If you unexpectedly have one of your chickens (or other poultry) pass away, it may be worth your effort to have a necropsy done by your state’s land grant university. If that university is far from you or the cost is out of reach, you may want to learn how to do a poultry necropsy yourself.
What Is a Necropsy?
Basically, it’s an autopsy, but instead of being performed on a person (auto-self), it’s done on an animal.
Why Should I Do a Necropsy?
If you have recently lost a chicken in your flock and want to know for sure what the cause of death is, having the university do a thorough investigation and post-mortem exam is quite informative. They will also do further testing for diseases that a backyard owner will not be able to do, giving you some definitive answers that can help the remaining chickens. It’s especially helpful if you have lost several chickens over the course of weeks or months.
How To Perform a Necropsy
Every county in the US has a university extension office that is operated by their state’s land grant university. Do an internet search for “[your county and state] ag extension” and you’ll be able to find contact information to get started.
If paying for a professional necropsy is out of your reach, you may be able to do a “backyard necropsy” to gain insight into why your chicken died. If you have processed your own meat chickens, doing a necropsy isn’t too different.
You’ll need sharp poultry shears or a sharp fillet knife, rubber gloves, and a washable work surface. Have a plan for where the carcass will go after you’ve performed your examination.
Begin by donning your gloves and laying the bird on its back with feet facing you. Make an incision vertically up the abdomen starting at the vent going up to the keel bone. Cut through the skin and muscle layers, being careful not to cut too deeply and damage the organs. Once you have the bird open, carefully remove the abdominal contents. Pay attention to the color and condition of the liver, intestines, oviduct (if it’s a hen), and gizzard. You may then proceed to open the chest to examine the heart and lungs, but this may require poultry shears instead of a knife to get through the bones. Look for any signs of fluid around the heart and lungs or discoloration of the lungs, which are located under the heart along the spine.
If you do not find anything obvious in the organs, doing a bit more investigation may be helpful. Make a lengthwise incision into a section of the intestine to look for any worms that may be present. You may also want to locate the trachea and make a similar exam for gapeworms or capillary worms. Lastly, make an incision into the oviduct to look for signs of a reproductive issue or infection.
After you are done with the necropsy, dispose of the body and thoroughly wash down your tools and surface with a 10% bleach solution.
Keep in mind that doing your own backyard necropsy will not get the comprehensive testing and expert examination methods that a university can perform. If location or finances prevent you from getting an expert necropsy but you still need some answers to your poultry losses, doing your own necropsy may give you some valuable information.
You can read more about Tessa's personal experience with having a necropsy performed for one of her birds on our blog.