Why are Backyard Chickens Dying?

Mortality in chickens can be heartbreaking for any chicken keeper. None of my backyard chickens died when I started keeping chickens. Until I decided to hatch my own eggs and scale up my flock. 

We had traveled for the day. When got back in the evening, I did not check on the chicks. The next day I found 4 dead chicks. I was perturbed. Every day after that, the chicks would become weak, collapse and die. The question I could not answer at that time was why my chickens are dying. 

Sometimes they will die suddenly with no symptoms. Some poultry keepers have experienced chicken deaths where the chickens died overnight. In the evening they locked in the healthy strong chickens but in the morning they find they had all died.  

Causes of death in chickens

Death in chickens can be caused by diseases, heart attack, poisoning, trauma, impacted crop, or egg binding. These causes of death can happen at any stage of the life of the chickens. However, most of the deaths happen during the first few months of the life of chickens. Some of these reasons for death in backyard chickens can be avoided while others are natural and the poultry keeper can do nothing about it.

Natural Causes

Once in a while chickens will just die. This is more common with young chicks. Out of every hatch, I have lost one or 2 chicks. Some hatches have zero mortality. 

Early chick mortality is very common in the poultry industry. A mortality rate of 1% to 5% has been deemed acceptable. The major cause of early chick mortality is genetic causes. This means the chicks have inherited one or more of the 21 known lethal gene mutations. These include congenital loco and congenital tremors that lead to mortality within the first week of hatching. 

There is nothing much that can be done with the natural causes of chick mortality. This is why it has become acceptable. However, there is a need to investigate further if the mortality rate is higher than 5%. This means there is another issue affecting the chicks, other than natural causes of death. 

Heart attack

Heart attack in chickens is a sudden death syndrome where the chicken dies without any symptoms of the disease. Chickens that die from heart attacks are usually found lying on the backs or their side. This has given the heart attacks in chickens the name Flip-over disease 

Some chickens experience tremors during heart attacks. Heart attacks, which have a 100% fatality rate are also known as acute heart failure, acute death syndrome, acute heart failure, or simply SDS. 

There is no cure for heart attacks in chickens. It can not be transmitted to other chickens or human beings and chickens are not carriers. 

The flip-over disease is more common in meat birds than in other backyard chickens. This is because meat birds, namely the cornish cross, experience rapid weight gains. In commercial settings, meat birds also experience a lot of stress due to space constraints and overfeeding. 

Regular exercise has been known to reduce the likelihood of cornish cross dying from heart attacks. Some poultry keepers limit feeding in order to slow down weight gain. After 3 weeks, they stop feeding meat birds throughout 24 hours. Adopting a feeding schedule that allows the chickens to access feed only for 12 hours a day slows down weight gain and the chances of dying from heart attacks. 

Egg binding

Egg binding is a condition where the egg gets stuck in the chicken and won’t come out. The chicken stays stationary with feathers fluffed out, just like broody chickens. The chicken experiences a lot of discomfort and pain. 

Also known as an obstructed vent, egg bound, stuck egg, or bound egg binding can be fatal. Egg binding is a condition that can be solved by the poultry keeper or a trained vet. 

Egg binding happens when the egg is too large for the passageway. It can be caused by nutritional deficiencies or imbalance. If you feed too much protein to your pullets, they can gain weight faster than their production system develops. 

The added imbalanced nutrients will lead to larger eggs being produced. When pullets start laying, they start with smaller eggs, and the size of eggs increases as they grow. This means the egg passageway increases in size as they get older. 

Egg binding has also been attributed to a lack of vitamin D, enough calcium, and magnesium. 

The signs of egg binding include an expanded abdomen, fluffed out feathers, loss of appetite and the chicken stops laying. What makes egg binding dangerous is that other eggs continue being developed and released from the ovary. The eggs can also break, and cause injuries. The accompanied infections can be fatal. Additionally, egg biding can lead to vent prolapse which can lead to injuries and infections because other chickens will start pecking at the prolapsed vent. 

Egg binding can be prevented by allowing chickens to have exercise by letting them forage in the yard. This will also allow them to seek nutrients that they might be missing in their feed. Do not feed your layer chickens with imbalanced feed, as these will lead to un marched development of their reproduction systems vis a vis their bodies.

When encountered with a situation where your chicken is egg bound, the first course of action is to separate it from the other chickens. Feel the abdomen and if the egg is near the vent, lubricate the vent slowly and carefully so as to help the egg come out. Wear latex gloves and use an appropriate lubricant. Care should be taken not to break the egg because the broken shell can injure the chicken. Call a vet in the event that you are not able to help the chicken pass the egg. 

Poisoning

Chickens can easily get poisoned, This is because they investigate anything that seems edible with their beaks. Chemicals such as bleach, antifreeze, essential oils, and medications for other animals, if not stored well, pose a risk to your chickens. They should be stored well, out of reach of your chickens. 

