Thursday, May 21, 2009

A loss on the farm

So, that picture that I posted yesterday about my dust bathing chickens looking dead isn't very funny anymore.

After 14 months of joyful, humorous chicken ownership, I have lost one of my girls. Yesterday morning she was fine, yesterday evening she was dead.

I found Coral, one of my Rhode Island Reds, slumped on the ground in the corner of the chicken run when I went to let the chickens out to free range. There was no sign of trauma, no previous illness, it wasn't a hot day, and she had hopped up to the outside roost to happily snag her morning treat from my fingers just a few hours earlier...I have no idea what happened. Her body was still warm when I found her.

It is one of those unfortunate facts of life that things die, but I worry that I missed something, overlooked some sign that I could have acted on. My biggest fear is that she suffered in some way.

I sent an email out to my local, online chicken support group, PDX Backyard Chickens. My friends, Kao and Tonya, are two of the moderators of this group and they have an incredible wealth of chicken-related knowledge that they freely share to any and all who request it. Kao responded in this way to my query on whether anyone else had experienced a sudden, inexplicable death among their chickens:

"We have had a few Production Reds do the exact same thing. Head out, tail up and eating cheerios from our fingers and then two hours later we find them looking like they died in mid stride. Full crop, no sign of damage or anything else. They are great personality birds which have been very missed. Our personal theory is that they are bred for egg production over longevity. We do have a Rhode Island Red that has exceeded the 2 year mark and seems fine just to mess with our theory.
Sorry for the loss.

I may not ever know why my hen died. This morning, I was very nervous going into the coop, fearful that maybe some illness was going to run rampant now in my flock and another of my girls would be gone. But everyone is spunky and fine. Pretty much like yesterday.

At dusk last night, we found ourselves searching our property for an appropriate animal burying place. Every farm with animals needs one of these. We found ours right at the base of this old tree stump:


  1. I'm so glad you contacted your chicken support people. Reading what they said made me feel so much better, not that it has happened to them, but that it happens. I had no idea chickens can live such short lives. Boy, that's a hard thought to get used to. Let's enjoy each one of them every moment!
    Is it silly to ask if Roopert is acting differently without one of his hens?

  2. Danni,

    I can only imagine that Coral enjoyed a wonderful - love-filled life on the Critter Farm. What chicken could want for more?! And my (influenced by my very experienced chicken-owning friend from church)intuition leads me to believe that Coral simply went to sleep. She most certainly would have let you know if something was wrong.

    What a beautiful resting place. I know how disturbing this is for you - but what a sweet thing that she was so well loved!

  3. Oh, Danni, I'm so sorry. :-(

    I'm glad that it appears to be an isolated incident.

  4. Awww, that's so sad, I'm sorry! We had a rhode island red, and she didn't die...we don't have any right now, though...we've only ever "accidentally" lost a chick died a few days after we got it 2 years ago...but that was all.

  5. Sorry to hear about Coral... it's always a sad, sad day when one of the girls passes. Find comfort in knowing that you provided a safe and happy haven for her there in Oregon (oh, how I miss Oregon so...). Cluck cluck! -Anna. (Former Oregonian...and current chicken farmer lady.)

  6. My heart goes out to you Danni. I know how hard it is to lose one of the "babies". You are still a good mom and she had a good life. Hope you don't have any more of those happen anytime soon.

  7. I'm so sorry for your loss, Danni. How strange, and how horrible you must have felt discovering her. However, SweetMissDaisy said it all, they lived a short but quite comfy life with you as their mama at Critter Farm.

  8. Ooohhhh Noooo! Danni, I'm so sorry to hear this. I'm sure Coral is top hen in her new coop in the sky.

  9. Oh Danni, I am so sorry to hear about Coral's death. I understand how sad you must feel. If she died suddenly like that I can assure you that she did not suffer. When a hen is sick she acts lathargic, weak and sometimes wheezes. You will know it, especially since you keep such good watch on your girls. Sometimes chickens, especially those that free range, can get bitten by a snake or maybe even spider. Sometimes they just keel over all of a sudden for no apparent reason. My rooster did exactly that. I checked all the chicken books (all the same ones that you have) and never really found an answer. I did find that sometimes chickens can have heart attacks or strokes. I never even considered that until I read about it after my rooster died.

    You are a very good chicken mama. Don't beat yourself up over this. It's hard enough to lose your lovely hen that you raised from a chick without blaming yourself for it. These things happen. Just keep an eye on the rest of them and look for any unusual signs. (Yes, I know I don't need to remind you.)

  10. How sad...
    It breaks your heart.
    A lovely resting spot for your feathered friend though.

    With the DE you know how humans should'nt inhale it what about chooks??
    And dogs??
    I wanted to dust them down with it but not if inhaling it is dangerous to them???

  11. Sorry to hear you lost one of your wonderful chickens. It's always tough to lose one of your animals, but I'm sure there was nothing you could have done. It sounds trite, but it really is true... sometimes it just happens and they die for no apparent reason.

  12. I am so sorry to hear about sweet coral. Take comfort in knowing you are a great mama to your feathered flock.

  13. Sorry for your loss. :( Makes me sad too. I enjoy your animal tales a lot and love to see your pets.

  14. Sigh. What a sweet girl she was. And a terrific egg layer. She loved jumping up to get treats....well, she just loved treats, jumping or not.

