When Urban Chicken Keeping Becomes Difficult

Posted · 45 Comments

I’m writing this post to open up my heart and share with you some of my thoughts and recent feelings.

With the popularity of keeping urban chickens, more and more people are adding a small flock to their backyard.  We have these visions of cute fluffy chickens clucking around in our backyards readily leaving bright orange pastured eggs every single day.

It’s easy, everyone tells us.  Feed them, make sure they have fresh water and you’ll have an over abundance of nourishing eggs, right?

The truth is, they are animals.  Animals that need constant attention and with the good comes the bad.

I’m into my third year of raising urban chickens and on Monday, I lost my Golden Laced Wyandotte, Gertrude.

I am so saddened as I was honestly thinking about keeping her past her laying days. Unfortunately, she ended up dying of Myiasis.  Maggots.

The temperatures in Iowa have been brutally hot.  With that have come flies.

I’m a very clean person.  I pick up poop every single day.  I intentionally keep my coop wide open for air circulation.  I change their bedding every few days and maintain a clean urban yard.

With so many annuals, perennials and vegetables in my yard, I am constantly outside and know each and every one of my girls.

I honestly had NO IDEA to even think that flies could bother my chickens in such a horrid way.

I look at my girls every day and can tell right away if something is going on, I honestly didn’t see this.

On Monday morning I went out early to give my girls fresh water, feed and vegetable scraps from the garden.  Gertrude was perched up on her roost and not looking good at all.

Her eyes were drooping and my heart sank as I looked up in her vent area.  Tons of maggots were crawling all over her.

I started to tear then as I couldn’t understand why this had to happen.

I ran into my garage to throw on some gloves and grab a bowl of warm water.  I pulled her off the perch and as I started to clean her I noticed just how big a wound these disgusting bugs left on my girl.

I started to cry and literally fifteen minutes after cleaning her off she started to convulse and passed away.

By then my boys were wondering what was going on and gathered around me to find out why I was crying and what happened to their chicken.

All I could reply was, “mama didn’t take care of her.”

I felt horrible and so sad that she had to go through this.  Through so much pain.

“Why didn’t I see this?”  “How could I not have caught this earlier?”  “What about the other girls?”  “What about my dogs?”

I went into panic attack and immediately ran inside to google how in the world this could have happened.

Apparently this does happen and I just had no idea to even think about looking for it.

In the heat, flies will attack anything they can.  She must have had a small scratch or wound and the flies went in and laid their eggs.

From what I’ve read, these maggots multiply quickly and in a matter of a couple of days you can have a problem.

I lost her.

After disposing of her, I picked up all of my other girls and made sure they were okay.

I then started to think if I could continue in chicken keeping.  Could I keep doing this?

In the matter of three years I’ve lost one girl to my dog, I nursed one girl back to health from having been bit (early days of mixing in dogs with chickens), and now I lost Gertrude to maggots.

In between tending to their needs, making sure their coop is mite free and in this extreme heat adding blocks of ice to their water dish every couple of hours, could I continue?!

In that moment I felt God’s peace.


I’m doing the best that I can to raise these animals in a way that is glorifying to Him.

What is difficult for me right now is not just that she passed but in how it happened.  That I know she suffered.

I’m trying to realize that this is a season and it to will pass.  I have so many thoughts running through my head right now and blog posts that will stem from it.

For now, raising backyard chickens is not easy.

It takes time, commitment and passion.

It takes a heart willing to lower themselves to poop every single day.

It takes a strong soul willing to tend to an animal in need, even when there’s blood involved.

It takes a gentle spirit to love on the natural needs of a mama and her babes.

Praise the Lord for our family farmers and the time, commitment and passion they have to raising animals as God intended.

Go hug your family farmer or urban/homesteader today, they might just need it.

In His love,

45 Responses to "When Urban Chicken Keeping Becomes Difficult"
  1. Sue Knisely says:

    awwh.. poor chicken. :/

  2. Oh, Diana. I’m really sorry. I thought your title was going to have content about city codes or something less personal, like a direct call to action. I had no idea that one should look for fly damage.

