THE HOW AND WHY I PERFORMED A NECROPSY ON MY CHICKEN.

First things first, this post comes with a warning of graphic content of the necropsy (animal autopsy) I performed on one of my favourite chickens, Sweetie.   This post is for people who own chickens and want to understand as much as possible about them and the various diseases/health problems that afflict them.

Further down this post (I will warn you in advance) there will be photos and video of a miniature necropsy (only one incision) that I performed to confirm the cause of death in Sweetie as Sour Crop.

I understand there are those of you who prefer the romantic notion of owning chickens and not necessarily the accompanying horror that inevitably comes with these animals.  For those of you, I direct you to these more pleasant posts from my past chicken experiences.

  1. The Coop: A look at my contemporary chicken coop.
  2. Will They Eat it?:  Episode 2 in a video series.
  3. Pretty Pictures of my Chickens.
  4. The Best Fly Prevention Method – Parasitic Wasps.
  5. How to Ferment Chicken Feed

If you do not wish to see an actual chicken necropsy do not read further.

GRAPHIC CONTENT BELOW.

(honestly it isn’t that bad, but if you’re the sensitive type you might cry)

O.K. this is where the real post begins.  Last week I told you how one of my chickens, Sweetie, died unexpectedly.  That’s kind of the hallmark of chickens by the way, dying unexpectedly.

They’re miracle workers when it comes to hiding that they’re sick or injured. It’s a genetic trait to keep them alive. If they look weak they know they’ll be the first picked off by a predator.  Plus if they look weak they’ll get harassed by their fellow chickens.  So they hide their symptoms.

Which is exactly what Sweetie did.  Last week I told you about how Sweetie, my black Ameraucana died recently.  I suspected it was a sour crop because of impaction but I wasn’t positive.  And I wanted to know for sure what killed her so I could be sure it wasn’t something contagious.

If I had NO idea at all what killed her, I wouldn’t have cut her open looking for random things, but I was pretty sure I knew what was going on, I just needed to confirm it.  If you’re interested in some of the symptoms of Sour Crop and how it affects a chicken you can read this post.

This post isn’t about Sour Crop, it’s a general look at what it was like to necropsy one of my chickens and what I did exactly.

Since it seemed like the issue was sour crop I knew all I had to do was cut open her crop, which sits right next to the skin of her chest and take a look inside.  No big deal.  No breaking or cutting bones, no looking at organs, nothing like that.

First I had to remove a few feathers from her chest to access the skin over her crop.

 

Necropsy for Sour Crop

Then using a sharp blade I gingerly cut the skin, unsure how thick it would be or how difficult to cut through.

The skin on the breast was fairly thin and easy to cut through.  Directly beneath the skin was the crop.

Necropsy for Sour Crop

I then cut through the crop (which is like a stomach almost), and what came next was something so horrifying I cannot even explain it.

Sweetie’s crop was filled with putrid, stinking juice. I assume it was infection. It came streaming out like an abscess and smelled bad enough, even through a mask,  to make me gag.  But I kept going.  Like an idiot.

Once the crop had drained of rotting fluid, I could see what was in there.

Necropsy for Sour Crop

There was a bit of a nest inside Sweetie’s crop.  She’d been eating straw which is a hazard with chickens but usually it just passes into their gizzard.

I pulled the tangle of straw out of Sweetie’s crop and assessed it.

Necropsy for Sour Crop

This is the majority of what was found in her crop.  A fair amount, but after all that I wasn’t sure if this was enough to cause Sour Crop or impaction so I sent the photo off to Dr. Mark.

Sour Crop

According to Dr. Mark, this could have been enough to cause an impaction in Sweetie and Sour Crop.  Another chicken may have been fine with it and worked it through, and another chicken still might have been able to fight the infection, but that wasn’t the case with Sweetie.

In case you’re wondering where all the blood is (like several of my friends asked), there is no blood because the heart isn’t pumping.

If you’re feeling particularly brave I also videoed the entire procedure, although I’ve cut what was 16 minutes of footage down to 3 and a half minutes.

I’ve eliminated most of the really gross stuff like spewing puss and extraordinary language on my part.  This video is for the curious.

