If you’re keeping chickens in your backyard, there’s an unfortunate event that you’ve probably dealt with at some point, or else you certainly will in future. One minute, you’re looking at what looks like a completely happy and healthy chicken. It’s eating regularly, running around, and generally seems to be enjoying itself. But the next minute – it dies suddenly, and without an apparent cause.
Sudden Chicken Death
So, chances are if you tell someone that you’ve lost a chicken, they’ll probably say – what’s wrong with that? After all, it’s not such an unusual event. For people who keep chickens, it’s something that basically happens every other day. Sure, this is just the way nature works; the life and death cycle is a completely expected part of keeping livestock.
Not to mention, this is something that tends to afflict chickens more than other species. They’ve got plenty of diseases, natural predators, the possibility of becoming egg-bound or contracting mites; really, the list goes on and on. But the real problem appears once you can’t realistically trace the death of your chicken to any known cause. That’s something scientists and veterinarians refer to as the syndrome of Sudden Chicken Death.
So, now that we know that Sudden Chicken Death is an actual thing, the question is – what are the possible causes? There is actually a plethora of different things that could cause a seemingly inexplicable death within your flock. And noticing some of them isn’t always easy, seeing as chickens can disguise their illnesses pretty well.
If a veterinarian doesn’t do a necropsy – which is basically an autopsy for poultry – it isn’t easy to pinpoint the cause of death. Even if you do a very thorough external inspection, you could still remain baffled. But, studies show that Sudden Chicken Death is usually one of the following things.
First of all, your chicken could have gotten trampled by another member of the flock. Sometimes this results in internal damage that isn’t easily visible from the outside. Though, if the chicken in question was a large bird that stayed away from other flock members, this isn’t very likely.
Otherwise, and more commonly – your chicken may have suffered heart failure, or a heart attack. This is more typical among male birds who suffer an unexpected demise. And it’s a possibility even if a chicken doesn’t display any visible signs of health problems. It could be breathing normally for days, crow at its regular intervals, and you’d never spot them gasping for air. If that’s so, the Sudden Death Syndrome your chicken had was actually a heart attack.
Think about it – if you happened to witness it, did you see your chicken having quite a tense flapping of the wings a couple of moments before death? Or any visible convulsions? In that case, it’s almost definitely heart failure to blame.
Origins of Chicken Heart Failure
So, if we’ve established your chicken’s Sudden Death Syndrome was actually heart failure, the next logical question is; what caused it? First of all, you should know that heart attacks most commonly happen in commercially bred hens. These put on weight at an unnaturally rapid pace, because they’re bred to be slain and sold within just a couple of weeks of hatching.
Naturally, if you’re a person who keeps chickens in their backyard; this clearly isn’t the case. Members of tiny backyard flocks put on weight at a natural pace, over many months after they hatch. So, what else could it be?
For one, it could be too much light. Again, commercial chickens have a forcibly higher rate of egg production because they’re almost constantly kept in daylight conditions. But backyard chickens aren’t as likely to be under artificial light in such excess.
Also, it could be excessive glucose in their diet. People who want their chickens to gain weight quickly give them a glucose-high diet. But chickens who only get organic feed aren’t as likely to suffer from this. Naturally, that includes appropriate treats from time to time, like sunflower seeds, lettuce or mealworms.
Finally, it could also be a good old fashioned lack of exercise that gave the chicken heart issues. If the chickens in your backyard don’t have a large run to trot around in all day long; they could develop heart problems. However if they’re true free-range chickens with a lot of space, that’s almost definitely not the case.
But if none of these were likely causes for your chickens to perish, what else could have caused their unexplained demise? At the end of the day, sometimes we just have to accept this as a natural part of nature’s lifecycle. Even with an immaculately well-kept and carefully managed coop, the greatest treats, and the best quality food – sudden death can still happen. That’s just the way of the world.
Certainly, this may be a fact that isn’t easy to accept. Anyone who’s kept animals and faced their sudden and unexplained death will attest to this. Regardless of whether it’s a chicken, or another kind of animal or pet. It’s just important to face the facts, and accept it simply at face value.
Once you’re faced with a sudden death of a member of your backyard flock, your first instinct might be to think; what should I do differently from now on? And that’s definitely a great question to ask yourself. But when it comes to Sudden Chicken Death syndrome, you need to accept something. It’s, just as its name suggests, sudden; so there isn’t much you can do to prevent it.
Even with all of the aforementioned causes in mind, if you’re keeping chickens in in a good coop, there isn’t much you can do to further prevent sudden death. None the less, as you go forward caring for the flock, here are a couple of things you can do to improve their general wellbeing.
First of all, you can add a certain amount of sunflower oil or seeds to their diet. In some cases of repeated sudden death in chickens, this has shown as a useful booster to their immune system. But you don’t want to go overboard; we only recommend giving these to your flock as something of an occasional treat rather than a daily staple.
Secondly, once sudden chicken death strikes a member of the flock; you’ll want to keep a watchful eye on the remaining members for the foreseeable future. If it’s not a heart attack, it could always be some kind of infection that you haven’t thought of; meaning that other deaths may follow.
If you want to be certain that it was an infection that caused the death, you could perform a chicken necropsy, although be warned, this isn’t for the faint hearted!
This involves opening up the deceased chicken with a scapal and looking for visible signs of an infection or a sign of lung failure. Even if you know what to look for – this could be too much for you in an emotional sense. It really all depends on whether you’ve got the stomach for such things, and how much you truly want to know.
Coping With The Loss
If your pet or other backyard animal dies without any warning, or if it dies in any way really; coping with such a loss is definitely not the easiest thing in the world. And that definitely includes chickens! So, what can you do in such a circumstance, on an emotional level?
Provided that you’ve done everything you could have for your chickens, remind yourself that this particular chicken has definitely had a good life, especially because of you. It had a warm, beautiful house when it was tiny. And once it got large enough to live outside, it still had comfortable, clean chicken housing. It grabbed at figs that were ripe on trees, rendered warm by the sunshine. Also, it had plenty of companions around it, as well as a great area to run around.
The chicken had a proper fence that would keep any predator out of reach, enabling it to live the safest life possible. Rest easy, knowing that your little hen had all the protection man and nature could provide it with. Clean air, warm and benign surroundings – at the end of the day, what more could a chicken hope for? And, maybe most crucially – it had your love. So, say your goodbyes with pride!
As you’ve probably gathered, chickens can indeed drop dead for no apparent reason. And if a member of your flock has indeed suffered by the hand of the Sudden Chicken Death syndrome, there’s not much else you can do; provided that it wasn’t a coop-wide infection that you haven’t spotted yet.
If you take good care of your backyard chickens, and keep them well-fed, watered and clean; there’s not much else to improve on. Just make sure they’ve got all the protection they need against predators and rodents, and spend enough time with them to notice any problems right from the start. Apart from that, everything else is a part of nature; so don’t beat yourself up!