Another Chicken Fatality

We lost another chicken last night meaning that we’ve got something infectious. I didn’t have the stomach to do a post-mortem exam, nor would I know what to look for anyways (chicken CSI would make a nice class if only there were someone to teach it). I thumbed through Gail Damerow’s Chicken Health Handbook, but I don’t have much evidence to go on.

I didn’t see any obvious symptoms other than a very small amount of listlessness just before both chickens died and a bit of what might be bloody diarrhea on the roost. Mrs. Homegrown disinfected the coop as best she could and I swept out the bedding. A heat wave last week may have weakened the flock and helped bring this on.

We are now down to two chickens, one of whom does not lay any eggs. Looks like we’ll be either not be eating eggs or we’ll have to buy them at the farmers market for the next few months.

Mrs. Homegrown here: 

I wanted to add that the remaining hens seem perfectly healthy.  If they drop over dead tomorrow, it’s going to be quite a headscratcher. They’re out happily roaming in our yard right now, all bright-eyed and perky. I’ve eyeballed them for signs of respiratory infection or diarrhea, and see nothing. All the poop under their roost looked fine.  It’s a mild day, as was yesterday–so I don’t know if heat was the culprit in either death. The possible bloody diarrhea that Erik mentions above consisted of a couple of  small dark stains on the roost. Hard to say what that was–if it was anything. All in all it’s quite a mystery.

It could be coincidence. Both of the deceased hens are of the same breed, from the same hatching, same store–maybe they were even sisters. They were very close. Maybe when one went the other followed, like devoted old couples sometimes do.

I say this just to keep hope that this isn’t some bacterial thing. It’s impossible to truly disinfect a wooden coop with a dirt floor. We’ll do our best, open it up to light and give it a good airing and hope for the best.

It looks like we might get a chance to start our flock fresh, and this time we’re going to do things differently. It looks like there are two paths we could follow–those paths, and the choice we make, will have to follow in the next post.

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    • Hi Corinna, Sorry to hear about your bad luck. Are you in California? If so, UC Davis and UC Riverside have pathology labs you can contact. Here is the link: The program is free for backyard flocks. Call them first to make sure you are preserving the specimens correctly. A friend of mine drove her chickens to UC Riverside for autopsies and the staff were very helpful in figuring out what happened. If you are not in California, but are in the US check with your local Extension Service office to see if they have a similar program.

  1. Wow! That’s great to know, Rachel. Now just how we’d ship a dead chicken to Davis..FedEx? Also, those two are buried now. But if another goes we might just do that.

  2. In the meantime, feed them diatomaceous earth–DE. DE is good to clean out parasites. You don’t have to quit using the eggs since it is not a medicine. Put AC vinegar in their water. Don’t put vinegar in your metal waterer. It will rust it. Ask me how I know. Call a vet and ask about the bloody diarrhea. He will have parrot meds. Or, just go to a pet store. Start the DE and vinegar now. Mine were listless and had bad, loose poop. They recovered when I did these two things. Did I cure them? I have no idea.Go ahead and have some DE for yourself. It won’t hurt you and might help you…lol.

  3. You may need meds for coccidiosis. Do not give them any proteins or vitamins if you give them any other meds than DE or acv. A vet or feed store or pet store can help you….at least one in your area. Do give the DE. Any meds that are to go into water, don’t. Use an eye dropper so you will know they all get it in a proper dose.

  4. make sure the DE is food grade, DE is also used in pool filters and is NOT reccommended! I also lost a pair of hens(same hatch group, a couple of weeks apart) I had 32…they were 3 yrs old…everybody else was fine and are still doing well..that was 4 months ago

  5. I am curious to see which direction you would choose for starting a new flock. Specializing in a specific breed (using a broody breed to hatch eggs) is interesting. You can sell the chicks. We’re doing this in conjunction with keeping our four egg layers.

  6. Have there been any reports of west nile virus in your area? Its the time of year, when its out there and cities even keep sentinel chicken coops to test for it. I know because I toured city of Long Beachs’ chicken coops with environmental services and any birds that are found dead are immediately tested. I’ve made sure to keep my yard as mosquito free as possible. I would have it at the top of my list as to your girls cause of death.

  7. That is awful about your birds 🙁

    If we have birds die of illness we HAVE to take the bodies to get them tested for infectious disease. I would call your local 311 or agricultural extension or animal control to see the rules for your area.

    And I know it is gross, but you might want to take the corpse and put it in a plastic bag in the freezer until you figure out what to do with it. Its upsetting but it might help other birds to stay healthy.

  8. It’s such a mystery isn’t it. We had a chicken (point of lay) that died one week after we got her – our first ever backyard chickens. So when Mabel came out this morning, ignored her food and went and sat down underneath the chicken house we were immediately concerned! We found an egg in the house that looked like it had dropped right out of one of their behind’s from the perch. It didn’t crack – the poo saved it! But now it’s afternoon and she is happily free-ranging with the rest of them. Go figure. Pretty sure she laid yesterday – maybe she was egg bound from the day before…mysterious!! Anyway, hope that’s it for your mysteries and the last 2 are fine!

  9. I’m sorry to hear you’ve lost a second hen, but it still doesn’t mean that they’re all going to die. You’re doing exactly the right things, and the DE and ACV are both definitely worth trying.

    RE: bloody diarrhoea- I would say that if they’d had it badly enough to be the cause of death, or a major symptom of a disease you’d know for sure.

    Fingers crossed for the other 2…

  10. Thanks for all the comments and advice, everyone. The other two remain fine. If one keels over, we will ship her off for testing–it’s too late to do that for the first two because Erik buried them immediately on finding them.

    @Anon: From my reading, WNV infects hens, but does not make them sick–that’s why they are used as sentinels. See:

    @Hazel: Yup, I don’t even think it was blood we saw on the roost. I’ll say again, their poop was fine and continues fine.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I’m 95% sure it was just time for those two gals to pass on, and that nothing bad is really happening here.

  11. My chicks came from hens free-ranging in an Amish farmer’s yard. For that reason, I am convinced they are very hardy, that and the fact they are RIR or something that to me looks similar. Still the DE and ACV will make yours healthier.

    When I fed lots of blueberries to my hens, the blue poop was runny and shocking to behold. Maybe something they ate gave them the dark poop that looked like blood. As long as I get a mound of poop with the white urine on top, I figure all is well. That said, one hen left a huge one foot long squirt of liquid poop on two steps. DE dried it up and kept flies away until I could sweep and use the hose. I hope no one is eating now. Thankfully, you are having no more casualties.

  12. PP: the best coloured poo we’ve ever had was after feeding them a whole head of (rather sorry looking) red cabbage. It was blue! Amazing…

  13. Point- the “heat wave” you mentioned may have caused a bacterial bloom. Cleaning the coop and treating the area is a good idea.

    And quarantine may be a good idea incase what the birds have is something that can spread infecting other birds in the area, not just chickens– song birds what have you that visit your yard.

    Definately a good idea to know what they had and it just may be old age and greif. You never know.

    But for some reason, somanila (sp?) comes to mind whith the bloody stool. Bacterial blooms can cause an imbalance in the intestinal tract also. Birds just go fast when they go.

    Good Luck and sorry for your loss.

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