The Mystery of the Dead and Dying Chickens

She wasn’t standing at the back door like she often is, waiting for me to sit down so she can hop on my lap and fall asleep.  She was lying stiff and quiet on the soft straw beneath the alpaca shelter.  No sign of injury.  Shirley had just passed away sometime during the day.


Meanwhile, Mahalia was standing still, her backside tucked, lethargic.  Now, we’ve had our questions about Mahalia before.  Soon after she grew up we wondered if she had an egg stuck when she took that stance.  If you haven’t read it, it was quite a fiasco.  She has never laid solid eggs.  This is her third year of laying occasional slips of eggs.  Suddenly, she was paralyzed, scooting her way around on her side with her wing.  Burrowing into a nesting box.  Her breast bone protruding, her stomach bloated and hot.  I have no idea how to euthanize a chicken.  This morning she is still moving her head.


Yesterday, Ethel did not run for the fence as usual.  She is lethargic.  She didn’t run from us.  Seems tired.  Dead this morning.

These three were among our eldest chickens, in their third year, but not what I considered old per se.  No one knows.  Elizabeth asked if we fed them green beans or potatoes.  Someone working at the feed store told us of a gruesome way to kill them but had no ideas as to why they were sick.  Sandy looked in her chicken first aid book.  Nothing.

I do hope these are all separate incidences.  That they are just getting older.  That I will not start slowly losing my entire flock.

Any ideas out there?

Turns out there is a pretty bad upper respiratory virus hitting chickens in this area that is carried in on people’s shoes.  We have added a good amount of my herbal anti-biotic to their water with hopes that we can nip this is the bud!  Thank you so much for all of the responses and the concern!  I love a good homesteading community, international and local, that can help solve problems and cheer each other on.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. karin says:

    Check their bottoms. Fly strike is quite common this time of year. Also check coop for mites- you will see poop trails under their roosts. and make sure water water water and shade shade shade. I hope you do not lose any more and i hope this helps. Good luck!

    1. bobraxton says:

      I agree about water and the summer heat. We used to raise “broilers” by 3,000 and 5,000 for only nine weeks maximum and still lost some in the heat (indoors – with breeze). Water is very important, I agree.

  2. Holly says:

    Let me check in with a friend of mine. There is a pretty serious virus that has taken a bunch of flocks – one notably in Franktown, I think. Will pm you when find the basics.

  3. Jessica says:

    Any chance it’s a parasite of some kind? The symptoms aren’t all the same, but when we had chickens with coccidia they were lethargic and not walking properly.

  4. Heather says:

    If you don’t have a copy, pick up Damerow’s “The Chicken Health Handbook.” Elizabeth Feed and Kiowa Feed often carry copies for 4-H kids. Best wishes.

  5. Donna says:

    Check for parasites (their poop, red bottoms, look at their feathers).

  6. I can only offer my sympathy. I hope someone out here has the answer (and solution) for you.

  7. Oh, I am so sorry about your chicken. We had been partnering with a lady who had been hatching our chicken eggs in her commercial incubator for halves. We’ve retrieved 2, maybe 3 batches of babies from her, and every cotton picking one of them, save one, has died. Even the two turkey poults we purchased from her died within a week. I’d kept them inside, in a cage, in our spare bathroom, under a heat lamp. Fed, fresh water daily, never EVER had a problem with chicks before. I picked up the last chick to love on it, and happened to look under it’s wings, and it had so many mites that they were crawling over each other. I treated it with a solution of 1 drop of permectrin in a medicine vial full of water, used a gloved hand and rubbed the solution under it’s wings, on her little head, all over. That stuff smelled so bad that I felt sorry for the chick and rinsed it off under some warm running water. I wish you could have seen the deluge of dead red mites flowing out with that rinse water!!! I dried the chick off and put it under a towel under the heat lamp where it could stay warm. It’s doing great now, has grown to the point where she’s been moved outside to the nursery area and has gown enough that she has wing and tail feathers that are about an inch long. She’s so proud of her little tail feathers!! I suspect that the other chicks had mites too, and we just didn’t catch it. It makes me so sad to think that the mites were most likely the cause of death for close to 6 dozen chicks overall. There’s no way they could have been exposed to those mites except where they were hatched and in the brooder boxes in her office. Same thing with the turkey poults since they were raised there too. Check, like the other person suggested for parasites and treat. Respiratory infections are very common in chickens, especially if there’s been a lot of rain where you live. I am not a fan of medicated food, but it might not hurt if you suspect that your chickens are sick. Also, a few drops of apple cider vinegar in their drinking water helps to thwart infections.

  8. Bill says:

    So sorry this happened. In addition to the comments above, I’ll add that sometimes chickens just die. Every now and then we’ll find one dead, for no apparent reason. The fact that you lost 3 suggests something other than old age to me though.

    I hope you never have to do it, but euthanizing a chicken isn’t difficult to do. Doing that to any animal we’ve raised and cared for is the single worst job we ever have to on a farm, in my opinion, but sadly it is sometimes the right thing to do.

    Hoping that this was an isolated incident and your flock thrives from now on.

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