Getting Answers With a Chicken Necropsy

Have you ever had to have a chicken necropsy performed for a member of your flock? Sometimes we lose members of our flock to a predator or old age, but what do you do when your chicken is sick, and you aren’t sure what’s wrong? While there are many great online resources like our help desk and books to help us diagnose, such as Gail Damerow’s Chicken Health Handbook, most of us aren’t avian vets. It’s important to know when to get expert advice and what to expect from different services.

Necropsy Blog

Recently I lost a member of my flock without warning. She roosted with her friends one night, and when I went to let them out the next day, she was deceased. There was no sign of illness leading up to her passing, so I assumed her death was from natural causes. Four days later, my splash Andalusian hen, Elsa, didn’t look right. Her tail was down, her comb had purple tips, her eyes looked cloudy, and she was extremely lethargic. Her stools didn’t look right, so I went to the internet to self-diagnose the issue. Over the next week, I treated my entire flock for coccidiosis because it looked like maybe there was some blood in Elsa’s stool. I also dewormed her as a preventative measure. Elsa spent five days in isolation with some slight improvement, so I let her go back with the flock and hoped that the socialization would bring her back around. It was clear the following day that Elsa was not improving, so I attempted to deworm her with a different medication in case it was a resistant type of parasite, but I lost her that afternoon.

Necropsy Blog

Seek Expert Help

I reached out to my local Agriculture Extension Office to ask for some advice. They listened to Elsa’s symptoms and suggested that I have a necropsy done on her to rule out a contagious disease that could take my entire flock.

What Is a Necropsy?

For those of you who may not be familiar with the term necropsy, it is the equivalent of an autopsy done on humans but animals instead.

Since my flock provides a supplemental income to my homestead, the cost of the necropsy, $190.00, is worth it. To replace my entire laying flock would cost much more than that when considering the cost of chicks, the time to raise them, and the cost of feed. My Agriculture Extension gave me the contact information for the University Extension that would do a necropsy on my hen, and I made the hour-long drive to Lansing, Michigan, to visit the Michigan State University Campus and get some answers about Elsa.

Elsa’s body needed to stay in my car while I went into the building to fill out paperwork and pay for her necropsy for biosecurity reasons. When I was done, they directed me to a back door where I could hand Elsa off to the scientist who would be doing her procedure. Remember that the chicken’s body cannot be frozen before a necropsy because it breaks down tissue and can give false results. It’s best to keep the chicken in a cooler with ice until you can get it to campus.

Within 5 hours of dropping Elsa off, the necropsy team called me with their preliminary findings. This call was a relief because if there was something wrong with Elsa that may have spread to the rest of my flock, I could have treated it immediately to avoid further loss. Fortunately for me, but sadly for Elsa, she died of an infection in her ovary. There was no way externally to know this was what was hurting her. If I had taken her to an avian vet, they would have been able to do a blood test that revealed her elevated white blood cell count and prescribe antibiotics that may have helped save her. About a week later, I got my full necropsy results in the mail that provided detailed information about the condition of her body and what the untreated infection had done to her. Google helped me understand most of the terms that were in the medical description.

Necropsy Blog

Even though the cost was intimidating, having the necropsy done gave me peace of mind to know that my flock wasn’t at risk. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again if I had to, but I hope it’s not something I have to worry about for a long time. Your local Agriculture Extension can assist you in diagnosing your flock and advise when it’s time to get paid medical advice.

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