Tuesday, September 1, 2009

what do you do when your chicken dies?

Sophia, our 2-1/2 year-old Barred Rock hen, passed away sometime in the triple-digit heat of Saturday afternoon. My wife found her in a heap in the back corner of the coop at the end of the day when she went out to check on their water and food.

Once I'd quickly processed and suppressed the emotional side of the situation, I went into "dad mode" and began exploring, rapid-fire, all the questions popping into my head:
How do I get her out of the coop? Is it something contagious? Is ZsuZsu ok? Where are my gloves? What do I do with the body? Do we bury her in the yard? Do we dispose of her in the garbage? Will she smell by the time the garbage is collected on Friday? Why did she die? What did I do wrong? How do I tell the kids? Do we get another chicken? Two more chickens? How do I introduce ZsuZsu to new companions? Where will we get them? and on and on
I ultimately decided I need to know what happened to Sophia before I can think of bringing another urban chicken into our backyard.

Thanks to the Santa Cruz Pet Chicken avian flu workshop I went to earlier this year, I knew that I could get a free necropsy performed on Sophia at the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory over at UC Davis. While it costs the big-Ag chicken farmers to get the service performed, for us backyard folks in California, it's free.

All I had to do was wrap Sophia's body in two plastic bags and then put it in the refrigerator until the lab opened up Monday morning and drop her off there.

The only problem? No room in our fridge. I'd have to store her in a cooler on ice. Well, truth be told, our fridge could've been completely empty but my lovely wife wouldn't have let me store Sophia in there. Not enough Lysol in the world to disinfect the mental imagery.

So, I double-bagged Sophia and put her in our old collapsible cooler with ice around her in zip-loc bags (no, I didn't want to have to deal with wet feathers). I placed the cooler in the corner of the garage, and for the next 36 hours, added ice as needed to keep her cool.

Then I woke up at dawn Monday morning to drive the 99 miles to UC Davis to the lab, arriving shortly before 8am. I parked the car across the lot from the receiving dock.

The nice lady at the receiving desk gave me a simple form to fill out and a white plastic tub to place Sophia's body in (still wrapped in the bags, of course).

They'll email me preliminary results in a couple days with final results expected in two weeks.

As I walked out of the lab, I realized I'd parked right next to the dumpster. How convenient. I flipped the collapsible cooler into the dumpster before I hopped in the car to make the drive home. Wouldn't ever be using that particular cooler for food or drinks again. Not enough Lysol in the world to clean out the mental imagery of carrying Sophia in there.

Photo by zirofar on Flickr


Dr. Gregory P. Martin said...

Each state has different approved methods of disposal, including burial, cremation, landfill (garbage) and composting.

Check with university extension offices to see or with department of Ag for your location.

Dr. G.

Linda said...

Thomas, I'm so sorry to hear about Sophia's death. I faced a similar challenge with one of my chickens last November. What had been a perfectly healthy, normal-looking and acting pullet was dead the next morning.

How cool that you can have a free necropsy done! We don't have option here in IL, so I had to just keep watch on the rest of the flock and make sure all were staying well. Everyone else was fine, so I think Missy (the Delaware pullet that died) likely suffered some sort of internal rupture.

As for disposal, that was hard, too. I asked on our local online chicken forum and received a few answers, albeit a bit later than I needed. One person told me the city prefers that calls be made to our non-emergency line (311) and animal control would pick up the body. Another person said "chickens should be returned to the earth." I agreed with her, but late November in Chicago means hard/frozen ground, so there was no way I could dig a grave for her. I ended up double-bagging her and putting her in the regular trash. How sad.

Sometimes there is just nothing we can do. We give them the best life possible, but laying HUGE eggs nearly every day is very hard on their bodies.

You should get another chicken for ZsuZsu. Chickens don't like to live alone. It will be hard to introduce them at first, but they'll establish a pecking order on their own and it will work out.

f-that said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
yl said...

Did you ever figure out what happened to sophia?

Unknown said...

Hi yl, thanks for asking.

No, we never did figure out what happened to Sophia. The autopsy came back negative for any diseases (whew!) or obvious internal problems like a bound egg. "No known cause" was the report.

From what I've been able to tell reading the listservs I subscribe to, sometimes chickens... just... die. Not easy to deal with when it happens, especially the first time, but with the passage of time, it's easier to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever find out what caused your chicken's sudden death? I just lost a healthy (seemingly) six-month-old hen yesterday (Christmas afternoon!) and came across your post while searching the topic. Am very concerned about my other three now since no idea what the cause of death might be. (I also have a chicken blog at http://polloplayer.wordpress.com)

Unknown said...

Polloplayer, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. We never did find out what happened to Sophia. The lab was able to determine she didn't die of anything communicable, so ZsuZsu was not threatened.

I've come to find out that sometimes chickens just die (like all pets). If the rest of your flock isn't showing distress, you should be ok, but try and find out via a local lab why your chicken did die via a necropsy.

david said...

I had one drop in mid-stride. Healthy, laying well, 2 year old, red sex-link. No wounds, not hot outside. I googled "sudden chicken death syndrome" and came up with the BackyardChickens Forum posting.


Apparently, massive cardiac arrests are not uncommon. Doesn't make it easier to deal with other than knowing that there was nothing you did or could have done.


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