  3. Even though it was probably hard to write, I very much appreciate you sharing this story. I will check my hens more carefully today and maybe put up a few fly strips.

    Rest in peace, Gertrude.

  4. nicely written Diana

  5. Chad Stamps says:

    Prey animals, and birds in particular, are built to show as few signs of stress as possible until it’s too late. Maggots in particular are difficult to spot – we almost lost Hobbit to something very similar to this about a month ago and he’d been in the house without us seeing it. The first time we lost an animal on the farm I commented about how farming had brought us as much closer to death as it had to life. Every time we lose an animal for any reason I feel like I failed it personally. I remind myself that can’t be a reason to stop what we’re doing though – I’m a steward, and sometimes I fail. I’d rather fail and learn than quit because it was hard, or because I hated failing so much. Losing animals is hard on the caretaker – thanks for writing that.

  6. Thanks for the comment Chad and for being an excellent family farmer!

  7. Stacy says:

    Oooh, Diana, I’m so sorry! That makes me want to run outside and immediately check on my girls…even though it was not been hot here. You are doing a wonderful job with your girls. This is not your fault. Keep doing what you’re doing, Diana. I’m so sorry! :(

  8. Winnie says:

    Oh, sweetie. I am so sorry. Do not beat yourself up. This happens. And I am glad you shared because it’s so hot here too and I wouldn’t even know to keep my eye out for this.
    You take wonderful care of your animals. And you need to keep doing that. But I know that guilt: I cannot tell you how horrible I felt after my dog killed 2 of my chickens right after we got them…

  9. Green Bean says:

    I’m so sorry to read about your loss! I too think that the rise in urban chicken keeping tends to gloss over the hard parts. I’ve lost a chicken when she ate a screw. Another I almost lost 3x and nursed her back to health each time. Two others turned out to be boys and had to be given away. It isn’t all happy eggs and roses but it is worth it.

  10. Sharon Miro says:

    I am so sorry you had to go thru this terrible trauma, but your courage in writing this will help others avoid it.

    We just started our flock, and I had no idea about this either–this will help us to avoid this. But no matter what we do, we all will lose some of our animal friends. Our job is to do our best…that is all. You did that, so there is nothing to be ashamed of.

    Thanks again.

  11. I have lost chickens myself…it is hard when they are more than egg layers…they are your pets.
    I just saw somewhere on the internet that hanging a see-thru bag of water with a penny at the bottom will deter flies. Sounds crazy, but many have stated that it works. Only keeps flies away, tho, not those pesky ‘squitos. Worth a try, tho….

  12. Thank you for sharing your painful story. We have not yet added chickens to our urban homestead but they are in our plans. I will now know to watch for this and thank you for sharing that it isn’t always easy. Peace be with you.

  13. Jenny says:

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. You wrote so poignantly about your darling Gertrude. As you were writing, I thought about my SIL who kept chickens (as pets) for 2 years until a wild animal got into their pen one night. She couldn’t go on with keeping them anymore. I admire your strenghth in going on with keeping them. Unfortunately, even the best cared for animals succumb to some sad ways to die. It wasn’t you, that’s for sure.

  14. Diana I am so sorry. Monday was a terrible day for me too as I lost one of my awesome Buff Orpingtons. She has been broody alot and I must not have gotten her enough water throughout the day. I am sure she passed from heat exhaustion. I too felt like I failed her. I have never heard of flies doing that to animals before and I have learned something new from reading your post. I will be sure to check this on my girls from now on. Again so sorry for your loss. I know how you are feeling.

  15. Diana,

    I am SO sorry for your loss!! I’m very grateful that there are many like you that keep hens and supply those of us who can’t (HOA rules) with pastured eggs. My very good friend has a flock of close to 50. She takes amazing care for them. She sometimes loses some to prey.

    Thanks for sharing your heartfelt story as it further reminds me of my BLESSINGS when I buy eggs from her!!

