What to do when a chicken dies unexpectedly

If you raise chickens you may be confused when a chicken dies unexpectedly with no apparent reason. What do you do when this happens? You should not just bury it or ever eat it. Instead, you should investigate the reason it died without warning. Why? To be sure it did not die of a disease that may be contagious to the rest of your flock, you, or your family.

Any time a sick chicken dies suspiciously, your State veterinarian should be contacted immediately. Many may let you know that they only want to be contacted if 3 or more birds die unexpectedly within a few days. Either way, keeping them in the loop is the best practice. They may be able to  assist in a FREE disease investigation, which includes a necropsy of the deceased bird(s)

When I found one of my hens lying on the coop floor, not moving and gasping for air, I knew she was going to die shortly. I decided to put her out of her misery instead of letting her suffer. I decided the quickest way was to cut off her head. In hindsight, I should have wrung her neck. Why? To preserve the body in case the vet wanted to do a necropsy.

When a chicken dies suddenly, and especially when multiple chickens die, a necropsy will reveal what the cause was. Not cutting off the head may help identify what she died of. The State vet does not think it is Avian Flu or a highly contagious disease but a necropsy would be certain.

I called the State Vet and she had me call the University of Maine Animal Health Diagnostic Lab where I have left a message. At this time, the body is two days old and may be too old to test.

The State Vet also told me that they would pay for the testing if I could get the body to the lab, which is 2 hours north. She also emailed me links to websites to get information about respiratory illnesses in poultry.

If you have multiple birds die, the USDA should also be contacted at 1-866-536-7593.

Always preserve the body for a necropsy by keeping it cold, never frozen, until further instruction is given by a vet.

Here are links to find your State Vet:

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