Unexplained Death- PM Exam Q's- Internal Laying?


9 Years
Feb 25, 2010
Our Speckled Sussex hen died today, and I'm not sure of why. She seemed to be her usual self over the past few days, and we found her in the hen house on the ground. We suspect that she died and then fell off of the roost that was just above her. She was almost 8 months old and was one of 20 other hens of various breeds. The others seem fine so far. If you have any suggestions for what might have caused her death, please chime in. My primary interest in determining the cause of death is in protecting the rest of the flock.

Note- If you don't want to read about the autopsy, don't read the rest.

I took her into a well-lit area for a post-mortem exam. I couldn't find any obvious signs of damage. Her feathers were all as they should have been, and she did not have any rigor mortis. Her feet and head were close to ambient temperature, and her core was somewhat warm, though certainly not regular body temperature. Her eyes were closed and her comb was fairly reddish. I opened her main body cavity from the top of her neck back to near her vent. I have only processed one other chicken, and he was a rooster of a different breed and a younger age- thus my norms aren't well established. Having said that, the internals looked mostly normal. The liver was a little larger than I would have expected- a medium handful from each half. Other than the size, it looked normal (color, texture). I didn't see any signs of parasites anywhere. I opened the crop and gizzard and found some leaves, grass, feed, and some coarse sand in the gizzard. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in this or the rest of the digestive tract. No sign of worms. The lungs looked fine, no signs of mucus in the nostrils etc. One thing that did seem abnormal was the quantity and quality of the fat. In the area around her vent, there were fat deposits that were approximately one inch thick and perhaps 5x5 in overall area. These deposits were yellowish, which led me to suspect internal laying. How much fat is normal, and are there any other indications of internal laying? Being my first PM, I didn't make a positive ID of the oviduct and ovaries- nothing seemed to obviously be them. Is that in itself a sign of an oviduct problem? There were some organs nestled tight against the spine that were about the size of large olives. They were whitish/pinkish in color and very squishy. Does anyone have any pictures of a healthy chicken's ovaries and oviduct?

We aren't sure if she has been (or ever was) laying- we collect eggs regularly, but with so many different chickens it is hard to know which eggs came from which chicken. At the time of inspection, her vent was about 3/8" diameter. It's hard to imagine an egg coming through that vent, but who knows. In retrospect, there were a few other things that I could have checked- but they say experience is something you get right after you need it.

Thanks in advance for your help.
To add another possibility, what about an impacted crop?

The crop was about the size of an egg, perhaps slightly larger. The crop and gizzard both smelled a little off (I think) and there were some dime-sized pieces of green leaves. What does a normal crop look like?

It wasn't very hard, but it did have a fair amount of stuff in it.
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I really don't know the answer to most of your questions. The fat is usually yellowish I think. It is not pure white. How many of the squishy olive things were there? Could be the spinal neurological tumors associated with mareks I guess. I would guess some of my BO have at least a 2 inch pad in their behinds. At least.

You should be able to find some pretty good diagrams of the interior of a bird. I know that I've seen some good photos of autopsies. I think they were in Gail Deverow's book Handbook to chicken health or something like that. I have a ton of those books, there were photos in one of them! I might be mixing titles and authors.

I think the crop sounds pretty normal. It must take a little while to grind that stuff up.

PS I'm sorry about your hen.
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Thanks. I have Gail's health book and general chickens book, but it only has some line drawings in black and white. There were two of the olive-shaped organs.
Those squishy things would be the kidneys.

The fat deposits are not an indication of internal laying but too much fat in your hen can contribute to problems with ovulation, internal laying, etc. The fat you describe is of normal placement for a laying hen but too much of it is just not healthy. You may want to watch overfeeding.

If the fat is very yellow instead of light yellow, you may have too much corn in your feed.

An impacted or sour crop will look and smell horrible~not just "off"...especially one so bad that it killed your bird, and you would have noticed her moping around, hunched and uncomfortable, if it were that reason.

I've had a few just fall off the roost dead before but their combs were purple and, upon examination, they had had pulmonary emboli and/or heart attacks. They were all under a year old when this happened and all from the same source/hatchery.

Wish I could shed some more insight into why your bird died but if she seemed healthy enough upon examination, it could be just a case of some kind of organ failure, cause unknown. Sometimes birds just die.
Agree with Beekissed- sometimes birds just die. Was she on her back when you found her? There's a cause of death known as flipover or sudden death syndrome, and basically it means the bird had a massive heart attack. The first thing I would look at in any bird that just drops dead is the heart. I don't know that you would see anything useful, but you may note the heart is over-large, misshapen with one side larger than the other, or more flaccid than it should be. Something to keep in mind for next time.

Sorry about the loss of your bird.
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Thanks everyone. I was thinking today about the kidneys being those other organs, since I hadn't seen them anywhere else. I think that your explanations sound very plausible, and we'll consider it to not be a flock health concern. She had a good chicken life, and we'll remember her fondly.

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