    We were pet free for 2 years after our cats of 16 years passed. With 3 children and being a busy mama…I enjoyed that time. Since last Oct, my hubby brought in first one fish tank, then another. In March we added a hamster and then in April he brought home a RABBIT!!! Despite trying my best not to get attached to her…I did. We have space and yard issues so I wasn’t sure why a rabbit would be a good idea. Since then I’ve seen what a great pet she can be.

    Again…I am sorry for your loss & hope you continue on with your “girls”. HUGS to you!!!!

  16. Abiga/Karen says:

    My daughter and her family started a small farm 3 years ago. The first year was easiest and gradually they got more animals. They unfortunately learned that things can happen out of their control with coyotes, disease, dog attacks, goats losing their kids at birth and also maggots too. But with God’s help they are persevering to becoming as self sufficient as possible. Sorry for your loss. We understand.

  17. Will says:

    Hi Diana,

    My wife and I decided, last Winter, to keep chickens in our back yard. We got 4 brown hybrids from a local farmer this past Spring, and built a nice big A-frame for them. We then enclosed that in side an even larger chicken run, and also let them into the back yard.

    We love the birds, and have names for all 4. Very sorry about the loss of Gertrude, and that took some humility and humbleness, even courage to admit to the loss.

    We are in the middle of our hot Summer here in Charlotte, NC, and we are really bothered by the amount of poop and flies. Had we known this to be the general way things work, we may seriously have reconsidered keeping chickens. We keep their bedding changed, and rake out the coop regularly, and give them fresh water and food daily. They are well tended. We’ll have to keep an eye out for the wounds, and make sure we don’t have a maggot problem like you did!

    We enjoy the fresh eggs, and the healthiness of them as well. Egg yolks are high in polyunsaturated oils that our cells require for survival. We eat lots of nuts, raw vegetables, olive oil, and the fresh eggs. If and when we stop keeping the chickens, we’ll miss the fresh eggs. Meanwhile, we are committed to the work required and do our part to keep the hens happy and healthy.

    I subscribed to your newsletter, and look forward to keeping in touch!


  18. Thanks everyone for your comments. I really, REALLY appreciate it!

  19. janis says:

    Oh sweetie,
    This brought tears to my eyes. Not for Gertrude but for you. Please do not feel guilty. You are doing your best and love “the girls”. Things just happen sometimes. Be kind to yourself.

  20. Susan Gayle says:

    Oh no! I’ve only had my girls for a year. Started with 8 tiny fluffy butts and had everyone tell me to expect deaths. I vowed to keep them alive long enough to grow up, picked each one up every day to check for the dreaded ‘pasty butt.’

    We’ve been through ‘fowl pox’ (who knew)! But now I have 5. One (Buttercup) was an ‘accidental rooster’ and 2 (Daisy & Ethel) had mystery deaths at about 5 months old. It seemed that as each became my ‘favorite,’ she died. I can’t help but wonder if I shoulda coulda done something differently.

    But I know that, relatively speaking, I have spoiled chickens. They are as safe as possible, get visited at least twice a day and fed good scraps and organic feed. Heck, it’s been in the high temps so much in Texas, I turn a fan on the coop/run area during the middle of each day.

    We do what we can for those in our care, animal or human. That counts. So do the tears shed. Bless you.

  21. Diana, what a story. I never knew this could happen and am sorry you had to go through it. Thanks for sharing, and what you say rings true.
    As you know, we’ve suffered the loss of all our five hens to wild animals we didn’t even know existed around here. We’re taking some time to re-think our shelter and hope to be better stewards of our brood next time.

  22. Oh Diana! I totally understand. I’ve lost a few myself and often walk away feeling like I didn’t do good enough job of caring for them. Its hard! I just lost my main rooster a few days ago, but God’s peace was upon me. I did what I could to save him, but it was his time to past. Thankfully, I kept a young rooster who is now doing a good job.

