Chickens get lethargic and die


Jun 17, 2017
Hello! I'm a first-time poster but a long-time lurker. So we had one of our hens die yesterday and I'm not sure why. This is going to be a long post but hopefully it will provide enough details so you guys can help me figure out what happened. Before I dive into the explanation, I will say that we no longer have the bird's body, so I can't get it autopsied, unfortunately.
This starts about a year ago, according to the time stamp on a picture from my phone, we had a hen (Clementine) die rather suddenly. She appeared listless and puffed up a few days leading up to her death and her comb also changed color towards the end, getting a little black on the tips. We (first-time chicken owners) gave her a probiotic/electrolyte mix, thinking she could be stressed from the heat. She would drink but didn't seem very hungry. I should also mention that we don't have a vet that will take chickens where we are, and since this was quite some time ago I don't remember what her poop was like. She did seem to lose weight before she died.
Now we had a hen die yesterday from somewhat similar conditions. She (Poppy) got listless. I made sure she had plenty of water and I got her to eat but her appetite decreased. She was a very lightweight bird to begin with but she seemed to get lighter leading up to this. Her comb also started to list to one side. She seemed to be doing better until yesterday morning. I went out to their coop and her comb was turning blackish at the tips. She couldn't walk, or hardly stand. She would fall over. She would also "drool" clear liquid. I isolated her in a dog crate and put her inside to monitor her. I work full time and I'm not their primary caretaker (I was off that day) so I don't know about her poop. She didn't poop while I had her. She would nap most of the time leading up to her death but then randomly stand up, look around like she didn't know where she was, then sit back down again and doze off.
She would drink but she wouldn't accept the yogurt I tried to feed her. I got her to drink a water/apple cider vinegar mix and she "threw up" a clear/brown liquid. A few hours later I gave her the same electrolyte mix we gave Clementine. She seemed to do OK. Then a few hours after that she stood up and looked at me, making swallowing motions, and promptly shook her head, spraying all the liquid I had fed her all over the place. She fell over on her side, flapping, made gasping noises almost like she was straining and died. :(
Out of the seven birds we've had, only the two of them have died like this, and since Clementine died overnight and didn't "drool" the day before I'm not sure if it's the same thing. They are all from a feed store, so unknown breed, and I should mention that Poppy was from a different "batch" a year after we got Clementine. They were also different breeds, Clementine looking like a Road Island Red, while Poppy looked kinda like a white Leghorn. We have also since moved states so I have no way of getting hatchery information. We have pine shavings in their coop currently, and use straw in the winter. That's all of the details I can think of. I know chickens can't technically throw up so I'm worried about the liquid she would drool. I changed the coop bedding after she died. I'm worried about that same thing happening to our other hens and not knowing what to do about it.


7 Years
Dec 25, 2012
Big Bend of the Tennessee River's Right Bank.
:welcome :welcome :welcome :welcome :welcome :welcome :welcome
The things that you listed could be any thing or everything that chickens are subject to.
It seems that this is a long term ailment so I will guess that Poppy died from some form of Mareks Disease. Your aviator information is lacking information about your location. However there is a program at most Land Grant colleges to preform free necropolis on dead chickens.


Free Ranging
5 Years
Feb 14, 2014
Consett Co.Durham. UK
Hi and welcome to BYC. I am so sorry it is under such sad circumstances.

As stated by the previous poster, the cause could be anything. That said this second hen, Poppy, may have had some sort of impaction, because clearly even liquids were not going through her system.....gravity normally takes liquids down into their digestive tract, so the fact that fluid came out when she shook her head indicates there was a blockage somewhere, in my opinion. This can be caused by eating long fibrous material.... I had to perform crop surgery on a hen twice this year that insisted on eating long strands of straw/hay. This formed a soggy plug in her crop which prevented food from getting to her digestive tract, effectively starving her. I lost a couple of hens a few years ago with impacted gizzards, where long grass from giving them access to grass cuttings got clogged up in their gizzard in a similar way. Sometimes it can be as a result of tumours growing and blocking the passage of food or even a bad worm infestation. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing for sure unless you send the bird for a necropsy or open it up yourself and have a look.

All of these issues will have been going on for some considerable time....weeks or even months.... before the bird started to show signs of sickness. They do their utmost to hide illness as long as they can. They both lost weight though and that is something that you can monitor regularly in your remaining birds to tip you off that there is a problem before it becomes too serious. A weekly check of the birds when they are on the roost at night. Check their crop, weight and body condition (the flesh covering their breast bone) Also, once they start to lose weight, they will stop laying, combs start to look dry and wizened. The dark purple colour is usually the organs shutting down....particularly heart and lungs and my guess would be that Poppy's heart stopped through dehydration/starvation in the end.

Fingers crossed this will be the end of your run of bad luck for now. Unfortunately chickens are prone to many illnesses and ailments and many are not destined to live long lives, so there is quite a bit of heartbreak as well as lots of joy in keeping chickens.... hopefully you will have a long spell of the latter with your remaining girls.

Best wishes


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