Dealing with the Loss of a Flock Member

~Some of our original flock - Summer 2009~
If you raise chickens long enough, you will end up losing one - and 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.  As my grandmother who raised chickens nearly her whole life used to say "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.  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.

Our first loss came early on. A young pullet fell into our duck pool and drowned. I was devastated.  Then one spring a baby chick was eaten by a black snake - right in our garage! Another traumatic episode.  And then the devastating blow: Three Christmases ago, a pair of brazen foxes dug underneath our barn in broad daylight to gain access to our run.  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 were all gone....

~Puddles, my Rouen duck~
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.

Although I never wanted to see another chicken ever again, and in the blink of an eye walking down to the coop had become something I dreaded instead of enjoyed, I did care for them...although through that long winter they never emerged from the coop. Not once.  It wasn't until spring that they dared venture out - and then they were confused about where their friends had gone, and wandered aimlessly looking for them.

~Charlotte, Orange Chicken and Lucy were the sole survivors of the fox attack~
But the three survivors, Orange Chicken, a Rhode Island Red, Charlotte, an Australorp, and Lucy, a Cuckoo Marans, healed in time, as did my heart, and a batch of 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.

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. You also 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. 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...

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.

~some of our current flock with Orange Chicken still front and center~
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 someone or 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.

~ I sometimes wonder if these girls still remember the attack and still miss the others?~
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 die last year from neurological problems caused by being attacked).  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 even more so to all the little feathered friends who have been lost~

48 comments:

  1. What a beautiful, beautiful post. I can see how pure your love is for your little friends, and why you do what you do. We are all so fortunate to have you sharing your experience and expertise with us, and I know that there are so many that appreciate all you do, including myself.

    Hugs to you, friend!
    Kristi

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    1. Thank you Kristi. Your words mean so much.

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  2. We just lost 3 of our 5, 8 week old silkies to cocci last week. It all happened so fast I'm just thankful I was able to save the 2 in time. Before starting the whole chicken thing I didn't think I would have a hard time with that kind of thing, but when you spend so much time with them and they all have a personality it's hard not to grow attached. I hope we don't have any more losses for a while.
    Thanks for writing this post.

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    1. You sure do...surprised me as well.

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    2. So sorry to hear about your silkies. We have two 11 wk olds buff orpington's. We had blk austrlorp just pass away last week @ 10 wks of age. It is our first flock as well and you do get way more attached than originally thought. They are all so different and unique- esp when raising from peep stage it's hard not to become so attached & invested. Their like children. I hope the other two silkies are doing ok and will pull through.

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  3. How sad! I'm so sorry you lost so many of your flock. I, too, would be devastated if anything happened to one of my girls (or my boy!). I agree....the phrase "they're just chickens" doesn't sit well with me. My chickens are truly part of the family!!

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  4. I'm all teary now - I want to go hug a hen!

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  5. What a touching post. I don't have chickens but your pain and suffering and love you felt and feel for your chickens is very apparent. Lovely post!

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  6. Beautiful post and it says all that most of us have felt and experienced. I've learned to take it one day at a time. I celebrate the accomplishments, mourn the losses, but never let it dampen my enjoyment for my flock. It's been a learning experience thankfully with more ups then downs. And the ups definitely make up for the downs.

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  7. That was very comforting. It's to know that there are so many others out there that feel the same way about chickens that I do.

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  8. I can directly relate to this after losing my first flock of pullets at only 8 weeks old to the neighbor's dog, who tore their way into the chicken tractor and massacred them all at once. When I found the slaying, the dogs were still in the tractor, and it wasn't until I let out the loudest shriek that I ever produced that got them running with their little tails between their legs back home. Yes, I can relate, but it has caused me to love each and every one of my hens like there is no tomorrow. I give them the best life possible and they return joy to me a thousand fold. Chicken love to you Lisa! With aloha, Lisa

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    1. Oh my!!! I can totally relate to your story since I have two chicken tractors. I just can't begin to imagine that happening. How devastating!! Makes my heart hurt to even think about what you witnessed. I sure hope that you had a nice "heart-to-heart" with your neighbors! I know I sure would.

