Staying on a farm is a lot of fun, and we love having animals of all shapes and sizes strutting around. We had an unusual few weeks a year back where some of our chickens either went missing or mysteriously died.
When raising chickens, you need to know all about their health, shelter, what to feed them, and how much. One colossal consideration has to be death in chickens and how to avoid your new babies from dying.
There are many reasons for death in chickens. A few of the most common causes include; predators, sickness, disease, an egg-bound hen, or sudden changes in the weather.
Here are some of the main things that usually kill chickens.
1. Chicken Coop Fires
One of the most common ways chickens, and especially chicks, die is because of coop fires. In spring, when we all get things ready for the arrival of new chicks, most of us take out the bedding, brooder, and of course, heat lamps.
Heat lamps not being secured is the number one reason for chicken coop fires. If a heat lamp falls or gets near anything flammable, it will start a fire in less than two minutes.
Securing the heat lamps is crucial. If you decide not to use a heat lamp to keep your chicks warm, you can use things like heating plates (it looks like this), heating pads, or warm-water bottles. It is the best way to keep your chicks and your property safe.
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One of the things we need to look at when dealing with poultry death would be diseases. Chickens, like most other animals, have an array of illnesses that we might want to be on the lookout for, like;
- Mycoplasma is a bacterial infection that chickens can get; it attacks their respiratory system and moves quickly through their bodies. Since the initial stages of the disease aren’t easy to spot, it has a 75% death rate. The symptoms of this infection are swelling sinuses and sneezing. The only way to prevent this infection is to keep things clean and hygienic.
- Pasteurella or Chicken Cholera is another disease that chickens can get that is usually fatal. The infection spreads through animals like rodents and birds to chickens. Symptoms you should look out for are swollen joints and discharge from the nasal and oral cavities, ruffled feathers, lethargy, and anorexia. The best way to avoid this is vaccination.
- Coccidiosis is an avian intestinal disease caused by parasites entering the chicken’s intestinal lining. This disease causes damage to the intestines and causes bleeding. It is one way to tell if your chickens have this, as it will show in their droppings. Red or brown in chicken droppings can also be caecal shedding, and only a vet will confirm this with a fecal test. Also, look out for listlessness, not laying eggs, weight loss, and diarrhea. To prevent this disease from ravaging your chickens, please give them enough room to move around, keep the living conditions as hygienic as possible, make sure they have clean food and water. You can vaccinate your chicks and chickens against Coccidiosis.
If you are interested in this topic, you can find more details about the most common diseases for chickens by following this link.
3. Egg Bound
When a chicken is egg-bound, it is unable to lay the eggs it has produced. Being egg-bound is not only painful to chickens but can be deadly. When a chicken can’t lay the eggs its body has made, it will look lethargic, show signs of abdominal strain, won’t want to move, and may pant as it tries to dislodge the obstruction.
It is crucial to help dislodge the stuck egg. Gently feel for the egg in the abdomen, but be very careful as the egg might break. If the egg is poorly calcified, it might be very brittle and could break easily. If it breaks, it could lead to an infection that kills your chicken. Some obstructions may not be eggs, and you will need to get confirmation from a vet because treating a chicken as if it was egg-bound if it isn’t might make the actual problem worse.
After you have confirmed your chicken is egg-bound, you can lubricate the rear end of the chicken where the eggs come out (called the cloaca), then place the chicken in warm water that covers the cloaca for about 10 minutes. It might help dislodge the obstruction. Some people put a bit of Epsom salts into the warm water to help the process, but it is best to check with your vet first.
If your hen has no appetite and is dehydrated, you could give them supplements and sugar water to help keep their strength up. A Chicken being egg-bound should not be a common occurrence; if it is, you will need to look at their foods’ nutrient content and get advice from a vet on better nutrition for your hens. It could save their life.
The food you feed your chickens might also have the potential of killing them. You need to be aware that there are a lot of foods that are deadly to chickens and should never be near your chickens. Some examples of foods that could kill your chicken are;
- potato skins,
- avocado pulp, peel, or seeds
- dry beans of any kind
- citrus fruits
- caffeine or alcohol
- fried foods
Keep to the guidelines on chicken diets and check with your vet before you make any changes to your chicken feed.
Toxins you might use to get rid of aphids on your plants or other things are harmful to your chicken and could even lead to death. It is essential to know that if it looks like food and the chickens can get to it, they will eat it. These toxins could leach into the ground or the food your chickens eat when it rains, or moisture is in the ground. Some examples of toxins to avoid near your chickens are;
- Wood Stains and paint
- Cedar Wood
- Led toxicity
- The copper vets use to treat crop
6. Environmental Changes
Chickens can be very susceptible to sudden changes in the weather. A sudden increase in temperature can lead to dehydration and overheating. Heat exhaustion can lead to drinking too much water, and that causes gastrointestinal problems and leads to death. If you notice a sudden increase in temperature, it is vital to ensure enough shade and water for your chickens.
