Dealing with the death of a chicken

I want to talk about chicken death today. What do you do when a chicken dies? How do you feel when you lose a pet who is also a livestock animal, and how to discuss that strange blurred line to people who don't understand. It's ok to be 'all over the map' emotionally after the death of a pet chicken. It's a lot. So if you've ever lost one of your chickens read on. 

For the lucky ones that haven't experienced death in the chicken flock, you might want to bookmark this for later in case you need it. 

when chickens die

Those of you who get my newsletter know that we've been dealing with at least 2 foxes, maybe more. They have taken several chickens and 1 duck, plus injured another who has since died from his injuries. For everyone who has asked "How's it going?" Here's the answer: "not good". I can't catch the fox, I feel guilty on several different levels, I've spent too much money and it feels like it's never gonna end. *sigh* Now let's unpack all of that crap....

Dealing with the death of chicken


Guilt: I have a tremendous amount of guilt because my chickens were free ranging when they were grabbed. After a week of no attacks, a duck was attacked in the hour that I had taken the guard dog to the vet! After I started keeping the flock in, a few found a way out and they got grabbed early one morning before we were up. The drake flew over his 5 foot tall fence and got grabbed. It felt like I just couldn't get everything done and when I changed one thing, the foxes found a different way.

Cost: I guess I don't feel all that bad about spending money on fencing I just feel like I should have done this earlier and it would have been cheaper. Since the current situation was working for the past 5 years though I wasn't terribly worried about the few things that weren't perfect. Here's how that went: I didn't worry about the small hole in the coop run fence because I left the run door open every day anyway. The dog's presence was enough to keep all predators away for the last several years (except snakes and midnight visits from raccoons which we handled) 

After the first fox attack I started shutting the run door, the chickens wanted out early each morning and shoved themselves through that tiny hole making it bigger and bigger. I kept blocking it, but they kept getting through and eventually the foxes got them one morning. Had I replaced that portion of the fencing when it first happened, they would not have been able to widen it and let themselves out before the dog was out for the day. I didn't want to spend the money though since I could just fix it cheaply thinking it would hold. Instead they damaged it so badly that I had to replace it completely. Of course, that completely solved the fencing problem.

Had I put a taller fence on the duck run they wouldn't have got into the habit of being out and been determined enough to attempt to fly out of the tall fence when I did put it in. Maybe...they are Khakis, they can fly really well but it's one of those 'maybe' and 'I'll never know' things that adds to the guilt.

Sadness: On top of all that, there is the sadness. Of course the depth of your sadness depends on your relationship with the animal which can be really hard to understand for outsiders. Anyone that raises a large number of animals tends to develop closer relationships with some than others. Maybe it's the one that follows you around the most, or begs for treats in a super cute way, the animal that seems to know when you're having a bad day and just sits with you, or the baby you've had since she was an egg. 

Or the one that you've had for 10 years. Sadly the fox got my Sally. 

death of a chicken

Then there are the flock members that just don't endear themselves to you as much. It's not that you care about their welfare less, they're still important to you just not in the same way. You don't have as strong of an attachment to them which can make things like this easier. It doesn't make you wrong or callous for not sobbing your heart out over one chicken, but totally losing it over another. 

The designation between pet and livestock isn't easy to explain (I'm pretty sure I'm not explaining it right!) and people that only own pets or have had no experience with livestock or pets cannot understand how you feel when you lose one. Trying to express to family or friends how you feel about the death of livestock can be difficult. They expect you to not care as much since chickens are 'farm animals'. Or not care at all, especially if you raise meat animals.

death of pet chicken

I wrote a post about how chickens have distinct personalities that explains my surprise at realizing how personable they are. Until I started raising chickens I was an animal lover but never thought so in depth about the lives of things that ended up on my dinner plate. Most people prefer it that way! If your friends and family are like this, now is not the time to change their minds. I've found a great deal of support through chicken groups online and chicken keepers I know in real life.

It does help to talk about it. Like minded people can also help you to determine what to do to keep the rest of your flock safe in a predator or illness situation. The fact is, if you have lost one of your chickens there is nothing I or anyone else can say to make it ok. They were an important pet and their passing can be really tough to handle.