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  9. Thanks for this. I just recently lost my white cochin. She was 5 years old. It happened so fast and I just can't get used to her being gone.

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  10. Chickens are amazing creatures. I am so thankful we are able to have them around our barnyard. We have a few from our original flock which is a miracle! One in particular just melts my heart. I get sad just thinking of the day when she won't be at the side door every morning to nap with cats on the porch. Or take her snooze with the pig. She has so much personality! Blessings!:)

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  11. Very nice, but sad post, Lisa. And also a very helpful one too. I lost my sweet little silver laced polish this winter. She was just a tiny girl and evidently when she was on the roost in the coop part of my chicken tractor, she either got knocked off the roost or something and fell between the back door of the coop and the half wall on the inside. It was literally a 3 1/2 inch gap between the two but somehow she managed to slip down between the two and eventually suffocated during the night. When I opened the back door to put in feed and water, she fell right on my feet. I just stood there frozen because it just wouldn't register as to what I was seeing. When it did, all I could do was pick her up, hold her and bawl my eyes out for about 20 minutes while telling her over and over how sorry I was. She was the sweetest thing.... always wanted me to hold her and she made the sweetest sounds. (Tearing up now as a matter of fact.) As soon as I came in the house and told my husband, he immediately went out and closed up the space between the half wall and the door. It just breaks your heart when one of your flock passes for any reason. Thank you for all you and the other girls do here on FED. Love you gals!!

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  12. This was a wonderful post, I've been checking in on facebook all day to see how Orange Chicken is doing. I want to thank you for giving me so many of your wonderful flock last summer they have given me SUCH JOY everyday and I have learned so much from your blog. I didn't know their were people like you and me out there and its such a comfort that your so close. I love my girls and they really do seem to enjoy their lives. Thank you again Lisa. Sarah.

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    1. Sarah, I have been meaning to email you! I am so glad to hear the my girls are doing well! Any chance you might want two funny Saxony drakes? I have too many boys. They are hilarious, get along great with chickens, eat the same feed etc. Let me know...

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  13. We lost a special Brahma to a bobcat and I cried and cried. I ended up buying 12 more chicks and securing their areas. I love them all and know sadness will come.

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  14. Thanks for sharing this heart breaking story. As you know I am a disabled retiree. Home alone most of the time. After discovering your site earlyer this year, and loving it, I am also a backyard chicken raiser now. I was gifted with 11 different breeds of puffballs to start with. They were my babies.They got to be young pullet size, when the neighbors dog managed to get into my backyard and killed seven of them. It broke my heart. But what really hurt was that my grandaughter was with me when we made the awfull discovery. She fell to her knees crying and picked up her favorite one. We buried them next to my old mare. I thought ,no more. But I went to NC to visit my son and his family and found Colored Egg Homestead. My son bought 6 little puffballs from her as a gift to me. He told me to not give up on the chicks. Keep my head up and learn from my mistakes. So I flew home with 5 puffballs.Everyone sitting around us on the plane wanted to see them. I let them look thru the little carrier window, but not touch. Even the Pilot came to see them as we were getting off the plane! All the attention gave me more spirit to continue raising chickens. They really know how to get into a person's heart. :)

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  15. Oh my gosh, I didn't know I would be needing Kleenex to read blogs tonight!
    I had a sad loss too. More than once. I lost my beloved Australorp, and then several others to a disease that I stupidly brought in unknowingly! Oh how much I have learned since those first days of chicken farming. Like you, they are my pets. Not "just" chickens....no siree...they are my chicklets, my lovely little feathered friends. I lost two to coyotes this past Winter, and I was so sick over that. I have since taken more precautions than ever, and have not had any loss since.
    Love your blog!
    xo Kris

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  16. I have lost chickens before so I know how you feel. They are not just chickens for sure. Chickens can be as much a part of your life as a dog or any other pet. Had some baby chickens to drown one time it bothered me for a long time. Lost many to snakes, weasels, and possums. When you see them hatch and watch them grow they become so much a part of your life. I also had a grandmother who had chickens. I think that is why I love them so much. They are so much a part of farm life. My best memories are of my grandmother on the farm. Love your blog. Donna

