When Your Urban Chicken Dies + Why 'Egg Yolk Peritonitis' Sucks.

I am not cut out to be a livestock farmer. I kind of knew it in my heart quite some time ago. When I was a child, my parents had bottle calves for a while. It just pained me to leave the barn at night (or early in the morning) after we were done feeding them. I wanted to snuggle those little doe-eyed calves. Clearly I was oblivious to the fact that they were going to go in our deep freezer later that year, but that's here nor there. 

Another indicator that I am not meant to be a livestock farmer is that I cannot even fathom going through some of the things that my favorite homesteading blogger, Shaye from The Elliott Homestead, goes through. The loss of a dairy cow (twice), a little lamb, and more. All of those things are so sad to read about, let alone live

But, I kind of am a livestock farmer. No, not really. I have backyard chickens, so that doesn't necessarily qualify. However, life on our urban homestead isn't always pleasant. This is true especially when two of my four hens grow sick and die within a week of each other. 


I will share some details on how and why they died in a bit, but first let me address two challenges to having livestock in the city. 

First, having sick animals sucks. They depend on you for their health and wellness, and sometimes you just can't deliver. 

Second, what the hell do you do with the body after a chicken (or duck or goat…) dies

Let's address the latter first: You compost the body of your deceased animals. It's truly the right thing to do in my opinion. 


When my first hen died, I immediately called my dad (a third generation farmer) who advised me to compost the hen's body in some fashion. We both agreed that we could honor this bird by letting her feed the garden that she ate from for the last 2 years.

This meant that I emptied my compost bin into the wheelbarrow, then dug a deep hole (about 2 feet) to bury the hen. I put dirt back on top.


Then, I put the compost bin over that and filled it back up with the half-composted matter from the wheelbarrow.


This is all a lot of work. I understand. You see, we don't have a rendering pile in the city. Most cities don't. And most cities won't accept animal carcasses in their yard waste or compost facilities.


Respectfully handling the carcass of a deceased urban farm animal is the responsibility of the urban farmer, just like that of a large-scale commercial farmer. Plain and simple.


Let's go back to the first challenge of being an urban farmer: It just sucks when one of your animals is sick. It sucks even more when a second animal gets sick

My 2 buff orpington hens died of egg yolk peritonitis. It's not contagious to other birds or harmful to humans (although I didn't eat the eggs from my birds for a couple days, just to be safe). Ultimately, there was really nothing I could do about healing my birds. By the time my second hen was showing symptoms, I knew that she wouldn't likely make it another 36 hours (and she didn't). So, I gave her antibiotics and snuggled her. 


Snuggling a sick hen was not something my third-generation farmer father recommended, and if you would have told me I would have a chicken in the house three years ago I would have called you crazy.

But there I was, with a chicken wrapped in an old beach towel watching 20/20 together on a Friday night.


Manny and Bruce were pissed, but they got over it. You see, this girl was one of my favorite hens. She was a big fatty, and I took her to every backyard chicken class I taught. She was docile and tame, and enjoyed being held. She laid consistently and was a bad ass among the rest of the ladies. Homegirl didn't have a name (none of my hens do), but they do have a soft spot in my heart.


Having sick birds, or sick animals in general, is a fact of life when you are an urban farmer. I am glad I was able to give these two birds lots of attention over the last two years. They gave me lots of laughs and eggs, which makes it worth it. 

Both ladies found eternal rest in our backyard, and will nourish the soil on this urban homestead for years to come. 

Whether you are an urban farmer or have thousands of acres, this is exactly as it should be. 



How do you handle death and disposal of animal carcasses on your urban homestead? Let's have a frank, yet respectful conversation about this topic. Leave a comment so we can learn from each other. 

22 comments:

  1. Oh, I'm so sorry. We had chickens growing up (also in an urban environment!) and one ate a bunch of black widows once and died... so sad. :( I love that you added her to the compost, what a great idea.

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  2. Sorry to hear. They may be chickens but they do have individual personalities and become part of the family. Yes, we just live on a standard block in town but when any of our animals including birds,chickens even dogs have died we have buried them on the property nourishing the garden. Emotionally and environmentally it is the right thing to do for us.

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  3. The only animal I have is my dog, but when he passes I will bury him in the backyard like most people around here do.

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  4. So sorry to hear about your chicken. I have a friend who lives in Nashville and her and her family recently got into farming and she says its so difficult when the animals die or become sick.

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  5. Sorry to hear this. Never thought about this aspect of raising chickens. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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  6. I'm sorry to hear about your animals. We don't have any animals yet, but we plan on getting a few dogs soon. When it passes, we will probably bury him/her in the yard.

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  7. Aww, poor hens! I don't know how I'd handle something like that. It would be super tough for me.

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  8. I never even thought about this idea, we had chickens and all sorts of animals growing up, I am after all a farmer's daughter and farmer's great-grand daughter so nothing sunrises me with how people dispose of farm animals or what not.

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  9. Its sad to lose an animal, regardless of the species. I've always wanted to try chickens, but I know I just don't have the time or patience right now to tend to them. I'm so sorry to hear about this :(

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  10. I am so sorry to hear about your chickens. At least you were able to dispose of the body in a fitting way.

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  11. When my sister's pet tortoise died when buried him in the backyard. I think the yard but his body to good use because beautiful purple flowers started to bloom the following Spring and that never happen previously.

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  12. Ughhh I'm so sorry about this. Always sad when a pet is sick and passes. I had a cat pass away when I was younger and my mom buried it in the back yard.

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  13. Kudos for giving it a try. I know nothing about live stick. I enjoy the stories my mom has from raising farm animals as a kid.

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  14. I think it would be better to bury dead animals on the your if you have space. It's really saddening to see when your animals are sick or die.

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  15. Ohh I haven tried taking care of livestocks. My garden is mostly plants but if ever I will, I think the best way to do it when an animal dies is to burry it on the ground.

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  16. I have never had chickens, but it is someting we are planning on getting in the near future. This was a very insightful post.

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  17. Sorry to hear about your chickens. I don't know anything about livestock, but I know some people who have been trying to raise chickens and are loving it. I think its neat. - jeanine

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  18. I would love to be a livestock farmer (I love the idea of growing my own food and raising animals) however I would have a very tough time with this since I love animals so much!

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  19. Aww poor hens. Yes I would love to grow my own food like my grandma did. I would help her in her garden. Aww the good memories.

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  20. Sorry for Homegirl's loss. We took you class in February. She was the hit of the show! I think you handled the situation very responsibly. We lost one of our Queens at 6 weeks. Our dog got her. I was heartbroken at my stupidity. I could not protect her. I know exactly how you feel. But we still have five to take care of and nurture. Learn and move on. Thanks for all u guys do for the "cause".

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  21. Ahh =( I don't think I could handle farm life. I'd totally get attached to the animals.

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  22. There are times when I would like to be an urban farmer but when I read something like this and realize how hard it is emotionally and physically, I lose heart.

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