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20+ Ways to (Accidentally) Kill your Chickens

Raising a flock of backyard chickens isn't difficult as long as you avoid these common pitfalls that can kill your chickens.

My grandmother raised chickens almost her entire life and she always used to say that if a chicken could get stuck in it or under it or drown in it, they would. And also, everything wants to eat chicken.

While it's true that it's important to ensure your chicken area is free from hazards, it's not hard to keep your chickens alive as long as you avoid these common ways to accidentally kill your chickens

I've gone ahead and identified more than twenty of the most common ways chickens can perish and listed them out here for you one by one along with ways to avoid them.

If you can avoid all of these, then there's a good chance your flock will live a long, healthy life!

So let's get started.  

20+ Ways to (Accidentally) Kill your Chickens

Obviously you won't have to worry about keeping your chickens alive if they don't survive their "chickhood", so let's start there. 

1. Death by Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis is the #1 killer of baby chicks. So if you don't want your chicks to survive to adulthood, a good dose of coccidiosis will do it. 

Wet, dirty bedding or exposure to infected birds is a surefire way to make your chicks sick, but fortunately coccidiosis fairly easy to prevent. 

There is a vaccination that is available to newly hatched chicks or you can feed medicated feed to help protect the chicks from the infection before their immune systems have fully developed. 

There are also several natural methods to help boost their immune systems.

2. Death by Pasty Butt

Pasty butt is pretty much what it sounds like. It occurs when a baby chick's poop gets stuck and stops up their vent. If they can't poop, they'll die. Not a fun way to go. Fortunately, pasty butt is pretty easy to treat.

If it's going to happen, it's usually in the first few days of a chick's life, so checking each chick daily for the first few days is important if you don't want to lose them to pasty butt.

3. Death by Chilling

Baby chicks can't self-regulate their body temperature until they have grown in their adult feathers at around 8 weeks of age. So one simple way to kill baby chicks is to not provide them adequate, consistent heat for the first few weeks. 

When chicks hatch under a mother hen, she'll keep them warm. (A chicken's average body temperature is between 105 and 107 degrees F.) When you raise them in a brooder, you need to provide them constant heat 24/7. 

Newly hatched chicks should be in an environment that is about 95 degrees, then the heat can be gradually lowered 5 degrees a week. A red heat lamp with a clamp or a heating plate like this are the most common ways to keep  chicks warm. 

If a chick gets wet or cold, then often can't recover and might die even days later. So keeping them warm is key. 

4. Death by Drowning - Chick Scenario

Another sure way to kill your chicks is by drowning. Baby chicks tend to be top-heavy and can easily topple into their water dish/waterer and drown. Or, get wet and chilled and die (see #1).

So it's very important to use a shallow container for their water the first few weeks. It's also a good idea to put some small stones or marbles into the dish to further prevent drowning accidents. 

Some people like to use the nipple-style waterers, but I'm not a fan of those. 

Chickens and other birds don't naturally nurse or drink from nipples in the wild, so I think it's much more natural for them to drink from a dish - since they would be drinking from puddles, streams or water collected in leaves, etc. out in nature.

But, one safe solution is the autofill cup-style waterers that elevate the water source so it's harder for the chicks to fall into it. 

So let's assume you've sidestepped these common ways to kill baby chicks. That doesn't mean you're out of the woods. In fact, just the opposite. 

Once they go outside, your chickens are faced with a whole new set of challenges - and all sorts of things that can kill them. 

5. Death by Drowning - Adult Scenario

While an adult chicken won't drown in a dish of water, they certainly could drown in a swimming pool or water trough, so keeping chickens away from deep water sources is critical. 

You might have seen ticktock videos of chickens floating around in the water, but once their feathers get waterlogged, they'll quickly sink to the bottom like a stone.

While chickens do have some waterproofing on their feathers, it's not quite to the extent that ducks and other waterfowl have. So be aware of water that your chickens might fall into. They're not ducks.

6. Death by Aspiration

Believe it or not, chickens don't even need to be near a body of water to drown or aspirate. If you find yourself having to administer something to your chicken by mouth with an eyedropper or syringe, you need to be careful not to asphyxiate her.

Chickens have three holes in their mouths. One hole is on the top of the mouth. That hole goes to the sinus cavities. 

The second hole is just behind the tongue. It's called the glottis and all birds have one. That one is their airway that goes to the respiratory system, i.e. lungs.

The third hole is further back and that one goes to the crop and digestive system. If you try to give a chicken liquid and it goes down the second hole, their lungs could fill with water and they could aspirate and ultimately die. 