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  17. This came at the perfect time. Sunday afternoon my flock was attacked by a fox. I lost 3 mallards (Larry, Moe & Curly), 1 australorp (Whoopie)and my favorite chicken ever, Sweetie Pie a RIR. Carol and Sandy, 2 RIRs are very injured and I hope they will survive. Amazingly 1 rooster, 3 other chickens, 2 ducks and a goose survived the carnage unharmed. I have only been doing this for about 16 months. I have fallen so in love with my feathered friends. I am so saddened and scared by the loss of them so violently. It helps to hear about other peoples experiences and to know other people love theirs as I do and mourn the loss of them.
    Thank you, Deb

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  18. So sad. This made me cry...I am not prepared to lose any of my girls. Can't I just believe they will be here a long time?

    hugs-Peg

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  19. Lisa ~ So sorry for your loss. We, too, have lost beloved fuzzy-butts (our pet name for our chickens)to age, foxes, hawks, illness & summer heat. We have fortified our chickens coop & have penned them in (we have had an influx of fox lately), we keep them in the shade in the summer & have their coop well-ventilated. We are keeping our fingers crossed that this keeps them safe & healthy. We love our girls & guy and it breaks our hearts when something happens to them. Please warn your readers about the need to keep their flock in the shade in the summer & to keep changing their water so that they always have something cool to drink. Best wishes to you & your fuzzy-butts.

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  20. My 11yo daughter recently lost her beloved pet Silkie hen to what we think was a raccoon. Her father and I were out of town for the night and she was staying with her grandmother. We all forgot about shutting the coop that night. When Grandma brought my daughter over to feed in the morning, the poor girl opened the coop to a nightmare. She was devastated. Luckily, no other chickens were lost or injured. Thank you for this post. I am not attached to the chickens, but my daughter surely is and her heart has been hurting!

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  21. Lisa,

    First I have to say I love your blog and have found it so helpful over the past 10 weeks of our first chicken ownership experience. Second, THANK YOU! This post came at such an important time for me. We got three chicks 11 wks ago (2 buff orp's & 1 blk australorp) and just last week we lost our blk australorp. We were out doing our usual evening free range time and Diana (blk australorp) got something in her mouth and began choking. My husband & I tried everything we could to save her, but it was no use. Being first time owners, the fact that she was still so young, of course my favorite, etc was so devestating to me. I thought what could I have done? What did I do wrong? Reading and talking to others have helped. I too was ready to throw in the "chicken towel" until I was told the remaining two needed more chickens incase something should happen to one of them, so yesterday I got two silkies. I'm scared to death of what may happen & am trying not to get too attached, but their so darn cute! Thank you again...a hard lesson for sure. Love to you and your flock.

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  22. Thank you for such a touching post, Lisa. Yes, I think most of us have been in your shoes and have had many of the same feelings. It's good to know I'm not alone. After losing a hen to a hawk this past winter, I still walk out there cringing that I'll find a chicken on the wrong side of the fence :( I've taken many precautions now to prevent it from happening (thanks to your advice!).

    Always enjoy your posts - even when they make me cry :)

    Paula

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  23. Oh Lisa, it's so hard isn't it.

    I have lost two of my girls, Hattie to Marek's and Betty to an unknown illness.
    It's horrendous, so very upsetting.

    I struggle to deal with losing them xxx

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  24. What a lovely post! I love my girls and when my first one died it was tragic, she was fine one day, gone the next, totally unexpected. We also had 2 die from unknown illness, it was hard with our Camilla, she was so badly sick from what we dont know, that my hubs had to care for her out of Mercy. It was his chicken and his first time having to do something like that. I cried. I am caring for a hen right now who has been getting hen pecked by the other girls, just moved her out and into a new place hoping to get her back into shape, I really dont want to see her die because of the pecking order. :( We have one chickie that is an Ameraucana that is about 7 years old and is still laying for us! I love my chicklets, more than I ever thought I would.
    Steph
    Farmchicsophisticate.blogspot.com

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  25. You described it perfectly. Over the past four years I have had my share of losses, although it was all to illness and not predator attacks. I think a predator attack would be so much harder to deal with and get over. My first few losses were incredibly devastating and I didn't want to keep chickens anymore (just like you mentioned) but after a time I healed and realized I couldn't live without them. I am a little less attached to our newer hens I think because I am still somewhat afraid to get as attached to them as I am to our original flock. Losses are never easy, but I've come to accept that they are going to happen and just a part of keeping chickens.

