Sweet Clementine

I was not surprised to get the call, yesterday, that Clementine had died. She had been a very sick hen, and when I pulled her back from the brink, (read about that here) I didn’t expect her to go on to a long life, but I had hoped for more than the two weeks that my care ultimately gave her.


Clementine as a young and healthy pullet.

Still, she had been able to rejoin her flock, get love from her best friend, Lisa, and comfort the residents of the nursing home.

Clementine died peacefully in her sleep. Few hens pass so easily, and so that was good, too.

I did a necropsy, which confirmed what I had deduced. Clementine was an internal layer. Instead of the yolks progressing down the reproductive tract, and forming eggs, they were dropping into the body cavity. This is not uncommon. Sometimes a yolk misses the fallopian tubes, and so drops into the body cavity, where it is reabsorbed, and so the hen is ill briefly, and then she recovers. Sometimes the fluids in the body cavity become infected. Dosed with antibiotics, the hen might stabilize, the unformed eggs solidify, and she can go on with her life. In other cases, the the internal laying turns into peritonitis, and that kills the hen. Often, when the internal laying isn’t severe, my spa treatment of an epsom salt soak helps to move things along, revitalize the hen’s systems, and she goes back to laying normally.

The necropsy on Clementine showed something that I haven’t seen before. Clementine was egg-bound. A soft-shelled egg had become stuck in the reproductive tract. It was so far up that palpation would not have detected it. It must have formed in the shell gland (which is near the exit point) and then, instead of moving out, backed up. Over time, yolks and whites progressed towards this stuck egg, surrounded it, and formed a mass. This effectively blocked her tract, and so new yolks, being released from the ovaries, had no place to go but into the body cavity. Her abdomen was a solid mass of yolks. Poor girl.

It is amazing what a hen can live with. Clementine, up to the end, was eating and drinking. The necropsy showed a full gizzard and a healthy amount of muscle. She had rejoined the flock, which had accepted her. She was weak, but otherwise acting normally. In Clementine’s case, saving her so that she could have a last two weeks was the right thing to do. But, this is rarely the case. Clementine revived, and was eating and functioning on her own. A hen that is listless and can only eat gruel, one that has to be kept isolated and in a cage, should not be kept alive. When a hen acts like that, something disastrous has happened inside of her. Something that cannot be fixed. Having done over twenty necropsies on such birds, I can tell you that if the spa treatment, TLC, and (depending on the symptoms) antibiotics, don’t improve things in a day or two, that heroics and babying the hen, actually causes suffering. I’ve come to the conclusion that if the hen can’t live a good chicken life outside with her flock, then she should be euthanized as soon as she stops being able to eat on her own, or at least be allowed to pass on without intervention. When a hen doesn’t want to eat, she’s sending a very strong message in the only way she can. It’s up to us to respect that.

These decisions are hard. They go against the grain of us wanting to do anything and everything for animals we love. But, letting hens go is as much of a part of backyard chicken keeping as collecting eggs is. If you have a small flock, you will be faced with these decisions. I’ve discovered that with these animals there are few grey areas. Either they are well, or they are not. Either they will revive with sensible care, or they won’t. And if they don’t rebound, it’s up to us, as their caretakers, to not let them suffer. As evidenced by Clementine, a hen can live for weeks and even months, with things going catastrophically wrong inside of her. Clementine, amazingly, retained a decent quality of life to the end. But, if she hadn’t, prolonging her life would not have been a kindness. Having seen what I did in the necropsy, I am glad that she passed quietly in her sleep.

I will be discussing this case and others in my Advanced Chicken Keeping Workshop. For more information about that and other programs, go to my Upcoming Events page.


  1. Clementine was a beautiful sweet chicken. Prayers for all the broken hearts in your family and at the nursing home.

  2. My heart aches for those in the nursing home who loved Clementine so much. She’ll forever have a special place in the hearts of many. Greatly missed but never forgotten…like so many special animals that have blessed our lives. Run free Clementine and thank you for the love you shared while you were here.