CHICKEN NECROPSY

Really the worst part of this was the smell.  It was surprisingly easy to cut into Sweetie once she had died because it was just her body and I was somehow able to mentally separate her body from her.  It wasn’t an ideal Thursday morning but I’m glad I did it just to see what it was like and to better understand the inside of a chicken.

I can say with great honesty that that very night I went to the grocery store to pick up something quick for dinner and I had a make a U turn at the pre-cooked chicken section.  That wasn’t happening.

Thanks for sticking it out with this post to the bitter end.  You, are a brave and curious soul and I’m happy to have you around.

Have a good weekend!

73 Comments

  1. Marla says:

    I admire your curiosity and insistence on getting to the ‘bottom of things’.

  2. Martha Doane says:

    So sad. I had a similar experience, and found that my sweet Red swallowed a yellow pushpin which led to massive internal infection and death. Thanks for encouraging folks to be curious and brave DIYers! (even when it is a necropsy)

  3. Kelli says:

    Wow, yucky but facinating!

  4. Lisa says:

    Very interesting..and closure.

  5. Catherine Naulin says:

    Poor little Sweetie! I’m so sorry for your loss, but thank you for all your great teachings on things chicken, as well all this other stuff, great and small.
    You are an inspiration!
    Have a good week-end,
    Catherine

    P.s. I find blue eggs (Ameraucana, according to my teacher Karen) at my lovely corner grocery store, and every time I take one out of the fridge, I think of you, the chicken lady😁

  6. Barb Hutchinson says:

    So sorry about Sweetie. Even though we know they are gonna go, it doesn’t make it any easier.

  7. Mark says:

    Interesting post, although I can see how it wouldn’t appeal to everyone. Regardless, it’s always difficult to lose our fur/feather family members.

    I would be down for the video without the spewing puss but including the extraordinary language. 🙂

  8. Melissa Stinson says:

    Oh. Sweet. Goodness. Yup, you warned us, you did. You really did, several times. As sad as it was, I think we all learned a lot.
    And I swear, I could smell it from here!
    Thank you Dr. Karen for our chicken lesson. May Sweetie rest in peace.🐔

  9. TucsonPatty says:

    Thank you, Karen, for that hard thing. Now I know.

  10. MrsChrisSA says:

    You are braver than brave!!

    I would have wept all the way through that procedure, never mind having to have a bucket for my insides right next to me!

  11. Therese says:

    So sorry about Sweetie. Well done you for doing what had to be done. I found it interesting and educational, but if you had known about the crop Nest when she was alive, would you have been able to do anything about it? Just wondering in case it happens to one of my girls.
    Ha, necropsy on a crop nesty!

    • Karen says:

      I have a whole post coming up on Sour Crop and Impacted crop where I ask Dr. Mark all of these questions and he answers them Therese! I think it goes up next Friday. ~ karen!

  12. Interesting. I’ve heard that sometimes crop ailments are the result of something worse happening in a different part of the chicken’s body first. Once it gets sick enough from that, the digestive system can’t function well, and the chicken also gets sour crop. Poor little Sweetie!

    • Karen says:

      It’s possible but basically sour crop results from an imbalance of the pH in the chickens crop. It can be the result of Mereks disease or impaction. I have a whole post written by Dr. Mark coming up next week on Sour Crop and Crop Impaction. ~ karen!

  13. Paula says:

    Sad, informative, brave…those are the words that come to mind. Thank you for doing that for the benefit of the rest of us, backyard chicken owners.

  14. Alexandra says:

    I don’t own any chickens, so I could watch this pretty much without fear – it’s interesting! And I really think you did the right thing with the necropsy. This might protect/save your other and all your future chickens, and other people’s chickens too!
    In a way, Sweetie is now a heroine of medical science. <3

  15. Angela says:

    I look at this post as a wonderful way to honor Sweetie and to make sure that she made a difference in the wider world! I’m sure that the information will help others, and Sweetie’s legacy will live on.

    Also, I may now call you The Chicken Lady instead of Karen. It seems more formal, and since we’ve never met, it is awkward to explain to people that you’re not actually my friend, whom I quote and refer to regularly, but someone from the internet that I admire.

  16. Lisa says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with your chickens. I once had a dream of raising chickens but after nursing several guinea pigs of my kids and getting attached to them I think it’s best to live through you! You are a brave soul, and terribly sorry for your loss.

  17. Leticia says:

    I had never saw a post with the comments so quiet around here. I can tell you that I learned a lot about chicken digestion through this. Thank you.