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    1. I had trouble getting too attached to our new batch as well....but in time the pain lessens and you just can't help yourself!

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  26. Lisa, you have read my mind. We lost our three lovely girls to a fox a bit over a week ago. These girls were not just chickens - they were our pets and family members, and it had almost gotten to the stage where, when I looked at them, I no longer saw chickens, but little kids running around in feathered clothing. (I'm pathetic.) I am currently experiencing the feeling of guilt you talk about - I was the one who decided to let them out the day of the incident (while we were out of town for the day), rather than leaving them in their coop. I now cannot bear to go out into the garden, let alone down to their chicken coop/run. Blurgh. It truly is a devastating thing. I'm so glad you've written this post. I'm glad that other people feel the way I do about this. I too loved my girls more than I ever thought possible.

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    1. So sorry...it happens to the best of us sadly...

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  27. What a wonderful post. I thought I was the only one who loved my chicks and ducks this much.
    Years ago, we lost our flock to a raccoon who had dug under and by the time my husband could get to them, we had been asleep, they were all gone. I'll never forget the feeling...the sounds and the images and mostly the guilt for not having kept them safer.
    Thank you for giving me the inspiration to start again. I did receive so much joy from them.

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    1. You are welcome and thank YOU for sharing that.

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  28. Thank you for sharing your heart. I don't have chickens yet (hopefully, next year), but I've been reading all your articles and saving them for easy reference. I want to be sure I start right and know all that's involved with raising healthy chickens. Your site will be my main go-to source for info!!

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    1. Wonderful! And I hope you will read my book too!
      http://astore.amazon.com/24laven-20/detail/0985562250

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  29. Thank you for sharing your heart. I don't have chickens yet (hopefully, next year), but I've been reading all your articles and saving them for easy reference. I want to be sure I start right and know all that's involved with raising healthy chickens. Your site will be my main go-to source for info!!

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  30. Thank you for your oost. Just TODAY Mr. Fox came late last night and got 3 of my chicks and 1 of my laying hens. He then attacked but couldn't get another laying hen. She is my girl. She is now in the garage in a tub of hay getting "better". I cried all morning and my husband babied them. Chickens are my favorite animals.

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  31. Before we had chickens i had a bird phobia, and i never and i mean never believed anyone who said that Chickens had personalities that they were fun and loveable, then we got our first hen and chick, before the chick was full grown, a rat dug under the coop and scared the hen to death, we like you went through all those emotions of guilt and devastation, we made a better coop and run. looking back I realise now that that loss of that beautiful hen, was the start of my bird phobia healing journey , we now have 12 hens and a cockeral, and they bring me joy everyday, thanks for sharing your story today, makes me realise how far I've come :-) Debi x

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  32. I am sitting on my break at work blinking back tears of my own. What a heartbreaking story. I wish I had a magic wand to make it so it never happened. You truly are an inspiration Lisa, I'm glad I found your blog and Facebook page before we started our flock. I've learned something each and every time I read something you've wrote. Thank you for all the help you give the rest of us. You're the best.
    Melody

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  33. So sorry to hear your sad news. I know they must feel like family members to you. It is obvious you care so much for your flock.

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  34. Thank you so much for this post! We just started keeping 5 hens that were given to us 3 weeks ago. One week ago 4 were killed by coyotes. We felt horrible and went through much that you described even though we had them such a short time. We took 2 days to decide if we wanted to continue with this venture and took the plunge by purchasing 4 hens to keep our poor survivor, Goldie, company.

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  35. Thanks all for the sweet comments. It's a rough subject but one that we all will most likely have to deal with at some time or another and when it happens its awful.

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  36. Just today we lost all 6 of our chicks- 3 of which our mother hen hatched herself. We've been crying all day. I wonder if mother hen will ever heal... We're planning on buying new babies that she'll hopefully adopt. It's so hard to lose so many chickens at once :( thank you so much for this post.

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