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Dealing with the Death of a Pet Chicken

Losing a pet is hard - and losing a backyard chicken is no different. So how to deal with that loss?

If you raise chickens long enough, you will end up losing one - and I suppose eventually all - to old age, if nothing else. But realistically, old age won't be the cause of their demise.

Shockingly, your loss will be quick, unexpected and heartbreaking.

Dealing with the death of a pet chicken is hard. Really hard. And it's also going to be a fact of life when you start raising chickens.

As my grandmother who raised chickens nearly her whole life used to say about chickens "if they can get hung up on it, tangled in it, electrocuted by it, choke on it, drown in it, fall into it, fall off of it, or be eaten by it - they will."

And it's the sad truth that the pitfalls and dangers that present themselves to backyard chickens are wide-ranging and often unpredictable.

Predators, other flock members, family dogs and overeager children all are potential chicken killers.

As is egg binding, parasites, fumes from Teflon fry pans, self-cleaning ovens and shatter-proof light bulbs. Not to mention illness or disease, toxic plants....

So part of chicken keeping has to include learning how to deal with the death of these funny, fluffy, personable pets that lay the best eggs you will ever eat.

Dealing with the Death of a Pet Chicken

Our first loss came early on. A young pullet fell into our duck pool and drowned. I was devastated. And I learned the hard way to keep young chickens away from the pool.

And then came the devastating blow: Less than two years in to chicken keeping, a pair of brazen foxes dug underneath our barn to gain access to our run in broad daylight

In the time it took my husband to run from the house with a shotgun, they had killed all but three of our beautiful flock. The carnage was astonishing.

I wasn't home at the time of the attack and my husband cleaned up as best he could, thereby shielding me from the worst of it, but still there were bloody feathers floating around the yard for weeks to come.

And of course the girls who I had hand raised from day one were all gone.... 

My favorite duck, Puddles, was gone. My beautiful Buff Orpington, Grace, was so severely injured that my husband had to dispatch her out of mercy.  Gone was little Bruce Lee, our spunky White Ameraucana, and the list went on.

They were all gone in one fell swoop. I was left with three traumatized, bleeding, seriously injured hens huddled in their coop, depending on me to care for them.

I was completely traumatized and right then at that moment never wanted to see another chicken ever again.In the blink of an eye walking down to the coop had become something I dreaded instead of enjoyed

But I did care for them...although through that long winter they never emerged from the coop. Not once. And I'm pretty sure they were grieving the loss of their friends in their own way in addition to healing physically.

It wasn't until spring that they dared venture out. They were confused about where their friends had gone, and wandered aimlessly looking for them. 

But the three survivors, Orange Chicken, a Rhode Island Red, Charlotte, an Australorp, and Lucy, a Cuckoo Marans, healed in time,both mentally and physically, as did my heart. And a batch of new chicks followed later that spring... and each spring thereafter.

Because hard as it is to lose them...it's even harder to imagine my life without them.

Feelings of Grief

So how do you deal with the loss of a flock family member? If you're like me, you cry - a lot.  And then you cry some more.

I had endless nightmares of not locking up my coop and suffering the loss all over again. In fact, to this day, I occasionally have a nightmare about losing them.


Feelings of Guilt

And then comes the guilt. You blame yourself. You feel an enormous amount of guilt knowing that you let them down.  You feel responsible for not keeping these poor, sweet, defenseless creatures safe from harm.

You decide that you don't want to keep chickens any longer. You swear if you do get more, you won't let yourself get so attached to them.


Feelings of Anger

Sometimes you even wish the survivors would die so you wouldn't be reminded, day after day, of what happened.

Then you feel even worse for wishing that upon them... 


Starting to Heal

Then slowly, you start to heal. Maybe you decide to start a Facebook page and find comfort in talking with others who have had similar experiences. You start giving advice to new chicken keepers, trying to help them from making the same mistakes - and avoid the same heartbreak.

And that's precisely why I started Fresh Eggs Daily. I thought that if I could "save" other peoples' chickens, the deaths of mine would not be in vain.  

Every time someone writes to say that the advice on our Facebook page or blog helped their chicken get better or taught them something or helped them avoid a catastrophe, my heart swells.

It makes me feel good to know that I am doing good. 

Although I hope and pray that our current flock will all live to ripe old ages, I know that's not realistic and that a loss from time to time is almost assured.

But I do the best I can for them, I err on the side of caution, have learned from my mistakes and am always vigilant.

And I have been trying to let go of the immense feeling of guilt I still carry with me to this day.

Mourning the loss of something that makes your life a little brighter just by being part of it is normal. Anyone who ever says they are 'just chickens' better hope they aren't within earshot of me because that's just not a phrase I am partial to. 

Memories Never Leave Us

I still think of those I lost from time to time and still do have to blink back tears occasionally.  I have tremendous respect for the three who not only survived, but thrived, in the years that have followed, (although Lucy did ultimately need to be put down last year from neurological problems caused by being attacked). 

Charlotte lived to be nine years old (she just lost her to old age in February 2018) and Orange Chicken went to a family just getting started with their own flock and by their last account she was doing just fine.

I don't think you ever really completely get over a loss like that, and the losses never get easier, but you do learn that life goes on and that filling your coop with a flock of new feathered friends goes a long way towards helping the healing process. 

My hope for you is that you will never suffer the loss of any of your feathered friends before their time...but if you do, that you turn to others for comfort who understand the loving footprints chickens leave on your heart.   

This post is dedicated to all chicken keepers who have suffered a loss of  a feathered friend - and also to all the little feathered friends whose lives have been lost. 

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