    The hardest lost for me was my giuneas. The honduran dog that we took in attacked them during the night and kill all but two females. I had 10… I was in shock, but also angry with myself and the dog. I had saw the day before that an animal was trying to bite through the chicken wire and I totally forgot to tell Jon about it. Than that night… they were killed. But God still came through and my two are doing great. Giving me eggs and eating away all the horrid ticks.

    I’ve struggled like you… can I keep going with a homestead? Can I really do this? Raise chickens? Goats? Gardening? There’s so much to do and only 24 hours a day! That’s where I have to priorize everything.

    Diana, keep going… don’t stop over the lost, but thrive. Now you know what you need to do to protect and care for the others! It takes failures to learn and grow. You know me, I HATE mistakes and failures… but they have to happen in order to learn. Hugs and praying for you!

  23. Oh sweetie, I am so sorry! I have a Gertrude too! :( We do the best we can, and that is all we can do. Despite that, things do happen, it is not our fault, just the nature of things. Nature has its own agenda. We must always remember that – I am so sorry for your loss – but I know what good care you take for your girls. This was not your fault! HUGS.

  24. Kimberly says:

    What a beautiful bird. I’m so sorry for your loss. :(

    That has actually happened to our dog growing up. He was a keeshound and had so much fur that we never saw anything until he was sick. This heat is hard on everyone.

  25. Stacy says:

    Oh darlin’, I’m so sorry. Maggots are such an ugly fact of life. There are days that just suck when the death of an animal adds an extra dose of guilt. Fly strike is something that all farmers respect and fear. As soon as the weather warms it is critical to be observant of all livestock at least once a day for minor wounds, or even urine or feces soaked fur or feathers. Now you know why country folks call their work chores. My barn chores for horses, sheep, chickens, turkeys, duck, dogs, and cats was rarely less than a couple of hours at dawn every day, no matter the weather. For next time… all animal owners should be aware of Swat. It’s a salve that can be applied to wounds and will prevent fly eggs from hatching and will kill any that might have already hatched. With natural pyrethrins it can be used on all critters. They don’t recommend it on meat animals, but if the alternative is risk of maggots, then I’m using it. Look for it at feed stores.

  26. theresa says:

    There are so many things that can go wrong when we go to raise animals. I tell people it’s not for the faint of heart, or the easily cowed. Having said that, I just want to tell you how sorry I am for your loss. I have kept chickens for years and years–I tell people I run a retirement home for old hens–and it still breaks my heart to lose one. Folks who don’t live with poultry–ducks and geese as well as chicken– don’t always understand how much our birds mean to us (when my goose, Fanny, was killed by a predator, all I could do was hold her body and cry). You have my sympathy, and my understanding.

  27. I am so sorry for your loss. She was a beautiful hen. I can see why you would be so sad. If it makes you feel any better, just keep in mind that the time she spent with you, someone who cared for her and cried for her is much better that what most chickens live with. Yes, her death was a tragedy, but at least she had a good life while she was here. Hugs to you.


  28. Diana Bauman says:

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of your comments. Thank you so much.

  29. My hearth goes to you, Diana. We feel stewards of the ones who depend on us. And whatever happen to them good or bad makes an impact in our lives. Take the good and learn the lesson.

    You made me think of the hard work our supplier Amish Family goes to provide us with a decent produce, eggs, milk and meat.

    Keep up doing what you do.



  30. Mary says:

    I am a new reader to your blog. I am so sorry about Gertrude. My city just passed ordinances to allow 3 chickens. But, I know I couldn’t do it. I cry when our fish die. I was devastated for 2 weeks when we lost a hamster (I thought he suffered too because I didn’t act quick enough and that was the worst of it for me). I so appreciate you sharing and caring. I love your blog.

  31. Amber says:

    Awww…sorry for your dear Gertrude, and for your pain and blame. But it just sometimes happens…and quickly! I lost a dear chicken in the same way earlier this spring, only her issue was a small prolapse which became infested before I knew it. I put her down, which is one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. The website I linked to is my blog post about that day, and my musings on death.

