Death in the Family!? Errr...Death of a Hen.

When I am not able to save a hen and she succumbs to her suffering and dies…I am so sad! If you view your backyard layers as pets, so sad! If you view your backyard laying flock as future chicken stew, so sad!

Caring for Marilyn during her last days 

There is never a good time to talk about the death of a chicken but there are some things that you can do to be ready for the unfortunate passing of a chicken.

If the death is sudden or the cause of death is unknown, I recommend sending the chicken for a necropsy. 

Why should you send a chicken for a necropsy?

  1. Cause of death. The cause of death can often be verified with laboratory results. Sometimes you are 90% sure of the cause of death, but it can be supportive to have laboratory results. Keep in mind that you can perform a necropsy yourself if distance, time, or expense is an issue.
  2. Flock management adjustments. Often laboratory tests can provide vital information regarding your flock management practices so that you can make some adjustments to prevent problems in the future. Years ago, I had a silver-laced Wyanadotte die suddenly. The necropsy gave me the opportunity to learn all about fatty liver syndrome. I elected to modify my custom ration to include no more than 5% of organic, non-GMO corn rather than 8-10% corn. I learned that the chicken was in excellent nutritional health—so I gave myself a pat on the back since I had been feeding my custom rations for quite some time. I also learned that some breeds are more likely to suffer from fatty liver syndrome. I now select breeds accordingly.
  3. Laboratory test(s) results. Tests can also assure you that the bad cooties like salmonella are not present. While salmonella isn’t prevalent in backyard flocks—the reassurance is nice. Data backing up that we are doing a great job as flocksters! Go flocksters!

Be prepared for chicken death:

Farewell Marilyn

  1. Flock history. Keep records of egg production, flock age(s), feed consumption as part of your flock history, etc. These records in conjunction with the necropsy can provide valuable insight into the cause of death.
  2. Styrofoam cooler. Yes, a horrid Styrofoam cooler will keep the body cool for examination.
  3. Cardboard box. Box to ship Stryofoam cooler to the laboratory. 
  4. Packing tape. Paper towels or other absorbent material.
  5. Ice. Either blue ice or instant ice packs.
  6. Shipper location. Know where your local shipping drop off is and understand the shipping requirements.
  7. Forms. Keep a hard copy of the required necropsy submittal forms in hard copy in case your printer is down or in your upsetedness you are not able to locate the forms.

While the death of a chicken can be sad, being prepared to ship your beloved bird for a necropsy can be important so that you (and we) all become better flocksters!


  • Gail Damerow (1994). The Chicken Health Handbook. Storey Publishing. ISBN: 9780882666112. Includes a chapter on performing a postmortem examination.
  • If you live in California, UCDavis as well as other universities in the UC system provide examination services. If you do not live in California contact your state's poultry pathology laboratories.