    I was watching a TED talk the other day and learned this: “What is a vet that treats only one species? A Medical Doctor.” Vets are the best.

  18. Kate says:

    Very interesting, Karen. I learned a lot and I suspect you did, too.

  19. Karen says:

    How you kept going after that first whiff!
    For years I’ve kept a mental list of why I’ll never get a dog. Since reading your blog I’ve also started a second list of why I shouldn’t get chickens. My chicken list is now complete.

  20. Melissa says:

    Sorry Karen, but thanks for doing that and sharing it.

  21. Maggie Van Sickle says:

    U are the brave and serious soul.

  22. jaine kunst says:

    No, no backyard chickens for me. I will live vicariously through you.

    PS- eeeeewww

  23. Charlene says:

    Karen, Thank you for your bravery and sharing what you learned wth the rest of us. Having dealt with sour crop a couple of times I can attest to the smell and sure it was worse at the source. Sweetie gave you eggs and pleasure while alive and gave many of us an education in her passing. Thanks again to you both.

  24. Maryanne says:

    You are a brave friend. Thank you.

  25. Good lord I was gagging just watching/listening to you, brave girl! RIP Sweetie.

  26. Ashly says:

    Such an important topic to cover for chicken/livestock owners! I tell everyone that a chicken’s #1 past-time is to find ways to die or be killed. The truth is that when owning or caring for any livestock, you will have to confront and become comfortable with death. While chickens love to die, they also DO leave lots of information or hints to help treat or recognize symptoms in flockmates in the future – you just have to dive in and look. Necropsy is invaluable for flock health, safety and education.

    • Karen says:

      I often check their crops before when they go in for the night to make sure they’re all eating, but now I might start feeling their crops in the morning to make sure they’re all emptying! ~ karen

  27. Jen says:

    As a lover of pus, I have to say I’m a little disappointed. 😛

    But, as others have said, I admire your willingness to get to the bottom of things! I know that death is inevitable for my hens, but I hate to think about it being too soon.

  28. Meredith says:

    Interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my chickens eat straw. I typically have wood chips in the chicken house on the floor and only straw in the nest boxes. Maybe I should get rid of the straw and use something else? In the summer I use dried grass clippings, which they seem to prefer and I have seen them eat that.

  29. Ev Wilcox says:

    So sorry about Sweetie, but good for your resolve, Karen! Even as you mourned for your pal, your were thinking about HER pals, and how to protect them. Also, thanks for sharing. You are one helluva woman.

  30. Eileen says:

    Note to self: when Karen says graphic content, etc. don’t think to self, yeah, whatever…and keep slurping morning coffee.
    Said coffee somehow has weirdly tainted taste now.
    You’re pretty damned amazing….

  31. Teresa says:

    That’s why I can’t have chickens here at the ranch. Something is always getting in to kill them or they’re finding other ways to die. I’d love to have chickens but I have enough chores and I just can’t deal with the mortality rate.

    But, if you’re going to have livestock of any kind you can’t be a wimp about it. Thanks for the info,Karen, and bravely doing the necropsy. Learning things is always good. This will inevitably help you save another one of your sweet chickens – even if it does cause you to become a crop Gropper.

  32. joanne says:

    I thought, for a moment, you were explaining my family ” That’s kind of the hallmark of (joanne’s family) by the way, dying unexpectedly.

    (Joanne’s family)’re miracle workers when it comes to hiding that they’re sick or injured. It’s a genetic trait to keep them alive. If they look weak they know they’ll be the first picked off by a predator. Plus if (joanne’s family) look weak they’ll get harassed by their fellow chickens. So they hide their symptoms.

  33. joanne says:

    Karen, I remain not only a humble admirer, but also a devoted follower. You are an awesome chicken owner, and I can only hope that I would do the same if an animal in my care fell ill and died without a clear cause.

  34. Mary says:

    First off, I’m sorry for your loss. Secondly, anytime someone says they want chickens, I refer them to your posts about flystrike and ask if they are prepared. Here’s another one I can send them. I also always wanted chickens, but know mentally I couldn’t handle some of this as my pets are my heart. Therefore, I live through you with my chicken obsession.