  3. So sorry. I know she was beloved and will be missed. I’m happy for her that she was able to enjoy her last few weeks and died peacefully.

  4. “I’ve discovered that with these animals there are few grey areas. Either they are well, or they are not”

    Perfectly said.

  5. I’m sorry Terry, that you’ve lost Clementine. What a sweet girl. I appreciate your advice on… the phrase that comes to mind is “letting them go.” I’ve had my share of interventions with successes and failures. I’ve learned the hard way that failure is not that the hen died but that I prolonged a situation that in retrospect I wish I hadn’t. Your guidelines are especially helpful here because I continue to struggle with those in that “gray” area in part because some of my hopeless cases are now thriving. One of our blue laced red Wyandottes was attacked and almost killed by a weasel a year ago. We found her flat out in the coop, her neck horribly twisted. Next to her were the bodies of two other girls. For three weeks I hand fed and watered her. If she reached down to eat on her own she staggered, unable to grasp any food. My husband and I agreed when she failed to thrive into the third week that he would put her down. He walked away to do the job but returned with her alive in his arms a few minutes later. She was still strong, he said, and he wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do…yet. The next morning I put scratch in a tall flower pot. She walked over and ate tentatively but on her own! I was heartened but days passed and she still could not lower her neck to eat. On a whim I brought in one of my older girls who was re-cooperating from sour crop and was also isolated from the other hens. Watchful to see if they would fight I was astonished to see the Wyandotte reach down and eat side by side next to the older hen. Initially she had great difficulty but it was the first time she’d eaten normally since the attack. The two hens became inseparable, one crying out for the other if they were out of sight of each other. Within days the Wyandotte now spry, was eating eagerly and within a month her neck was completely healed. Still inseparable, she and her friend now live together in the “Misfits” coop, another long story. I know we all have our “amazing” stories that give us hope and perhaps make us pause too long in that gray area. But at sad times like this, it helps to remember them.

    • Injuries are a different story than ailments. As you have discovered, chickens have a remarkable ability to recover from severe wounds. It sounds like you have found exactly the right balance. Each time, of course, we have to question our actions.

  6. Terry, thank you as always for the tender way you share with all of us. Your story has me concerned about one of my hens, however.

    She is just over a year old and has laid maybe 3 eggs since May.. The most recent was this week and it was a soft shelled egg that I found broken. (The other 4 girls laid and so I am assuming this one was hers.) She is still eating and acting normal for the most part, but has stopped laying since last May. She sometimes does a funny thing where she sneezes or lets out a noise and opens her mouth wide. She is skittish and does not like at all when I stand close to observe her. When I do get a chance to hold her, I don’t find anything off or unusual about her. Do you have any suggestions or ideas?

    • When a hen is eating and behaving normally, I let her be. However, you qualified your statement with a “for the most part.” There are probably clues there to what is going on. Soft shelled eggs can be diet related. Read my FAQ about diet, and do a blog search for soft eggs. You’ll find a lot of information. But, the sneeze and open mouth might indicate fluid inside of her. Meanwhile, it doesn’t hurt to give her a soak in epsom salts. It might give her the boost that she needs.

  7. I’m so sorry to hear about Clementine. I am glad that your hard work saving her gave the nursing home residents a little more time with her as well as reducing her suffering. She had a strong will to live/. RIP dear girl.

  8. Amazing. And how fortunate for Clementine. These ‘tough guy’ critters that have the ability to live with so much wrong with them rarely get to go in their sleep. Rest in peace Clementine.

  9. Thank you Terry. Good advice as always. We have travelled down the slippery slope ourselves and have the dreaded house chicken. It started with isolating her in case it was something treatable. As we suspected, it was Marek’s. But she was happy and eating and we didn’t want to euthanize her while the kids were around. So, it stretched to a week. Then another. And another. We moved her to where she was closer to the family – true isolation was too cruel. And she coos when she sees us. And gobbles down her favorite foods. Her comb stayed red. And, ever so slowly, she started to improve. From no leg strength, to lifting herself up for short periods, to standing straight for short periods. And she laid her first egg 3 days ago. She goes outside for dust baths – although not often enough with all of the rain we have had lately.