So when you administer liquid to a chicken, you should either drip it on the very tip of the lower beak, or be sure the eyedropper/syringe is pushed back far enough to go down the third hole. 

Or, and this is the most preferable method, try to get the chicken to drink on their own from a small bowl or spoon.

7. Death by Poisoning - Toxic Plants

Just like humans can be sickened or die from eating toxic plants, so can chickens. 

Eating poisonous plants might not immediately kill them, although ingesting water hemlock or foxglove probably would, but it's not a great idea. So learning which plants are chicken-safe is a good idea.

And it goes without saying that when you start raising chickens, any use of herbicides, pesticides or pretty much any other type of chemical application outside is off limits. 

I hate to say it, but you're going to have to learn to embrace having weeds taking over your lawn.

8. Death by Commercial Cleaning Products

And it's not just weed killer that can kill your chickens. Substances like antifreeze, gasoline and oil, car wash, lighter fluid, Windex, etc. are all toxins that need to be kept out of reach of your chickens if you want to keep them alive. 

And mixing bleach and ammonia is a terrible idea (see #17), so keep the bleach far away from your chicken coop.

Chickens also love to eat insulation, for whatever reason. So that's another thing to keep in mind.

Dumping the bucket of water outside after you wash or wax your kitchen floors is a bad idea when you have chickens. 

Unless you're using 100% natural cleaners in your home (which is a great idea for your family and other pets, anyway), and even then probably not the best thing to leave out for your chickens to investigate.

9. Death by Poisoning - Toxic Treats

Another way to potentially kill your chickens is to offer them what I call "toxic treats". These are things that could make them sick or kill them in large enough amounts or if fed for long periods of time. 

Some of these toxic treats include dried beans, avocados, onions, cherry pits, apple seeds, and white potatoes, plants in the nightshade family including tomato, eggplant and pepper. 

And of course alcohol, chocolate, fried or overly salty foods should be off-limits as well. 

10. Death by Heavy Metal

It's not just the flora that occurs naturally in nature that can be deadly to chickens. So can random pieces of metal, glass or wire. 

Dubbed "hardware disease" when birds inadvertently gobble up shiny pieces of metal or metal shavings, loose change, screws, or washers, the metals can poison them if they don't get to the vet in time, not to mention the risk of a sharp nail or screw puncturing an internal organ. 

So go ahead and leave all that debris the construction workers left after they finished their job if you want to kill your chickens. They sure are attracted to shiny things!

11. Death by the Family Dog

Although pretty much everything outside wants to eat your chickens, it's the family dog that has the distinction of being the #1 killer of backyard chickens. 

Your friendly, floppy golden retriever might not mean any harm when she chases the chickens or picks up a chicken and shakes it. 

After all, it's basically a fast-moving, squeak toy to her. But guaranteed the chicken won't like it - and may not survive. 

Training your family pet to leave the chickens alone is crucial to their survival. After all, a well-trained dog is actually one of the best deterrents to attacks from other types of predators.

And yes, your golden is still a good girl, even if she did a bad thing!

12. Death from the Sky

Hawks are probably the next most-feared predator after dogs when it comes to chickens. 

Because they're federally protected, you can't harm hawks or other raptors, so you're left to trying to figure out ways to protect your chickens from hawk attacks in ways that won't hurt the hawks - unless you actually meant to raise chickens just to feed the hawks.

13. Death by Land

Of course hawks aren't the only predators you need to be aware of. If you free range your chickens, it's never going to end well ultimately. 

It only takes one predator one time - and trust me, they're out there and they're biding their time.

From foxes and raccoon to coyotes and bears, pretty much anything out there will kill your chickens if you give them the opportunity. 

For example, letting your chickens out to free range all day and then going to work is pretty much a recipe for disaster.

And that isn't even taking the nocturnal predators into consideration, just leave your coop unlocked for a few nights and see how many chickens you have left. 

Or better yet, use chicken wire on your coop or run. The neighborhood raccoons will thank you. As will the weasels.

14. Death by Breathing

The dangers that exist for your chickens are nearly endless. 

Some you can see and anticipate like predators or toxic plants, while others are more tricky. For example, there are countless respiratory illnesses that are highly infectious and can be passed from chicken to chicken. 

Avian flu is probably the most common, since there's no cure and it kills millions of chickens every year in commercial facilities and backyards. 

