It doesn’t take long for people to become attached to their hens. They become a part of our daily lives. We might have started our flocks for farm animals, but the hens prove fantastic pets. And like all pets, their lives are never long enough. Today we will talk about what to do when hens are passing away due to old age. Being prepared and knowing the process will help with the healing process for all.
How Long Do Chickens Live?
Many people are under the assumption that chickens don’t live very long. But that isn’t entirely true. Different breeds are for high egg output and shorter lifespans. These hens typically live 2-3 years before they start to decline. But the average chicken can live 8-12 years depending on the breed and is considered in old age around six years. If you have younger chickens than this, old age isn’t the problem.
How Do You Know If Your Chicken Is Going To Die?
As a chicken keeper, it’s always a good idea to know what to expect at the end. We don’t want our chickens to leave. But noticing the signs can prepare us for what to do when hens are passing away due to old age. And luckily for us, older hens slowly die off, and it’s a mostly peaceful process. Here are some of the ways you can tell your older chickens are slowing down.
The first thing that most older flocks do is eat less. Most of us might not notice this at first because it’s such a gradual thing. Maybe your hen isn’t as enthusiastic at feeding times, or she doesn’t seem interested in free range feeding as often. After a while, she will stop eating everything and maybe only pick at treats. Then your hen might not drink water as well.
Since your hen isn’t eating as much during this time, it also can lead to other symptoms. You will notice a gradual weight loss, and your old gal’s feathers are not up to par. They might look dull or even thinned from lack of nutrients.
The next step in the aging process is a lot of rest. Your hens might feel weak and lethargic. She might even spend most of her time in the chicken coop sleeping in the nesting boxes. Some of this is because she isn’t eating as much as she needs. But a lot of it is the natural way for chickens to calm down and relax for most of the end.
By the time your chickens are sleeping most of the day, the end is very near. Most chickens don’t live longer than a couple of days once they hit this stage. You might not even notice that your hens have passed because it will look as if they fell asleep peacefully. But in some cases, there are muscle spasms that can be violent. You shouldn’t be concerned, though, as this is the neurons firing randomly. Your precious girl doesn’t feel a thing and isn’t around to notice.
If your chicken died at night, the next morning, your hen would be in rigor mortis. This is where the hens become completely stiff after 12 hours or so of death. Again, this is entirely natural and doesn’t mean your hen has suffered.
An Important Note
All of these symptoms occur without any other signs of illness. Your hen won’t have dirty tail feathers, discolored combs, or wounds. Dying is a natural process that won’t have secondary diseases. In most cases, your old hen might even seem like a healthy bird still. If you suspect that a chicken is dying from old age, check that there is no underlying issue. Once you clear her of disease, it’s safe to say old age is a chicken’s cause of death.
What Do You Give A Dying Chicken?
What to do when hens are passing away due to old age differs from person to person. If you have a chicken old age, you might wonder if you need to make special arrangements to make them more comfortable. After all, it’s the least we can do after so many years of service to us. But unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do in terms of medicine. However, you can do a few personal things for them at the end that are more natural methods.
Most people think the best way to make them comfortable is to keep their old hens in the coop with the rest of the flock. Doing this surrounds the chicken with friends and family. You might even notice that other hens and roosters will take turns keeping her company while she sleeps. Some hens and roosters will even mourn a dead chicken. And that goes to show you how affectionate these birds are.
If your old chicken isn’t leaving the coop, you might want to bring her some favorite treats and water. She might not eat, but if she does, it can keep her energy up a little. And you can leave your hen in the coop surrounded by her sisters until the end.
In some cases, you might notice that the other hens peck at the weaker hen. This is especially common in backyard flocks that have had a hostile pecking order. If you see pecking, you might choose to isolate in a smaller chicken house to give the hen some privacy and rest. You can even still give her the same comforts and cuddle in the last days to make it easier.
And finally, if you’ve kept your hen around this long, she might be a beloved pet. You might not want her to suffer and seek the help of a vet. If this sounds like you, then the humane option might be euthanasia. Then you can either leave the dead hens with the vet or bring them home for burial.
Why Would A Chicken Die Suddenly?
As mentioned before, a chicken that dies of old age will die gradually. If it happens in healthy chickens, you might be wondering what caused my chickens death? Was the death from natural causes, or is there something bigger you should worry about? Here is what can sill a chicken suddenly, or what we like to call sudden chicken death syndrome.
The first thing to consider is predators. What kills chickens at night and leaves? The most common wild animals would be raccoons. These vermin love to kill quickly and rarely take the chicken with them. And in many cases, they might get a few chickens, not just the adult chickens.
Some common signs of a predator attack are blood, bite marks, dead birds, and broken fencing. In this case, you will want a little extra protection to keep the rest of your flock safe.
Overweight birds and certain chicken breeds are prone to heart failure. If your chickens are on the fatter side, especially larger meat chickens, a heart attack might be the cause. A chicken that dies of a heart attack won’t have symptoms beforehand. And you might find these hens on their backs or sides around the yard or run. They rarely die of heart attacks in the coop, but it is a possibility if something spooked them.
Most hens that are egg bound have apparent symptoms, including penguin walking, straining to lay eggs, and reduced feeding. But if your hen’s egg production isn’t what it used to be, it can be harder to spot. One sure test after death is to check the abdomen for a hard lump that is the egg.
If you find that your hen died from undiagnosed egg binding, we suggest checking the rest of your flock. That way, you can save anyone else with the same problem and adjust the diet accordingly.
Another not so silent killer is respiratory diseases. Several of them are viral, and some are bacterial caused by improper ventilation in the coop. So, what does a sick chicken sound like? If you hear anything at all, your chicken is having difficulty breathing. This includes raspy breathing, gurgling, quick and heavy breathing. A healthy chicken will be completely silent.
So if your chicken has had any difficulty breathing before death, you will want to look for the cause. If it is ventilation, you will want to add more for air circulation. But if it was a viral infection, you will want to keep a close watch on your flock. These viral infections pass quickly, and your whole flock is probably already infected. It’s even possible for reinfection from a wild bird. So the cause is essential to prevent future problems.
What Should I Do If My Chicken Dies?
If your chicken dies, there are several things you can do with the dead animal. Most of us with backyard chickens are opposed to consumption. But can you eat a chicken that has died naturally? If the chicken’s cause of death is natural, there is no reason why you can’t eat it. Even if the cause was a chicken heart attack, it is still OK for human consumption. As long as it wasn’t a sick bird, you are OK to eat it.
But if your chicken was a pet, this might seem a little harsh to your family. If this sounds like you, then maybe a burial is the proper way to send your friend off. By wrapping your chicken in a piece of cotton cloth and making a grave at least 4 feet deep, you can have closure.
Just remember to dig at least 4 feet to keep scavengers away. And if you had your hen euthanized, you will want to go a little deeper to aid in decomposition. This could be a great way to commemorate your old gal.
Does Old Age Sound Like It’s Around The Corner?
If only our girls could stick around for a few more years. But now you know what to do when hens are passing away due to old age. So you can identify what’s going on and make the best out of the last few months your hens are around.
Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Backyard Chicken Board!!