Sooner or later anyone keeping chickens is bound to discover an unpleasant surprise in the coop. A chicken has died!
The unexpected death of a bird that had previously appeared healthy could be caused by predation, disease, a freak accident or even organ failure.
It is important to immediately remove the dead bird from the coop. When doing so, use personal caution. Wear a pair of rubber gloves and wash carefully after handling the body.
Examine the bird and to try to determine the cause of death. If a predator is the culprit the head may be missing or the body cavity opened. However a molested bird doesn’t always mean a predator killed it. Sometimes chickens will peck at a dead comrade, mimicking damage done by a predator. Feathers scattered about and torn screens reveal forced entry from a raccoon or other felon. If a predator caused the casualty expect a return visit. Tighten up the coop immediately, making entry as difficult as possible.
If there is no sign of predation, disease is a possible cause of death. Usually backyard flocks are healthy but if a lethal disease is present survivors may soon sicken and die. Symptoms of ill birds include listlessness, lack of egg laying, weight loss, and having a generally unhealthy look. Consult a veterinarian.
If the death was neither caused by a predator nor disease, suspect either an accident or organ failure. Once in a while a chicken will fly into a window or roost and stun itself or break its neck. Finding a dead bird that appeared healthy just the day before may indicate the failure of an organ. It is rare, but happens. Because neither accidents nor organ failure is contagious, members of the flock are not at risk.
No matter the cause of death, the body must be disposed of. There are several ways to do this. Many municipal solid waste agencies allow people to place dead animals or animal parts in the trash. Some solid waste agencies require the body to be secured in double or triple layers of plastic bags. It’s a good idea to call your local solid waste agency to see if a hen’s body can be put in the trash before a death occurs.
Another way to dispose of a dead bird is to bring it to a veterinarian, who may have a way to cremate or otherwise dispose of the body. Expect a fee.
Burying is another option, but may not be legal in some places. If legal in your area, bury dead hens several hundred feet from the coop. Dig a hole at least two feet deep, place the dead hen at the bottom and pack the soil tightly to make it unlikely that a neighbor’s dog, raccoon, or other animal will dig it up.
Finding a dead hen is always concerning and sad, but when burying her body, you can be thankful for her providing of eggs and being part of your life. Nutrients in her body will be recycled in the soil and help trees and grasses grow. It is her final gift.