Death and dying is a natural part of keeping animals. Sometimes animals become sick and perish. Other times, they live until a ripe old age and die of natural causes. The same goes for keeping backyard chickens. This is a part of the circle of life.
Chickens can hide illness well. Sometimes it is not until it is too late that they begin to show signs of being under the weather. These signs can include decreased eating, decreased drinking, a decrease in egg production or cessation. They can also include self-isolation, a “puffed out” appearance, tail down, sneezing, coughing, swollen abdomen, crop issues, eye discharge, and so forth. Getting to a proper diagnosis is of course essential for treatment, as chickens can experience a myriad of diseases and illnesses.
When a chicken shows signs of illness it is always best to isolate them from the flock. Then seek advice from a veterinarian to help you determine the correct diagnosis and plan of care. Be cautious to take advice from those that did not go to school for proper training. Despite well intentions, people can easily be lead astray by others from the correct diagnosis that can lead to unnecessary treatments and even death.
However, despite all care, love, and treatment, chickens can still die. When a chicken dies under the care of the vet, they can dispose of the body for you. However, sometimes there are no local vets nearby and sadly folks do not know what to do with their beloved chicken’s body. This question is one that come up frequently, especially for those of us that have chickens that die naturally of old age or a predator attack.
The body of a dead chicken needs to be handled properly for a few reasons:
1. To prevent the spread of disease or illness to other animals and fellow flock members.
2. To allow the body to breakdown and compost naturally over time.
3. To help those who keep chickens as pets come to closure over the loss.
4. To prevent wild animals or neighborhood animals from coming in contact with the body which could in turn cause them harm.
1. If you have young children that are not accustomed to death, it is a good idea for them to draw pictures. Ask them to draw what they imagine their chicken looks like at the Rainbow Bridge. These drawing can be buried with the chicken or kept by the kids. They are a great way to begin the healing process.
2. Allow yourself and your family to be sad and mourn the loss of the chicken. Afterall, they were a pet.
3. Dig a deep hole- at least 3 feet deep and large enough to accommodate the bird’s body. If the chicken was euthanized, I would recommend putting that chicken even deeper into the ground due to prevent exposure to the chemicals used during euthanization.
4. If you wish, you can wrap the chicken in newspaper or a 100% cotton towel.-nothing plastic or synthetic. This ensure a rapid breakdown. Or, you can place just the chicken into the hole. You can also add some cut flowers and the drawings from the kids at this time.
5. Return the earth to the top of the hole and bury the chicken. Tamp down the soil on the top and fill until flush with the ground level.
6. Afterwards, wash your hands and change your clothing if they were soiled or came in contact with the chicken.
7. If need be, continue to talk about the chicken’s passing with the family. Reflect upon fond memories. Time and talking will help heal. Discuss and plan for new chickens that you would like to add to the flock to make up for the loss.
All photos in this post were used under the Creative Commons licensing agreement.