WARNING - GRAPHIC AND SENSITIVE CONTENT
The one thing I have learnt is that not all birds will live the expected length of life as all the books point hopefully towards. So many factors come into play, such as environment, exposure to disease, genetics and predators.
ISA Browns are typically short lived (3-4 year average) as their high egg laying ability shortens their life span compared to less frequent layers. And every time I state this someone will send me an email to tell me how their Henrietta lived for a magical 7 years! Not laying, but living.
Being aware of a breed’s life expectancy does help in planning ahead of time.
- When they have lived a long life, the first indicator that they are nearing the end of their life is a drop in or ceasing of egg laying.
- Any eggs laid are likely to be of a much poorer quality. Egg shells may be jelly-like or missing altogether in some cases. Egg whites may be very watery.
- High egg output breeds will tend to show more kidney, liver and heart disorders. Keep an eye on their poos and comb colour (goes darker) as will be the key indicators to these organs being under increased stress. Yellow, green and watery squirty poos are very common.
- Feather and leg scale quality usually reduce significantly as their preening gland or the desire to preen may also reduce.
- Food consumption may also decrease as their energy use changes.
This type of death is usually an observable decline or a sudden overnight death.
Most hens die overnight and are in a state of rigamortis when discovered. Autopsy is quite difficult in this state but not impossible, if you should wish to explore the cause of death.
In a declining hen, she is likely to look:
- Uninterested in foraging or treats
- Comb and wattle become increasingly darker
- Poos will be a different colour and consistency
- Not laying
- No signs of nasal discharge, crackling breathing, lesions or swellings.
As soon as a hen shows signs of disease or infection they should be isolated away from the rest of the flock immediately into quarantine. Observe the remaining hens for signs of illness.
Seek veterinary advice for treatment and advice to prevent further outbreaks.
In cases such as Mareks, the sick hen should be put down, immediately.
The vet is able to do this at a cost. A mobile vet or one that does house calls is preferable in order to contain the disease. This is usually done by having the bird inhale the gas from Isoflurane within a container.
If you are not able to bear the cost, chopping off the head or snapping of the neck will be necessary.
The best type of knife is a very heavy blade such as meat cleaver. The severing of the head from the neck should take only one to two blows from a heavy hit.
It is not advisable to allow a bird with a contagious disease to die naturally unless the quarantine is of a very high standard and all quarantine protocols are strictly observed so as to prevent further spread of the disease.
Some diseases such as Infectious Bronchitis (IB) tend to see poultry pass away within 3 days. Kept in strict quarantine, they will pass within that expected period of time, but it is distressing to observe their suffering.
Not all predator attacks will result in immediate death and still may require your mercy to end life.
Most cats and dogs do not usually kill poultry. The exception are the wild, non-domesticated felines. Dogs who have killed before are more likely to kill again as they get the taste for blood. They tend to tear the bodies, not decapitate.
Hawks and owls are also possible predators of poultry, in certain districts. They tend to go for the youngest and most vulnerable such as chicks, first. If they attack the hens, the eyes are the most frequently eaten out. Many hawks are quite small so they prefer food closer to their size.
Fox attacks are the most common predator.
- Foxes can attack day or night and can fit through the smallest of holes that can seem almost impossible.
- Typically, foxes look for handy accesses to fenced yards such as jumping from object to shed to fence to yard.
- Burrowing under fences can be dissuaded by strong wire fencing that is bent in or out of the yard. This fencing can be buried in the ground 30cm deep by 30cm wide on the bend.
- Foxes live in both urban and rural environments.
- Mode of attack is to decapitate as many hens, if not all, and come back for repeat visits to collect their kill for as long as they can.
How to dispose of dead poultry
Methods may include:
- Bag wrapped for the bin
Other methods such as burning of deceased birds should only to done in areas that are appropriate and not during a fire restriction season. Burning of the carcasses may be necessary for rural areas due to a lack of rubbish collection and the importance of containing any disease outbreaks.
Burial of a bird needs to be very deep. This is because the smell of death will encourage foxes to come and dig them up. If a fox has taken the dead bird, they are likely to return for a second or third night to the same spot while the smell of death remains in that patch of soil. They may even mark that spot as being empty by leaving their own scat (poo) on top.
Some semi-rural and rural poultry owners may even avoid burying the dead birds, and just lay them out in a paddock or creek bed for predators to consume instead. So the circle of life goes.
During summer’s extreme heat, and bin day being many days off, place the wrapped bird in either a temporary sealed bin down behind the shed in the yard or, if you have room, in the freezer until bin day.
Yes and no.
Typically, all life can be composted but in doing so it may encourage rats and foxes to visit your yard. The smell of death can be very over powering even for your neighbours, if not buried sufficiently.
Do not compost a hen that died from a disease. Bagging disposal is the appropriate method in that situation for correct quarantine and containment of the disease.