The dark side of poultry adventures

Published 5:00 pm Friday, July 5, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Early in my poultry adventure, I came across a TikTok tutorial warning, “Be prepared. Chickens will die no matter what you do or how well they are cared for.”

Sadly, I can confirm that the statement is accurate. Fred is gone, proving that chickens will die in spite of our best efforts.

On June 25, I came home and went outside to check on the flock. I discovered that Fred had died under circumstances I may never fully understand.

Email newsletter signup

Backyard flocks display an interesting dynamic of animal husbandry. There is a hierarchy of unwritten rules, a “pecking order” that is fascinating, intricate and yet sometimes difficult to witness.

Fred was the first and only offspring of the rooster Chanticleer and his favorite “hen wife” Perty. He was my firstborn grand-chicken, who was never meant to stay in our small but flourishing chicken family.

Early efforts to rehome Fred once he came of reproduction age had failed. Evidence from the crime scene indicates Fred’s death resulted from ongoing tensions created as he vied with his father for the hen’s affections. 

Interestingly, Fred displayed no injuries, but rather seemed to have fallen upside down into a tight space in which he became wedged and subsequently died from either heat exhaustion or stress.

Danielle Williamson, co-owner of Big Bean Farms, had warned me it might happen. When I purchased Fred’s parents, she cautioned me that casualties are a natural part of farming.

“Chickens are delicate,” she said. 

Apparently so.

Backyard poultry farming has been a learning experience. From hatching the first offspring to treating wounds and cleaning the coop, I have enjoyed harvesting eggs and watching as Chanticleer cares for his hens.

And, while I mourn Fred’s loss, I knew going into the venture that deaths might happen. I was as prepared as one can be when this turned out to be true.

Fred’s untimely demise did not bring quite the same grief I have felt over the death of a dog who shared my plate and followed my every footstep. It did, however, reverberate with the loss of time and care, an investment of my finances and emotions into a venture I hoped would endure through generations of chickens.

The experience gives me a new perspective, on a very small scale, of the challenges and joys farmers navigate. I can only imagine how such challenges affect the farmers who depend on the wellbeing of a flock or herd for their livelihood.

My takeaway from the situation: chickens will die. Care for them well, do all you can to provide good nutrition, fresh water and a clean coop. Do not get too attached, and never try to keep two roosters in a small flock.