Yes, chickens can most definitely experience a feeling of loss or mourning when another chicken dies.
As a backyard chicken farmer, your flock is usually smaller and living in a more intimate setting.
The death of a chicken you have worked so hard to care for and raise can be a very burdensome experience for you as the farmer, as well as your flock, especially when it occurs unexpectedly.
Your surviving chickens will most certainly feel the change in atmosphere as well.
Let us dive into the different signs of depression or mourning in chickens after the loss of another and ways we can help our surviving flock members.
Do chickens mourn one another?
In many instances, yes, chickens will mourn one another. Losing a flock member is similar to a person losing a family member.
Chickens are flock animals, meaning they do practically everything together. Your chickens may bond with some flock members more than others.
The loss of another chicken may affect each flock member differently, depending on their relationship with the deceased member and where the diseased chicken fell in the ‘pecking’ order.
For example, if a mother hen loses her baby chick, she may begin to show signs of depression and lethargy.
What impacts how chickens react when they lose a flock member?
Five common conditions that may affect how your chickens react are:
Size of the flock
In a larger flock, chickens may not even notice their little friend is missing.
In a smaller flock, however, the loss of a flock member can be more detrimental to the mental health of the other chickens.
Chicken flocks have a pecking order in which there is an alpha that ‘rules the roost.’ This alpha protects the rest of the flock and is the chicken that takes charge.
If the alpha chicken dies, it affects the rest of your flock much greater than the death of a lower-tier member. A new pecking order must be reestablished.
Length of time
The length of time the chickens spent together is also a factor to consider.
If they have spent two years together, rather than if they’ve only been in a coop together for a few weeks, they will be more affected by the loss of another chicken.
Losing a chicken that is high up in the pecking order can also be a traumatizing experience. It’s also important to note that some chickens bond more than others.
This relationship can look like doing common activities together such as eating, dust bathing, scavenging, playing together, etc.
When one of these chickens passes away, the loss will seem greater to that one chicken they bonded with. They may even coo for and search for their missing friend.
Cause of death
The cause of death can also cause your flock to mourn or stress. Predator attacks can cause stress, plucking of feathers, etc.
Disease can spread to the other chickens if not contained and if the diseased chicken isn’t disposed of correctly.
Slaughtering your chickens for food is a normal part of the circle of life for many farmers. However, if not managed correctly, it can also traumatize the rest of your flock.
If a farmer removes or slaughters the chicken in front of the other chickens, they may become distressed and anxious and show signs of loss.
Five signs that your chicken may be sad after the death of a flock member
The loss of a flock member can cause the other members to go through a phase of mourning or depression.
These are signs you will want to watch for in the days following the death of a chicken.
|Signs of Depression||How to Identify||Tips and tricks|
|1.||Lethargy||Sleeping more than usual. Not laying regularly. Refusing to leave the coop.||Adding vitamins or electrolytes to their water can help give them a bit of an energy boost.|
|2.||Refusing to eat or drink and appears to be fragile||Drastic weight loss, feather loss, not as active as usual, comb appears to be a pale red. Feathers will appear dry and pale rather than their usual oily appearance.||Provide the bird a quiet environment with fresh water and food. You may even be able to tempt it with their favorite treat!|
|3.||Plucking out their own feathers||Bald spots under and around their wings and chest.||Chickens are extremely attracted to the color red. If their skin is bare from plucking their own feathers, covering the area with an antimicrobial dye will help deter them from continuing the behavior.|
|4.||Fighting amongst your flock||Bickering more than usual. Pecking and squawking at each other. Fighting over food or treats.||Adding distractions to your chicken pen, such as swings, more roosts, coops, shiny toys, etc., can help eliminate this behavior.|
|5.||Distressed or anxious||It can appear as refusing to leave the coop or refusing to eat or drink. Not wandering far from the rest of the flock. Less active than usual. They may also refuse to reenter the coop if they have been traumatized by a predator attack.||Providing electrolyte supplements can help with anxiety among your flock. Treating your chickens with their favorite snack can help as well.|
The most important thing to remember is that for some chickens, it may just take time for them to move on.
Providing your chickens with little morale boosters and keeping a close eye on them will ensure their health and prosperity.
Can chickens die of depression?
Yes, it is possible for a chicken to die from depression.
Depressed chickens will often separate themselves from the rest of the flock making themselves more vulnerable to predator attacks.
Malnutrition is also a big concern if you notice a chicken not eating, drinking, or participating in regular flock activities.
This should not last for more than a week when a chicken is experiencing an episode of depression.
How long do chickens remember each other?
Chickens remember their flock members and will call for them if they notice them wandering too far or if they happen to go missing.
If a chicken dies of natural causes, the other flock members may visit her to say their goodbyes, and then they will typically move on.
Chickens may even push food over to the chicken that has passed, or even make cooing sounds to try and wake them.
If a chicken shared a special bond with another deceased chicken, it might also spend time away from the rest to grieve.
However, if a chicken dies from a traumatic experience such as a predator attack, it is likely your other chickens may suffer from post-traumatic stress.
They may show signs of severe anxiety and depression. For some chickens, it just takes time to adapt.
Having a small group of chickens, you may also notice that your chickens will flock together, eat together, take dust baths together, etc.
Chickens are quite defenseless, which encourages them to be flock animals. They tend to stick close to their flock for protection.
How do you cheer up a grieving chicken?
Introducing new distractions such as treats or new toys into your chicken’s environment can help bring them out of their chicken funk. Make sure your flock has plenty of fresh food and water.
Treating your chickens with fresh vegetables and healthy treats can also provide them with a little more energy and encourage chicken activities such as dust bathing and worm hunting.
Treating them can also bring mourning chickens together, which can help them provide emotional support for one another.
Appeal to their natural instincts by giving them something to climb on, a new roost or swing, etc.
Chickens are naturally curious, so giving them something shiny to play with is also a fun activity that could help cheer them up too!
Hanging a mirror or a DVD at their eye level gives them something they can peck at and play with to get their mind off their lost family member.
Another fun activity for chickens is raking up piles of leaves for them to play in and run through.
When a person loses a family member, their experience of loss will often depend on their relationship with that family member.
The loss of a close loved one, such as a parent, a child, or a sibling, will affect someone differently than the loss of a distant cousin.
Like people, chickens have relationships and a sense of family. Depression and mourning can present themselves in our chickens in diverse ways.
It is up to us to notice these changes in behavior, monitor them, and take action when it is required.