Another way chickens get poisoned is through lead. This can be found in batteries, oils, lead shots, gasoline, and paint. Lead can not only kill your chickens through acute lead poisoning but also contaminate their meat and eggs. 

The symptoms of acute lead poisoning in chickens include lack of appetite, loss of weight, weakness, and drop in egg production. 

The poison used to get rid of rodents like rats and mice can also kill your chickens. If you are using poison to kill rats and mice, make sure chickens will not also ingest it. Make sure you get rid of the dead rats, as chickens will eat them and the poison that killed the rats will get into their systems, leading to death.

External and Internal Injuries

Chickens can get external and internal injuries, of which some can be fatal. 

Injuries in chickens can be caused by physical objects. Any protruding and sharp objects can injure chickens. These include sharp wires and nails in the coop and run. 

Another cause of external injuries includes other chickens pecking on one chicken. This happens when one chicken has a wound that has blood. Other chickens will start pecking at the wound. Seems they like the taste of blood. The wound gets bigger and bigger and eventually infected. This can be fatal. 

Chickens can also get injured by roosters. Too many roosters with fewer hens is a sure way of getting your hens injured. The roosters will try to mate with the few hens, sometimes several roosters climbing on one hen at once. This can lead to both internal and external injuries. 

Incorrectly placed feeders can also cause injuries. One of my meat birds died when its head got stuck on a hanging feeder that I had placed too high. The other chickens kept turning the feeder round and round as they fed. This twisted the neck of the cornish cross chicken that had its neck stuck on the feeder, leading to its death. 

Internal injuries in chickens can be caused when they experience physical trauma that does not break their skins but injures internal tissues. This can be caused by being knocked against a blunt object, especially when being chased by a rooster. 

Chickens can also inject sharp objects such as glass particles or small nails and wires. These objects will tear parts of the gastrointestinal system, leading to internal bleeding and eventually death.

Impacted crop

An impacted crop occurs when a chicken ingests materials that it cannot digest. The indigestible material gets stuck in its crop. Examples of these are wood chips, straw, twine, wood dust, straw, rocks, or hay.   The crop expands as more feed comes it until there is a blockage. The chicken gets hungry, continues eating and the crop continues to expand. This leads to discomfort and starvation, which can lead to death. 

The chicken crop is a part of the digestive system, where feed gathers during the day, before being processed in the evening. During the day, as the chicken feed, the crop expands to the size of a tennis ball in big chickens and the size of a golf ball for smaller chickens. At night, the chicken digests the food in the crop. The small pebbles are passed on to the gizzard. In the morning, the crop is empty and cannot be felt by hand. 

Exterior signs of an impacted crop in chickens is that the chicken exhibits funny head and neck movements as if it is dancing. This is because it is trying to get the mass in its crop to pass. To test for an impacted crop, feel the chicken crop in the morning before the chicken starts to feed. If the crop is still full, chances are high that the chicken has an impacted crop.  

To prevent impacted crop in chickens, make sure that chickens do not have access to objects that they can eat and not digest or pass through their crops. Keep the coop, run and yard clear of such objects. 

The cure for impacted crop in chickens includes giving the chicken materials that aid in the digestion of tough fibers such as pawpaw. Lubricating oils such as olive oil or a mixture of magnesium citrate and mineral oil can be given to aid in passing the mass stuck in the crop. 

If you have tried everything possible to cure the impacted crop and failed, the next course of action is either surgery or culling.

Dehydration

Dehydration in chickens is be caused when their water body levels drop. This can be caused by a lack of enough water and heat causing loss of body moisture due to hot weather. 

The body of chickens comprises 70% water. When the water levels in a chicken’s body drop, they start affecting normal body functions such as respiration, digestion, movement, and all other body movements. A loss of 10% water in chickens can lead to death. 

Symptoms of dehydration in chickens include panting, pale combs, wings spread away from their bodies, diarrhea, and eventually seizures and convulsions. 

To prevent dehydration in chickens, make sure they have free access to water at any given time. Chickens mostly feed on dry feed. This dry feed will absorb moisture in their bodies. This is the reason chickens drink twice the amount of water as feed consumed. In summer, when it is hot, provide cooling systems such as fans and mists and most important, drinking water. 

Treating dehydration in chickens is done by providing water and electrolytes. Electrolytes are micronutrients needed for the normal functioning of the body. They are lost easily during dehydration. 

Diseases

If you find that your chickens are dying one by one, chances are high that they are sick and the disease is spreading from chicken to chicken. Diseases in poultry affect their normal bodily functions, making them sick. Some diseases lead to death while others can be treated. It is advisable to administer appropriate treatment for the disease or seek help from a trained professional. 

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About James

I grew up on a small farm. My parents used to grow food and keep animals for our sustenance. They would sell the surplus to make an extra coin to supplement the income from their jobs. I am taking the same path. I have over 40 chickens for eggs and meat. I also grow vegetables in my backyard

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