by Tim
(clay co. Florida )

I noticed one of my hen's combs shriveled up and turned gray I came out this morning and she was laying flat, her legs straight out back, face in the dirt dead. She was one and a half year old and never laid eggs. She slow down on her eating all within one day. She was laid out as if she may have had a heart attack no signs of kicking or struggling. I have 3 more hens in the same run that look fine what could this be? Thank you, Tim


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by: Sharon

The comb shriveling and turning grey is only a clue to many things that could have gone wrong with this hen. You don't say the breed, so not sure what her actual life expectancy was. If a Production Breed, that may have been all the life she had in her. The fact that she never laid an egg is another clue. Did you check her for parasites?

A hen not laying in a year and a half of life possibly means she was hatched with abnormal internal organs. She may have had no or inadequate ovaries or some other reproductive abnormality. She may have had internal organs that made her more of a male than female - even though externally she looked & acted female. These things happen in nature and in domesticated animals, too.

Chances are 50/50 that other hens of similar genetic make up can have similar issues. The fact that they are alive, look healthy, and I assume are laying, probably means they will live a normal life span for their breed.

Not all chickens are created equally. Some breeds live longer and are productive many years more than others. When choosing hens for your flock it's good to research breeds and choose the best type & breed for your needs and expectations. Of course you may still end up with one or two issues that are forever mysterious.

A necropsy (dissection after death of an animal) can give further clues - if you are familiar with the internal workings of a chicken. But even that can still leave us wondering what went wrong.

A comb changing colors and shriveling can be a sign of reduced heart function & low blood pressure which can be caused by so many things from diseases, parasite infestation, to genetic disorders.

In my experience Production Laying Breeds generally don't live past 2 years. Production Meat Breeds, even less, and heart problems are common if they are aren't processed young. It's common also that hens of the meat breeds don't ever lay an egg. Often, if they live long enough and do lay, they have no brooding or maternal instincts. If Production Breeds do manage to exceed their life expectancy, they tend to develop problems that lead to death soon after that age. (They were not selectively bred for a long healthy life.)

Production breeds have been engineered for early sexual maturity, meaning hens start to lay at a younger age than other types. They are also engineered to lay the most possible eggs in the shortest time - which tends to wear them out. This means they will also stop laying at a younger age than non-production breeds.

The ancestor of all domesticated chicken breeds, the Jungle Fowl, would only lay about 6-12 eggs per year. Humans have been selectively breeding chickens for thousands of years, in order to get more eggs, and similarly to get more meat faster.

Heritage Breeds don't lay as many eggs in two years, grow and develop more slowly than Production Breeds do. Some Heritage breeds can lay for nearly a decade - but produce many fewer eggs annually.

If you purchase Production Breed chicks, plan to buy more every year and a half or so, and sell or butcher the old ones before they become weak or ill.

Hope this helps! Thanks for the question.

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