    Im so very sorry. This makes me sad. I realize that it happens, but just by realizing it it sure doesnt make it any easier.

    She had a great life on Critter Farm. Just think, she even got to meet Pete and Reggie.

  15. I'm sorry. It is so hard when one of our animals dies! I know how it is to wonder if you missed something. I know you did your best by them and that is all you can do. I have a sheep that is probably going to have to be put down. She came to me sick and I didn't realize it. I still feel like I failed her.

  16. Sorry Danni, I know how much you love your girls.

  17. I am so sorry to hear about Coral.

  18. I am so sorry to hear about Coral.
    I get so attached to my animals and understand how you must feel.

    The resting place looks beautiful.

    You don't think a snake could have gotten in there, do you?
    We've had snakes strangle grown chickens here before. It will be hard to tell what had happened just looking at the chicken, but usually around their neck will be moist feeling and maybe a little blood around the eye.
    I know, it sounds awful, but just a fact of life on a farm.
    Take care,

  19. I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of one of your girls.

    You look after all of your animals so lovingly my first thought was that it had to have been a heart attack or something similar to have happened so suddenly and without warning. It's a natural reaction, I think, for us to feel that the death of an animal companion has to be through disease or ill-health, however, they too grow old and their bodies eventually wear out, just like ours.

    Take comfort in knowing that you gave her a wonderful life, full of love and attention.


  20. Awww....I'm so sorry Danni friend. Yes, this does sometimes just happen, but I know it doesn't make it any easier. xoxo

  21. Deaths like that just happen. One time, Mike witnessed one of our girls who just fell over dead.

    We found one the other day in the pasture, her body intact, no harm to her, she just died while scratching around with her buddies. I think their hearts just quit.

    You know you gave her a great chicken life and that was the best you could do for her.

  22. I am sorry for you. However, I know that chicken had the BEST home in the world. In fact, I've even considered moving in with you. I guess sometimes we just are meant to not understand. Goatie hugs.

  23. Thank you everyone for your very kind and comforting words. I really, really appreciate it. I'm crazy for my chickens.

    Hi Mom - That's not a silly question at all. I don't think Roopert notices, but who knows. I have no doubt, though, that at some level, they all notice that a certain dynamic has changed. I worry more about Rose-Uppity, my remaining RIR, as the two of them hung out together more than the others did.

    Dina - That would be so nice if she, indeed, just went to sleep. Examining the spot where I found her, she was sitting in a small indentation where everyone had liked to dust bathe. What you say may be completely possible, which makes my shoulders less heavy.

    SweetMissDaisy - thank you for your visit and for your very nice words. I hope you have a chance to visit Oregon again some day.

    Hey Jen - No biting snakes here in my part of Oregon - thankfully. There may be a few poisonous spiders, but I think that would be an unusual occurrence, though, but who knows? It's hard not to question and wonder, isn't it?

    Hi A Bite of Country Cupcakes - I would be surprised if the amount of DE that I use woud give them respiratory trouble, but I'm looking into it further. There was/is no wheezing or other signs of troubled breathing or irritation.

    To anonymous: Thank you ♥

    Hi Christy - We need to develop tougher skins, don't we....

    Marigold....I'm speechless. thanks.

  24. Hi there. So sorry about your RI Red... your post really caught my attention because we just lost our Red about 3 weeks ago. She was 2 years old and same as yours, fine in the morning and I found her in the bottom of the coop in the afternoon, just gone. :( She was our friendliest chicken. And then 2 days ago, we lost our Aracauna.. the other 2 remaining hens seem fine, no signs of illness, but of course I am worried. We got them all as chicks 2 years ago. So sad. We now have a chicken graveyard, too. :( I scoured the internet looking for a cause, but could not find anything that fit. I'd love to know if you find anything else out? So sorry.

  25. I am so sorry about your hen! It is hard to lose a pet that has become part of the family. I love my chickens so much and have lost quite a few of them. The first losses were really hard. Some are made worse cause you don't know why. I just recently got some red chicks, I am not sure how thrifty they will be now. It could just be some kind of fluke? I have a pet cemetery in my yard. It has way too many loved pets in it. I hope you don't lose anyone else!

  26. I'm sorry about Coral- it is hard to lose an animal you love. I am sure you gave her a wonderful life and now a beautiful final resting spot!

  27. I'm sorry for your loss. I just had my first loss about a week ago also. Mine was the same, she was fine when I put them back in their coop before dark and then in the morning she was slumped, not doing well, and died shortly after. I believe she had nibbled on the leaves of my Angel's Trumpet plant which is poisonous. :(

  28. I'm so sorry about your Coral.

    In the last 6 years, I've had 3 of my hens just die with no sign of trauma. Sadly it happens and you may never know why.

    Thinking of you.

  29. Danni, you say she was in the corner of the run? I know my chickens (for whatever bird-brained reason) all pile on top of each other in corners with their heads sticking out the fence. I have heard of them smothering one another? Do your hens ever do that? Pile on top of each other, I mean?

    I'm just glad she didn't act sick, and suffer before she died. Most often, we nurse the sick chickens as best we can and they die anyway.

  30. Gosh I am so sorry. I had a hen that died much in the same way a couple of years ago. Seemed fine one moment and then the next time we checked she was dead. She was also a Rhode Island Red.


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