During this last issue only 1 animal was rescued and that was our drake Wiveran. He was attacked but the dog saw it happen and ran the fox off. Unfortunately the duck had internal injuries and despite our best care, he died from his injury. We buried him next to the others in the little chicken graveyard of sorts. I admit that even though we have had deaths in the flock, I haven't buried many chickens in the last 5 or 6 years. I'm not sure why, though in examining my actions I wonder if I've kind of become dulled to the deaths that happen on a homestead.

I think Amy said it very well in her post on Homestead Deaths. You'll have to click over to see what she says about how you do get used to it, but not really. I agree that it does become more routine in a sad 'here we go again' sort of way. It does get easier.

Guilt over predator removal

Guilt towards the predators: The last time we had a fox problem a neighbor who is a trapper came out. Though he didn't have any luck we learned a lot about foxes from him which enabled us to set up a system to take care of those foxes. We got 3 in 2 nights which effectively ended our predator problem. Unfortunately one was a lactating female and that broke my heart! It was late in the season so I could hope the babies were big enough to eat on their own, but with no one to hunt for them.... 

Well, it's baby season again in the world of wildlife and that means that the foxes are feeding a family right now. Makes perfect sense why it's been such a problem lately too! But that brings me to the dilemma of a whole fox family using my yard as their hunting ground. Obviously there are no easy answers when a predator finds you flock, and any way you fix the problem can lead to guilt.

You only have a few options when you have a predator problem. First you need to secure your flock which I had let lax and have handled now. You can chose to wait it out and hope the predator just goes away. This sometimes works, but if a predator gets hungry enough, he will check all his old hunting grounds repeatedly hoping to find an opportunity. Or you can remove the predator through trapping and relocating, or dispatching. Unfortunately relocating in not always legal and both dispatching and relocating leaves you with the guilt of a possibly abandoned litter this time of year.

There's only so much you can do

Even though I could have fixed that fence there's a pretty good chance the fox would have just laid low and waited for his opportunity to attack. Remember how I said the dog went to the vet for 1 hour? That fox hadn't gotten a meal from us in almost 2 weeks at that point. Everyone was kept in except those darn ducks that kept flying over their fence...but Iwould herd them back in right away and the dog was always there so they had been safe. Pretty sure she even ran him off once or twice from the barking sounds. Apparently the fox had still been scoping out the farm on a daily basis and took his tiny window of opportunity.

I've known chicken keepers who are fastidious about bio security yet still lost half their flock to an illness that somehow slipped through their precautions. Chickens often hide their illnesses until it's too late to treat them. There is only so much you can do to prevent losses. Accidents happen, predators come and illnesses spread. We simply do the best we can, and hope our feathered babies stay safe.

In closing; I didn't write this to record my exact predator issue but rather for the chicken keeper that just lost a chicken to find and understand that it's totally normal for us to feel sad and upset, or just resigned to the situation. It's normal for outside people to not understand how you feel, but those of us who also have farm animals as pets totally understand.

Need something more fun to read right now? Click over to check out some of my more lighthearted chicken posts.

~L

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4 comments:

  1. Yes, some people don't get it. A lady I sold eggs too asked why I had a goose and a duck if they don't lay eggs. She said I should cook them! And the non-laying but good bug eating hens too. Where I lived in CA there wasn't a significant predator problem so I never covered the 5 foot enclosure of the ducks and geese. Well, something found out and that is how there is only 1 of each left. I had to lock them up at night. In my new location, WA, my husband built a large covered area
    and buried the wire cloth in the ground. Thankfully, no issues yet as we have coyotes, foxes, and Hawks. It always saddens me when one of my flock passes. I feel as though I failed them in some way. I have had few successes with chicken illnesses. Vets don't know much about them and are reluctant to prescribe antibiotics.

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    1. My 10 year old hen was the best bug eater on the farm! She was definitely worth keeping for that reason alone. I'm glad you've been able to guard against predators so effectively. That's awesome! It's unfortunate that regular veterinarians don't see chickens, because farm vets don't usually see them either. It doesn't make sense.

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  2. Timely, article we lost our friend Talk Talk this week to some illness. She was an adorable little red hen that talked all the time to us hence the name. I am not sure how old she was we got her from a friend when she was an adult hen. I miss her little conversations when I go out to feed the other chickens and take treats. She was always right there to chat and get treats. She was a happy girl and loved meal worms with her bugs.

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    1. Awww, I'm so sorry to hear about Talk Talk, she sounds like she was a wonderful little hen!

      Lisa

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