There are many reasons why a chicken may die. If you are lucky she will have lived a long, happy and healthy life then passed away quietly in the hen house overnight. It doesn’t always happen that way though and there may come an occasion when you need to intervene and bring her death forward, as a kind alternative to leaving her to suffer a protracted death. Death is a sensitive subject to many of us however it is something you need to consider when choosing to take on any pet. Dealing with the death of a domestic chicken is no different to any other pet in many ways, but very different in others. In this section we will cover;
- Choosing whether to intervene at the 9th hour
- How to kill a chicken in a humane way
- What to do with the corpse
- Coping after the death of a chicken
Deciding whether to intervene
If you choose to keep chickens there will come a time when they die. If you have a sick chicken and she does not recover within 36 hours it is highly likely that she will die but not necessarily in the next day or so. The decision over whether to intervene and bring this end forward will lie solely in your hands. Helping to end the life of any living thing is not an easy thing to but it is also not right to leave an animal to die in pain and distress either.
Once you become a chicken owner you will quickly identify other chicken owners near you. One or more of them will have been in this situation as well. If you feel it would be kinder to end the life of your sick chicken, as a kindness, and you are unable to take that final step yourself, there may well be someone near you who will help and do it for you. If this is not an option for you, your only other course of action is to contact a vet. The vet will put your chicken down for you and dispose of her remains should you wish. The cost to do this is similar to that of putting down a cat or rabbit.
Ending the life of a chicken
We have been given advice from a number of chicken owners about how to end the life of a chicken and they all recommend the old fashioned pull her neck approach. What is actually happening is you are dislocating her neck and she will die quickly if you do it properly. The first time you might want to have help as it is easier to have an expert to show you how it is done.
The technique is to pull and twist at the same time. You need to learn just how hard to pull. A sick bird will not struggle and it will be over in seconds. You do need to pull hard though and if unsuccessful you will need to do it again. Check there are no signs of life before you do anything else and if you are not certain that you have been successful, pull again to be sure.
Dealing with a corpse
Once your chicken has died there is the matter of what to do with the remains. Fortunately, as a domestic pet owner, you do not have to get any government agencies involved. There are a number of actions you can take to dispose of the dead body.
- Bury it
- Burn the remains on a bonfire
- Bag and bin it
- Have a vet dispose of it for you
- cook and eat it! She was sick remeber.
- put the body in your compost bin even if you hot compost. Composting is only an option if you use a food digesting system that can cope with a whole uncooked chicken.
- Feedc it to other meat eating animals.
Burying your chicken is one of the easiest routes and is nicer than putting her in the bin. You might want to pop her in a cardboard box beforehand but this is not essential. If you bury her and are concerned that a fox or dog might dig her up again, make sure you dig a deep hole, at least 40cm deep. You could put a paving slab on top too if you wish. The body will decompose over time and you can then remove the slab if you want to.
We have a chicken graveyard near to the run and always dig a new patch with each chicken. This area of garden is grassed over to discourage them being dug up again. It is easy to lift a patch of turf and replant it afterwards. We like the idea of all the girls being near to each other.
Cremation is only practical if you are able to have a good sized bonfire area in your garden and are not going to upset your neighbours in the process. Please follow the local government guidelines for holding a bonfire, times and days allowable for fires vary depending upon where you live. Should you choose to cremate your chicken please make sure you have enough materials to do the job properly before you start and are careful not to set fire to the rest of the garden in the process.
If you dispose of your chicken via the rubbish then remember that she is a still a tasty meal for foxes and other scavenging creatures. She will need to be properly bagged up and disposed of with the landfill rubbish, unless your council collects raw and cooked food waste. Do not dispose of her with the composting or green garden waste.
For those that really don’t want to do any of the above there is always the vet option. The vet will arrange for the body to be cremated at an appropriate pet cremation site. The cost will be similar to that of a cat or rabbit and they will also dispose of the ashes should you want them too.
Coping after the death of a chicken and the next steps
The death of a pet can be distressing for the owner and their nearest family. You might think losing a chicken is not the same as losing a dog or cat but I have to disagree on this one, especially if she is the first or a particular favourite. Please note that you and your family will not be the only ones to miss her. We have observed that the flock will also mourn and their mourning lasts longer if the deceased chicken was removed from the flock before she died.
A flock in mourning calls for the missing hen and listens for a response. They don’t call all the time but will call as a collective. The mourning period normally lasts for 2 to 3 days. There is nothing you can do to stop it and why would you want to, so bear with them, this behaviour soon passes. We have not observed any other changes in the flock behaviour, they still peck and scratch and do all the things a chicken does but they are missing one of their own at the same time.
This mourning period can be distressing when there is only one chicken left in your flock. She will get over it but the period may last longer as she will also have to cope with not being part of a flock. The question is do you get some more chickens or not. The answer is not necessarily straight forward. It is right to consider:
- Whether you want to continue keeping chickens.
- How old is the last chicken and whether she is likely to live a long time yet.
- If your remaining bird is old will she suffer as a result of bringing in new ones, given their nature to peck each other unmercifully.
If you have an old chicken and want to continue keeping them it might be kinder to wait until the last one has died before you buy more. She may well pine so give her plenty of love and attention if you choose this route. This is not your only option though. You could investigate adopting another lonely old bird. Once you have two and they have sorted themselves out, they will support each other if you then want to expand and adopt some new younger ones.
If you choose not to expand the flock and are not able to cope with a pining young chicken, who may well live a long time, you can always try to re-house her with another established flock. She will be pecked to start with but she will be happier in a new flock than left on her own.
As we keep 6 chickens we usually replace when our flock reduces to three. We are not yet at the point of not wanting to continue keeping them, however we know people who have moved their chickens on to other flocks, as well as flock owners that have adopted a lonely chicken and people who have kept a single chicken until her own time has come. Either approach has it's benefits. What I have been told is that a single chicken makes you her flock and if she feels threatened she will come to you as head of the flock.
I hope that you find this particular approach to the difficult subject helpful. If you need any further information please let us know and we will do our best to support you.