Or, How I Tried to Kill My Hen and My Hens Pecked the Baby Chick Bald.
Or, How Chickens are Tough and Mean and I’m the Crazy Chicken Lady.
I don’t know what to call this post. It is chicken-wacky around here. It seems I’m running a Chicken ER. First Calypso. Now Ripplin’ Waters (or I think that is her name. It wasn’t official yet.)
Now that Calypso’s bizarre story has come full circle, I fill you in. But I’ll warn you- none of it is for the squeamish.
Calypso: In Which I Became a Chicken RN
About 2½ weeks ago I noticed our White Crested Black Polish hen (Calypso) was hanging out in the coop by herself while her flockmates were frolicking around in the side yard. This was odd so I picked her up and plopped her with her buddies and went about my business. A few minutes later she was back in the coop by herself and had her feathers fluffed up. I gave her a closer look and found her surrounded (and covered) with diarrhea. Now if you have been around chickens you’ll know they poop a lot. Constantly. There are a gazillion types of chicken poop that indicate different things. I’ll spare you the random information I learned but if you are curious there are whole pages dedicated to identifying what is going on with your chicken’s poop. Frequent forum threads over at Backyard Chickens.
Needless to say, copious amounts of chicken poop aren’t shocking to me. But I knew enough to know a fluffed up, isolated chicken surrounded by incredibly smelly, watery diarrhea was certainly a bad, bad thing. Ugh. She is the sweet hen that follows us all (including the dog) around everywhere. She likes me to carry her around. I really, really love this chicken- she is by far my favorite. This is the chicken that the Babylady wants to bring into the car so she can serenade her with John Denver’s song Calypso* playing on a CD. (“With diapers so she doesn’t poop on us.”)
*Yes, all our chickens are named after John Denver songs. What of it? Don’t mess with a legend my friends.
Bewildered, I brought her inside and put her in the utility basement sink while I figured out what to do. I gave her a once over a noted that she definitely appeared distressed and her vent region was swollen and red. She was acting as if she were trying to push out an egg.
A note about chicken anatomy- basically they have one opening for poop/pee/eggs and called the vent. The vent opens into cloaca which then leads to all the gut stuff. The oviducts, carrying the eggs from the ovaries, empty into the cloaca just before exiting the vent. (No, I couldn’t visualize this before either.) Here is a good drawing if you are curious. At any rate, I’ll be using vent and cloaca frequently- so now you know.
Initially I thought she might be egg bound in which the egg gets stuck somewhere in transit and it is painfully fatal if not fixed. Recommended treatment is gloving and lubing and give her a feel around to see if you feel an egg. And giving her warm baths. For 30 minutes. Several times a day. Box of gloves and un-petroleum jelly secured, I gave her a thorough internal cloaca exam. No egg that I could discern. But really? What do I know? How would I know? I did notice a hard dime size lump just inside the vent opening that was painful to touch. Or at least her eyes rolled back when I poked at it. Yowsa.
I started giving her long warm bath soaks that she seemed to enjoy. She would slink back into the water, rest her head on the side of the sink and close her eyes. Who knows. Maybe she was dying, but she looked restful. After she’d been in the tub for a bit, with me offering her orange gatorade in a cap, I’d gently scrub her vent area to remove and goopy diarrhea (gloves!) and give her a little vent massage. As an aside, I had a planned c-section, so I have no frickin’ idea about childbirth or large things like babies or chicken eggs passing out of your body, but I was thinking something like perineal massage in human pregnancy. Maybe I’m nuts. But whatever, she drank the and calmed down.
Periodically I’d glove, lube & exam. And by periodically I mean before and after each bath. Which was at least 3 times a day. And many more times because I was freaking out and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. There was a lot of examining going on. Somewhere in that time frame she passed what looked like a pretty small light grey chunk that was crumbly when I smooshed it. About the size of a pinky nail. Yeah, I have no idea either. Just information.
As a side note- the smell! The smell of my basement was intensely disgusting. The 8 baby chicks were still living down there. She was still having nasty diarrhea. It is an odor that lingers. Haunts me actually.
Somewhere in there I thought she might have an impacted crop. The crop is where food goes to get digested some first as chickens don’t have teeth. They can get impacted and swollen making it impossible for food to get passed. Treatment? Squirt olive oil down the throat and massaging chest. Yes, I did this a lot too.
After 2 days of this we realized the only humane thing to do would be to cull her. Or kill her. Which there was absolutely no way I could do. Maybe to another chicken. But not Calypso. The Ladyfriend didn’t want to do it either, but for me she would suck it up.
We decided to let Calypso wander the garden in her last hours. We had a difficult discussion with the Babylady about how we needed to help Calypso die. We realized it was nap time and with relief decided to deal with it after nap.
But, aha, I had a brilliant plan! We could drug her! We could drug her asleep and then kill her when she was already asleep! I mean, who doesn’t wish to die in there sleep? And who wouldn’t rather kill a chicken that is already lying still? A win-win! So I proceeded to crush and mix with water a full adult size dose of BOTH ambien and klonopin and give it to her. She weighs about 3 pounds. Surely she’d be knocked out by that.