    Given her issues, we should have culled in the beginning. It is hard once you start nursing them – you get attached quick. I worry that like Clementine, Ursula will become egg bound. In the meantime, the family votes to give her a chance. If she continues to improve, I plan to move her into a crate inside the coop, hopefully next weekend. It will probably be a month or more before she can fully rejoin her friends.

    Maybe she will be the lucky one that will make it. But I think your advice is sound – there is a lot of suffering for the ones that won’t make it. Now I just need to learn to make the right/hard decision.

  10. Really sad as I know she was your first choice of pullets for the nursing home. Well, there will be more great birds in the future. A job well done, Clementine!

  11. I’m very saddened to hear about Clementine, but thanks for letting us know. She was a doll baby. She was my pick out of the ones that went to the nursing home and then somebody put that great name on her. Maybe one day, if we get more chicks I’ll name one in her memory. To me, it will represent beauty.

  12. Yes it is sad to hear about Clementine passing away, I too was hoping she would have a few more fews or month after your hard work. But at least she had a good two last weeks living as a hen should. I am sorry to see the Nursing Home flock down to three hens now.

  13. I wish my Sugar passed as peacefully but we had to put her down (we had a vet do it). I knew she was suffering too much. It was still a difficult decision but the best thing for her.

  14. So sorry to hear about Clementine, but as always, I have learned from your posts. Thank you for sharing her story.

  15. So sad to hear about Clementine but glad she went in her sleep. I’m sure the residents will miss her.

  16. I needed to read this tonight! Thank you for providing so much detail & honesty around end of life for chickens. I am currently facing the reality of a similar case with an older chicken in my flock. She is eating but seems to have similar symptoms. I’m keeping a keen eye on her and waiting to see if she gets worse before making a tough decision.
    I always find your posts informative! Thank you.

  17. Sorry to hear about the sad news that Clementine has died (and had just 2 more weeks to enjoy her life and be enjoyed). I know only too well, unfortunately, about the horrible effects of internal laying. Having started my chicken keeping life with 3 hybrid warren girls, I lost 2 after one year due to internal laying, resulting in egg yolk peritonitis. Both girls were treated at the vets, antibiotics etc, and the first one lasted another 6 months. My second girl filled up after just 2 weeks of being drained and medicated and died. It is an awful thing to happen to chickens, but unfortunately it is not uncommon and I feel that once they begin with it, in my experience, it always reoccurs (especially with the hybrids that are just bred to be egg machines). You have covered this subject very well as chicken keepers should be aware of these symptoms. I, like many other animal lovers I imagine, totally agree with you that we should not let these wonderful animals suffer and although so heartbreaking, we have to make the correct decisions with regard to their life and death. My chickens are solely pets and I wouldn’t treat them any differently from my cats and dogs. Having my chickens has totally changed my life as I love caring for them and the enjoyment they bring me is enormous, although it has also been tinged with sadness at the losses. I do worry about EYP happening or when they look a little under the weather (it worries my terribly), but at the end of the day they remind me to enjoy them every day and not take life for granted. Your blogs and information are excellent and I am sure you must have helped countless chicken keepers all over the world with your knowledge. Thank you so much. Kind regards, Louise – Cheshire UK.

    • You are right, in cases of internal laying where it’s severe enough that it causes a noticeable change in your hen, it will reoccur. Euthanizing is a hard decision, but will prevent ongoing suffering. You are also right to focus on the daily joys :)

  18. Excellent take on the issue as usual Terry. I seem to have had 2 hens with this issue (who we had to euthanize) and one who seems to have recovered well from something (at least) similar.I wonder if layers (bred strictly for maximum egg production as opposed to dual purpose birds) are more likely to have this issue. Once one can get beyond the agonizing over whether or not the time right and the end clear, the task of euthanizing can seem truly kind.

