Dead chickens- infection? pyrethrin poisoning?


8 Years
Jun 19, 2011
I have (had) four chickens in a chicken tractor that moves every few days. I came home from a weekend away to find my rhode island, who had been looking a little droopy before I left (which I attributed to molting), with what I believe was water belly. She was only three, and it never got any better so we eventually put her down. However, in the process of examining her I realized she also had lice. I've never had problems with them before in 8 years of keeping chickens but we are on a new property so maybe they were around.

I scrubbed the coop and replaced all the bedding and dusted with diatomaceous earth (which I do every time I change the litter anyway) and sprayed the walls down with pyrethrin at the dilution advised on the bottle. I also gave each of the chickens a spray around the vent area, where the worst of the lice seemed to be. I repeated the treatment for the chickens 7 days later. That was six days ago- this morning I found my barred rock dead in the house. She showed no symptoms and her belly was definitely not swollen, so I don't believe it was what killed my rhode island. I didn't feel any eggs or anything stuck in her crop, but her vent looked green (not sure how many hours she had been dead) and she smelled strongly of rotten eggs.

Any ideas what could be killing my chickens? I've had chickens randomly drop dead before, but not like these. I was wondering if the pyrethrin could have killed the second chicken? I'd like to find out before treating the remaining chickens again (still haven't beaten the lice). Only other thing I can think of is that I do feed them produce out of the garden, and maybe they ate a bad tomato and got some kind of bacterial infection?

Any ideas would be appreciated, I would like to spray the pyrethrin again before the lice get out of hand, but now I'm afraid of using it. What would you do? Clean out the house again and bleach? Just change the litter and dust? Risk the spray?

Ebony Rose

Free Ranging
13 Years
May 26, 2009
David, Chiriquí, Panama
Stop using the DE... it's a respiratory hazard to your chickens and doesn't do the job of ridding your coop and birds of the lice and mites as well as proponents would have you believe. I personally feel that it does more harm than good. Permethrin has low toxicity for birds but is toxic to fish and honeybees and highly toxic to cats. It is an ingredient in shampoo used to effectively treat head lice in humans. It is approved for use in poultry housing, where it is a treatment against lice, mites, ticks, and bedbugs. No withdrawal period is specified. Can put this in their nest boxes, bedding, roost, and directly onto your birds without ill effect. Your description of the symptoms of the hen that died and smelled strongly of rotten eggs may have had salpingitis, a reproductive disorder common in high production breeds of chickens at all stages of their life, and also common with other breeds of older hens. She may have been laying internally, the yolks rotting inside, causing infection. The only way to know for certain would be to perform, or have performed for you, a necropsy (animal autopsy); if you still have her body and if it's been refrigerated (not frozen). You can do a google search for 'poultry necropsy (and whatever state you're in (if you're in the States)) to find a laboratory willing to do this service. Typically the price is nominal, and worth the money to learn the exact cause of death for members of your flock. With that information, another google search of whatever the lab reports to you will help you determine if the problem was just with the one hen, or a flock wide epidemic waiting to flourish.


Sep 3, 2019
Sorry for your loss. I haven't had any lice problems,but my chickens do dust bathe in the ashes from burning tree limbs that fall. I also save some to sprinkle in the coop after a cleaning.

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