When I let the birds out of the henhouse this morning, all of the kids came running out except for Patty. So I went in to find her, but she was no where to be found. So I looked around the chicken yard, and I noticed her in a secluded corner. The only place in the chicken yard that is hard to see, since it is behind a little structure I built for the kids to get extra shade on sunny days. The first thing I saw of her was her vent -- and it was wide open. I saw yoke, and I saw a half of an egg shell. I saw a little bit of blood, but not a whole lot. But boy, was that vent open. Her bottom was facing me. I couldn't see anything but her wide open vent, and some of her little feathered body. I couldn't see her head, but at the angle I had in view, that was not surprising. I called her name, but she didn't respond. Then I touched her very carefully with gloved hand. Her little body was stiff. Patty was dead. Rigor mortis had already set in. I locked the other birds back in the henhouse because I didn't want them to see their dead friend. Then I got a rake, and manuevered her little body from the corner where she was secluded. That is when I noticed that her head was completely missing. It had been eaten off. Given where she was, and the fact that she must have been left out in the chicken yard by accident last night, she could have put her little head through one of the holes in the chicken wire fence. Or it is possible that some creature of the night put its head in through the holes in order to eat her head off. At any rate, her head had been eaten completely to the neckbone. I don't know what killed her. Was she having trouble passing her egg, and went to a secluded place to be alone since she didn't feel well? Did she then get caught in that corner when the sun went down, and couldn't find her way back to the henhouse for the evening? (This secluded corner gets dark sooner than the rest of the chicken yard, since, after all, I built this little area to give the girls shade on sunny afternoons.). Or did she stay out for some reason last night (maybe because it gets dark in that secluded corner first and she couldn't find her way to the henhouse?) and she was attacked while she slept, and her vent just relaxed after death? But if that is the case, then why did I see half of an egg shell right outside of her vent? They don't form the shell until the last stages of the egg laying process, right? What happened? Do you all know? What can I do to keep this from happening from another hen sometime? Thanks in advance.