  19. So sorry for the unpleasant question, but I’m curious how you most humanely euthanize a chicken. We lost a chick just yesterday to some mysterious ailment or perhaps deformity. I knew she was suffering and I felt helpless because I didn’t know what to do. Our original flock is just about a year old now and I know it would be even more difficult for me to watch one of them suffer since I’ve become attached.

    Thank you for all of your advice and your wonderful stories. I’m so happy I found your blog!

  20. I’m sorry to hear about Clementine. This is the reason I don’t have chickens. I couldn’t handle it. I’m sure her days were lovely at the nursing home.

  21. Sorry to hear of Clementine’s passing Terry. This is always the part I have trouble with – when to euthanize? How do I find then best and quickest way for one of my girls to be euthanised? My husband is strong enough to do it with one try (I would never want them to suffer!) but I am still unsure as to whether I am deciding their end too soon. I feel I still need more experience in that part of chicken keeping……

    • With hindsight, I’ve never euthanized too early, but several times I did it too late. If she stops eating and isn’t part of the flock, then it’s likely time.

  22. Got a question about sick chickens in general. Is there a certain procedure you follow in diagnosing and isolating a problem? Perhaps a way to determine disease verses non-apparent physical injury? Right now I have a 6 week old chick that exhibits signs of minor leg deformity. Bought 7 chicks in early March, and this one seems to be a runt. Kids call her “pinky”: Accurate, considering she would be the pinky if each chicken was a finger. She peeps a lot, lays around a lot, and her walk is just a bit “off” like it’s constantly got a sprained ankle, but it has never sustained an injury that I can see. Seems to have been this way for 4 weeks or so. Any ideas?

    • There are illnesses, and then there are genetic/hatching deformities. Your runt is in the latter category. Those often die before they fully mature, and there is nothing to be done about it. Peeping is a sign of distress. If you think that she is in pain, then euthanizing her might be the right thing to do (sorry!) If you got her from a local dealer, they should take her back. If you got her mail order, you should tell them. For ailments, check my FAQs, I have one on diagnosing sick chickens, and others on specific issues. Also, you can use my blog search button to go through my archives. For specific questions, I welcome private emails (and appreciate a “cup of coffee” in return!)

  23. My precious Lady died in her sleep as well. She had just finished a day full of bug chasing, scratching all over the yard and eating her favorite treats. She went into the coop and went to sleep. Love my Lady.

  24. Sorry for your loss, Terry. Clementine was a good chicken. I honestly learned a lot from your story of her being an internal layer. It helped me recover one of my hens. Thanks.

  25. Sorry to hear about Clementine, but good that she had a couple of extra weeks and got back to her flock mates. I so appreciate your sensible philosophy and take on when to try to help and when to let the hens go. I have faced just one case of egg-binding, in my 5 years of chicken keeping, and was able to pull her through using olive oil and epsom salts, as per your website info. But in the long run, she was never a good layer – soft shelled eggs occasionally and she went broody at the drop of a hat — and I realized that if I had been a serious farmer type chicken keeper, she would have been culled. In my small backyard, I can’t afford poor layers anymore than a big flock farmer.

    My question echoes that of someone else, namely, what is the best way to humanely euthanize a chicken? My oldest hen is 4 this year, and still seems spry and healthy, but I know that eventually she — or another hen — will probably need for me (or someone) to do the deed, and I am dreading it.

    I hate to ask if there are any YouTube videos of this — because there probably are. And I don’t expect you to provide one! But any help you can give us out here in ‘I wasn’t raised on a farm’ world would be welcome.

    • I haven’t found a good YouTube video (if anyone has suggestions, please email me privately.) Steve and I have talked about making a video (using a rubber chicken.) Hopefully, we’ll get that project done this summer.

  26. Appreciate the advice. I may keep an eye on it for awhile longer, but I don’t think it’s in pain: the others make as much noise, but quieter and less “peeping” type noise as they mature. Anyway, I’ll be tuning in as often as I can. Jp