But NO! She proceeded to perk up and scratch and pick at the ground and nibble on things. Hmm. We decided to give her another day and put her back inside and gave her another bath. And I’m freaking out that her internal lump seems slightly larger and there is some blood around it. Tumor? Blood clot? I don’t know, but it seemed a problem. I wondered if I could “pop” it out.
For this I made the Ladyfriend stand by for moral support. Gloved and lubed I squeezed. I tugged. I coaxed. Nothing. It wasn’t budging. I made the Ladyfriend feel it. A closer look at the anatomy appeared like you might be able to reach the oviduct and we thought maybe the lump could be stuck in there. So armed with a lubed q-tip we were able to see the separation (maybe?) and insert the tip and it was bloody. We gave up. I couldn’t do this to her anymore. Clearly she needed to be culled. Whatever it was in there was painful for her and probably going to kill her.
Next day, another bath. Let her out to wander the yard while we gathered up our conviction to do the deed. We pondered just leaving her out all night to let nature do its thing. And by nature, I mean raccoons. The thought must have scared her (it did us) because she randomly perked up throughout the day. Nibbling dandelions. Pecking at worms. Scratching up seedlings. Pooping solids. We stalled until after nap time. And found her squawking outside the fence separating her from her flockmates. We gave up and sent her running back to her buddies and she has been fine since.
In my heart I was sure she would never lay an egg again. And if she tried, she die trying to lay it. Today, 2 weeks later, I found her in the nest box. And later- a perfect, tiny little polish hen egg!
Ripplin’ Waters: In Which the Mean Girls Attack
A few new realizations. Chickens are harsh. Pecking order means something. And it isn’t just subordination and hierarchy. It is brutal and bloody.
The eight baby chicks are now outside in the newly expanded coop. To properly integrate a flock you ideally wait until they are about the same size and/or have been exposed to each other for a few weeks without having actual contact. So the coop has a temporary divider in the middle of hardware cloth. Things have been peaceful for the week or so they have been semi-together. The hens sometimes walk by and peck at the coop wire mesh with the chicks on the other side, but mostly they ignore them.
I have been a bit worried about how it would go since I brought the eldest Black Australorp outside and held her in the side yard and my previously docile Buff Orpington (one of the Annies) proceeded to run at me and peck at her while I was holding her. Clearly this was going to be trickier than I thought.
For 3 days I had let the baby chicks outside in a separate penned in area so they could safely get a little sun & earth scratching. I thought it was secure. I covered the top. I checked on them frequently. The older hens would occasionally walk by and check them out, but for the most part nothing interesting happening. Thirsty Boots (the easter egger) would peck at a random chick through the wire and keep strutting by like it never happened. (“Who me? Peck? I wouldn’t dare!”) One of the Annies had been fluffing herself up to look big and made a loud ruckus outside the fence sometimes. (“I’m big & dumb, but I’ll kick your ass little one!”)
On Friday I was outside with the Babylady puttering around, checked on the chicks and then went in to get ready for naptime. Within minutes I heard a lot of noise, rushed to the window and saw black and white feathers flying and saw Thirsty Boots and one of the Annies looking like the Mean Girls. They were going after the poor little Barred Rock, Ripplin’ Waters, with gusto. In a manner of moments they pecked her clean from her from the back of her comb to her cape and to the earlobe on both sides. Skin, feathers: gone. Bloody, pulpy mess.
Meanwhile, the Babylady is running out and I can’t keep her away. I’m holding the bloody chicken and trying to be calm and tell her that Ripplin’ Waters might die. She is yelling that the they “ate her hair!” And then yells at Thirsty Boots and the Annie that they are mean. I’m trying to soothe the chick, protect my child and explain that the hens weren’t mean and that is just what they do (we’ve talked about the possibility a lot).
It was a (bloody) nightmare.
In the house and to the utility sink with a chicken for the 2nd time in 2 weeks. Padded it up with a towel, left some water and food and rubbed antibiotic ointment in her head. After the Babylady was settled I searched the previously mentioned forums and the Grow & Resist and Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) facebook pages for advice. In our first aid kit I found some random wound/burn spray that I got at a nursing conference years ago and have sprayed it on 4-5 times a day. She is looking good. As good as a scalped chicken can I mean.
I’ll be damned if that chicken doesn’t want out. I covered the sink with chicken wire and crimped it around the edges to secure and she kept escaping. Now I have a board across part of the top so it won’t pop off. Today I let her wander around the garden with us and she gobbled up clover lawn and seems perfectly happy with her bald head. I guess if she doesn’t get infected she’ll live too. But I’ll wait for a few more days till she I let her back with her chick buddies.
I’m hoping chicken crises don’t come in three. I’m chicken RN’d out.
Oh, and I am pretty sure I won’t be eating chicken anytime soon. Shudder.
(edited may 2)