    Heal your heart and keep on caring for sweet biddies! <3

    Amber, SwampPixieHerbal.blogspot.com

  32. DebbieM says:

    So sad!! as hard as we try, these things will happen. She was a beautiful bird! We received 22 ducklings 6 weeks ago and one of them died at about 3 weeks. We had to console ourselves with the fact that we had done everything we could. Does it get easier? I doubt it. Now we must choose the ones we plan to butcher (the rest will be layers). That will be hard, but it’s the reason we have them. We take care of them and they will take care of us.
    You did your best, Diana, we are all learning as we go.

  33. Jana says:

    I am so sorry for your loss Diana…I shed tears when reading your article. I’m not a chicken keeper (yet) but I had a pet chicken once upon a time…one day he just disappeared…losing him was very, very hard. Let’s face it, those of us who are animal lovers will always have a very hard time with any of our pets or even farm animals who pass on. Please don’t blame yourself though! This is probably a common thing that can happen in hot weather. Have you tried hanging up plastic bags (ziplock) full of water with a penny in the bottom (courtesy of the Healthy Home Economist) to keep away flies? They say it’s amazingly effective. We have dogs and plenty of flies in our yard and I’m going to try this soon.

    Hang in there!


  34. Oh, Diana, I’m so sorry! Two of our three chickens have gotten broody this summer, and we keep asking ourselves HOW people say it’s easy–it’s not easy, but totally worth it. I hope your little chickie is at peace now.

  35. Dear Diana,

    I am so very sorry to read this story. I really felt your pain and emotions as I read. Don’t blame yourself. Losing an animal is very difficult.
    I just ran into your blog today and I am so glad I found it. We share many of the same ideas and visions. Like you, I am also a Latina (living in Europe now), I grow my own fruits and vegetables and I buy local/organic. I will continue to read your blog with pleasure.
    Gracias y hasta la proxima,

  36. Diana, I am new to your site and found this post. I am sorry for the loss of Gertrude. She was beautiful. And I can see how hard you took it.

    I had Guineas for two years and I lost one of my hens due to an impacted egg. I had no idea that could happen either and it broke my heart for her pain, and because my newbie ways did not know what to look for.

    I do hope that folks who get urban hens learn as much about them as possible…for everyone’s sake.

    Mucho gusto from Nashville, TN…

  37. So sorry. Gertrude was beautiful.

  38. KC says:

    Dear Diana,

    I just discovered your blog (two years after gorgeous Gertrude’s passing), but want to thank you for sharing your heartbreaking story as it is still relevant today as we enter the “cuteness” season of Easter chicks & bunnies and the temptation to keep a few backyard hens.

    I was reminded of my own similar experience many years ago with puppy breeding — 10 whelped with three lost in the first week, all due to different problems, despite my conscientious research, commitment, and devotion. Finally, after all were weened and placed in great homes, I was left with a stud that had cancer and bitch that was diabetic. I cared for both like they were my children, but when my girl died from having hit her head on the coffee table as she blindly scrambled to retrieve a piece of KFC I tossed to her, it was more than I could bear.

    People need to make sure they know what is involved and have the necessary resources before taking on the responsibilities of owning living creatures. If your story keeps just one family from succumbing to the “fun” notion of buying a chick, bunny, puppy, or other animal baby, and having it soon end badly, you will have done a great service to our beloved animal friends.

    In the end, I believe that we all return to God when He calls us, regardless of the “apparent” cause or scenario, and I can’t help but think Gertrude considers herself one lucky hen to have been loved by you.

    In divine friendship,

  39. Micha Bennett says:

    I know a lot of time has passed since Gertrude’s passing but I must say “Thank you” to you. I have been working hard on getting my back 1/2 Acre in shape and now have a wonderful vegetable garden and Orchard. My next step was getting a few chickens, but after this story (Which made me cry!) I am really rethinking this. I love all of God’s creatures and l would take it the same as you did. Thank you for being honest, one always reads how easy and great it is to have chicken. I think I am going to barter for eggs instead. From the bottom of my heart I Thank you for writing this difficult story.

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