The best ways to infect your flock with a deadly respiratory illness include:

  • using less than reputable "breeders" or hatcheries
  • swapping supplies and egg cartons back and forth with friends and neighbors who have chickens
  • inviting other chicken keepers to visit your chickens
  • not have dedicated footwear for doing your chicken chores

Just pratice some basic bad biosecurity and watch how quickly you might be dealing with an infectious disease.

15. Death by Fire

While baby chicks need heat to stay warm, the same doesn't go for healthy, adult birds. 

Setting up a heat lamp in your chicken coop this winter is a great way to not only kill all your chickens, but also possibly burn down your house and garage, if they're close by.

Don't believe me? Every single year, there are multiple coop infernos across the country that could have easily been avoided. 

16. Death by Heat Stroke

While chickens don't have much trouble staying warm in the winter (without any heat), chickens do have a hard time staying cool in the summer. 

It's pretty easy to give your flock heat stroke by not providing plenty of cool water and shade in the summer. 

Not learning the signs of heat stroke or keeping electrolytes on hand is a surefire way to lose some chickens this summer. And it's not only far southern climates where the heat can be detrimental.

Chickens are comfortable at far lower temperatures than you might think - and handle heat for worse than you might think.

17. Death by Ammonia

Chicken manure naturally contains ammonia. 

If those fumes can't escape the chicken coop, they can actually kill your chickens. By the time you smell anything, the coop is probably way past needing a cleaning. Remember, a chicken only stands about a foot above the bedding.

Good ventilation in a chicken coop is essential year round. Adding some fresh garlic cloves to the water is also thought to help reduce the amount of ammonia in chicken poop. 

Or, seal that coop up tight and you have yet another way to kill your chickens.... accidentally, of course.

And of course, cleaning your chicken coop with bleach is a terrible idea. Bleach and ammonia create toxic fumes when mixed together (see #8). So try using natural vinegar-based coop cleaner instead. 

18. Death by Mites

Poultry mites are dreaded by chicken keepers worldwide - and for good reason. 

A mite infestation can balloon if left unchecked and lead to anemia and eventually death in chickens. Fortunately, there are some (natural) ways to keep mites at bay.

19. Death by Flies

Mites aren't they only creepy crawly insect that can kill your chickens. Flies are another culprit. Or to be more accurate, I should say maggots. 

I will spare you the most of the gory details of a condition called fly strike - which is when maggots basically eat your chicken from the inside out - but if you're interested, you can read more about fly strike here. 

20. Death by Mosquitoes

Add mosquitoes to the winged insects that could possibly kill your chickens. They can spread fowl pox, which can be fatal in extreme cases. 

Installing window screens on your chicken coop windows (in addition to welded wire) can help to keep mosquitoes out, as can eliminating any sources of standing water.

Whatever you do, don't start spraying pesticides or insecticides all over your yard to combat mosquitoes, because that's another surefire way to harm your chickens (see #7). 

21. Death by Cannibalism

Almost as bad, or maybe even worse, is death by cannibalism. Chickens are truly omnivores and can and will eat almost anything. Even each other. 

They are naturally attracted to the color red and will attack flock mates who have a minor injury or scrape if they see any signs of blood. 

Adult chickens will kill young chicks if they are added to the flock too quickly or at too young an age. A broody hen will sometimes eat some of her baby chicks. 

And then, yes, the others might eat the deceased flock member. You should see what my chickens do to our Thanksgiving turkey carcass! 

22. Duel to the Death

Sometimes two roosters will fight to the death.  Cock fighting isn't exclusive to wild jungle fowl, unfortunately. 

Since chickens are attracted to the color red, if two roosters start fighting and one draws blood, it's all over. (And possibly where the saying "seeing red" came from.)

Occasionally an overzealous rooster will also kill a hen by mating too aggressively with her. Fortunately, keeping only one rooster is an easy fix to this potentially deadly problem.

23. Death by Egg

Believe it or not, a chicken can even be killed by an egg! Occasionally an egg can get stuck in the hen's oviduct and she's got about 48 hours to pass that egg or she'll die.

Sometimes the problem is a lack of calcium (which not only creates a nice, strong eggshell on the egg, but also helps to produce the contractions to push the egg out), but sometimes the egg can just be too big - possibly a double yolk egg

Either way, you've got to get the egg out before time runs out for that hen.

Anyway, I hope this article wasn't too discouraging and hasn't deterred you from raising a small flock of backyard chickens, because they do bring so much joy and meaning to life - not to mention all those fresh eggs - and they're not hard to raise at all. 


As long as you don't accidentally kill them.  Good luck!  

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