while examining her that she felt heavier and I could also feel an egg inside her so maybe she got plugged up. She was a good layer – one egg daily. I would like to have another chicken but I heard that it was not a good idea to introduce a new chicken to the existing ones I have as they would pick on it. Is this true? Any suggestions for adding another chicken?

    • Pat- I’ve got a FAQ about introducing new hens to a flock. You can find a link to my FAQs on the hencam home page. If you get a chicken of the same breed that you already have, it makes it easier. I say that, but rarely follow my advice! :)