  35. Eileen says:

    Just read this interesting article about rescued chickens helping to save someone’s life. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. This is in the UK, but maybe there are similar organizations on this side of the pond? For those who have chickens?
    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/mar/24/adopted-battery-hens-saved-my-life-experience

  36. Dr. J. David Richardson says:

    Should have called me. I have assisted lots of surgery and done lots myself.

  37. Liz says:

    This doesn’t even hold a candle to the lash egg post…or the maggot butt POST OMG!!! I forgot. I gagged and eyes teared up reading those. This was classy and clinical 🙂 I’m sorry about Sweetie.

  38. kelli says:

    So sorry about Sweetie, sweetie. You are a good chicken mommy, and SO BRAVE to do your own necropsy. Ick. You really CAN do everything.

  39. savitri says:

    So sad about Sweetie.
    Karen you are very brave and very attentive to your chickens. Glad the mystery has been solved…
    Thank you….

  40. janpartist says:

    I don’t eat chicken or turkey (due to Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM). but I do eat eggs. I may re-consider now.
    Ugh, you are sort of super human material now. I admire you in a “special” way. This whole ordeal is so sad and gross to the tenth degree. I wish you comfort and something but I’m not sure what.

  41. Linda in Illinois says:

    To real for me, not because of the gross stuff, but because I love all animals and I feel the pain, but I am glad you did the necropsy and have closure. Dr. Karen has a nice ring to it..
    God speed Sweetie !!

  42. karin sorensen says:

    may she rest in peace. i’m sorry for your loss Karen.

    i’m glad you did the necropsy.
    life and death are messy, always been that way, not gonna change.
    this is how we learn, that’s also always been this way,
    but seems to have a way of being forgotten.
    I’m glad you could rule out anything contagious.

    have a good weekend

    Karin

  43. Farmkid Marti says:

    Very brave of you, Karen, as I know how much you love all your birds.
    I would point out that the legal term for the level of curiosity in onlookers is PRURIENT.
    And if I were you, I wouldn’t open my email for a few weeks. Or months.

    Well done. Not nearly as gross as I expected, but I scrolled past most of the photos and I refuse to watch the video. Chicken… for dinner again tonight. Because that’s what heartless farmkids do. Did your doctor tell you any further symptoms that might have helped you or could he have helped, if he’d known/you got her to him in time? I know with sheep bloat, if you know how to poke the knife… next year’s wool crop will keep coming, but I don’t know about chickens.

    Which is only one of the many reasons I read your blog. (Prurient interest is NOT among them.)

  44. Judith says:

    First cuddles, now sweetie. You must start calling your chickens a stronger name! Like puppies, they grow into that name. My son’s dog was named taz, after the devil. He lived up to that name. As did my mom’s dog named after emperor maximillian.

  45. Amanda says:

    I’ve had this happen with one of my hens last spring. She indulged in too much fresh spring grass and this was the same result. I know because I butcher all my own chickens and the day she became “off” I shot her and butchered her and this was the same result. I composted her rather than eat her because, well, gross – right? Not something I would consider good to eat if the chicken was ill, obviously. Sorry you had to go through that.

  46. Cathy says:

    Sorry for your loss, Karen. But in the end it was sorta good news that it’s nothing that is going to infect your whole flock. A few pointers if you do this again; 1-goggles because the yuck can spray 2-a touch of wintergreen inside your mask or a wet tea bag if you don’t have wintergreen.
    Some say the tea bag helps filter the odor and one like Constant Comment might be useful.
    3-dont talk with your hands while holding the blade. 4- maybe don’t go the grocery after, opt for takeout. Take care.

  47. Arlene says:

    we have 5 chickens. One of them died suddenly one morning last week.I have been sick about this, thinking maybe there was something I could have done to prevent this. Her name was Elsa. Why do they eat straw..there is plenty of food in the coop.
    thank you for what you do..I feel a lot better that I may know what happened to her. I love my chickens..who would have thought !!!??
    by the way. there was straw in her mouth when I found her. oh dear…I want to cry…..

  48. Jody says:

    Job well done with care and dignity.

  49. Alena says:

    Poor Sweetie. That was a lot stuff sitting in her crop.
    Thank you for the necropsy video; that was very interesting.

  50. J says:

    Karen-Thank you for being curious, brave, smart, and sharing the good, the bad, and the rest. You are generous with people all over the world–Thanks to Betty, too.

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