A drop in temperature can lead to chickens getting hypothermia. A sudden drop in body temperature of chickens can lead to a slower metabolic rate and thus interfere with their heart rates leading to premature death. It is crucial to return the temperature of the chickens to normal immediately.
7. Heart Attacks
Studies show that the most significant factor in chicken heart attacks is weight gain. The weight gain is usually due to overcrowded spaces and not enough exercise. The chickens overeat and can’t work it off. It also leads to stress, and they develop lesions on their hearts that cause sudden heart attacks.
Your chickens need more space to move around, and each coop needs to have fewer chickens. It will decrease the stress in your chickens, and they will get enough excise to combat weight gain.
When you think about what kills chickens, one of the first things that come to mind is predators. A Predator is any animal that kills the chickens either for food or for sport. As strange as it may sound, some predatory animals will kill chickens just for the fun of it. Gruesome, I know. Here are some common predators to be on the lookout for near your chickens.
- Dogs: It’s an unfortunate reality, but the fluff ball you love and adore is perfectly capable of catching and killing your chickens. Dogs that are well fed won’t kill a chicken for food, but when hunting instincts kick in, they will chase and kill a chicken and might eat a little bit of it. It’s also how you will know it was your dog that killed your chicken.
You might also find feathers in and around your dog. They will leave the chicken where they killed it. The best way to top this is to properly train your dog from a young age, to protect the chickens and not try and eat them.
- Foxes: Foxes are sly and creative predators that have an immense love of chickens. Foxes will stalk out a potential chicken coop for weeks before making its move and getting to your chickens. They are crafty and will kill and take as many chickens as they can in one go. Keep in mind that foxes can run and dig like dogs and climb just as well as cats.
You will know it was a fox if you see feathers all over the coop leading out of the enclosure and away from the property. You might also find some chickens that are dead with broken necks, as this is the typical way foxes kill off chickens before carrying them away. Foxes usually don’t leave a lot of evidence behind. To prevent foxes from getting to your chickens, you must secure your chicken coop by adding a solid mesh bottom that you can cover up with dirt to keep the chickens from getting hurt or move them to a safe location at night.
- Coyotes: Coyotes have long been the bain of some farmers’ existence regarding chickens, and it’s to understand why. They aren’t great climbers like foxes, but they are very skilled at catching chickens. They will usually tunnel under the coop and, if they get access, will decimate the whole coop, killing and taking all the chickens with them.
You can tell if it is coyotes by the method they used to gain access to the coop. There might be paw prints they leave behind, they might have forced their way into the coop, or they might have dug a massive tunnel underneath the coop. The only way to stop a coyote from entering the enclosure is to build a strong structure that they can’t force their way into or quickly break open. You can also put a floor or mesh in the bottom of the coop to prevent tunneling or move the chickens to a safe location each night.
- Hawks: This predatory bird is swift and attacks during the day. There are about 270 different species of hawk, and you will need to check which species is native to your region. Hawks have massive sharp talons and hooked beaks, making them very dangerous. They will perch in a tree or someplace high near the chickens and decide what chicken they want to catch. They will swoop down at an incredible speed and pin the chicken to the ground, often killing it on impact. If it’s too big, the hawk will tear as much of the meat away until it is either done eating or is disturbed. If it is a chick, it will swallow it whole or fly off with it.
You can tell it was hawks by the marks they leave on bigger chickens. It will look almost like stab wounds to the body, and this is because they have such sharp curved beaks. The best way to stop hawks from attacking your flock is to build a secure roof on your chicken coop that is strong enough that the hawk won’t be able to crash-dive through.
- Possums: Possums are efficient killers. Chickens attacked by possums rarely live. Possums attack mainly at night and will try to fit into any open crevice they find. You will know it is a possum attack by the carnage they leave behind. Possums attack to get the food they need that day and will overkill.
There will be either a chicken missing its head or pieces of chickens everywhere. The best way to make sure possums don’t get into your coop is to cover every nook and cranny you can find. You can use thick mesh they can’t bite or claw through and staple it securely to any open place they might use to get into the coop.
- Fisher Cats: Despite the name fisher cats, these predators are related to weasels, otters, and skunks. In some parts of Massachusetts, fisher cats are one of the main predators that kill chickens. Fisher cats are great climbers and often see domestic cats, chickens, and even squirrels as prey. Fisher cats strike in the early evening or early morning and are very cunning. Fisher cats will get into any small nook or space and even through the roof if there is a gap somewhere as they can climb like a cat, hence the name.
You will know it was a fisher cat that raided your coop because they will usually kill more than one chicken and not eat it all. They are brutal and usually rip open the breast of a chicken. They will rip the heads and small parts off and eat as much as they can. You can protect your flock by reinforcing the roof and sides of the coop and maybe think of getting guinea fowl. Guinea Fowl make considerable noise when they spot a predator and can save you a lot of heartache in the end.
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