This isn't the blog post I expected to be writing this morning. I have a lovely one all ready, in my head at least, about these amazing whole wheat cinnamon buns that we made yesterday.
Instead, I'm writing about prolapse in chickens. (If you're feeling squeamy today, stop reading now.)
I went out to the barn this morning on my usual round of chores and I noticed one of the Minorca Blacks was sitting under the watering stand. Even when I threw down some feed, she just sat there. I gently gave her a nudge with my boot and when she stood up, I immediately understood why she was there.
Hanging from her backside was what looked like a bloody, poopy mass: it was a prolapsed oviduct, also known as eversion or blowout. This usually occurs when a chicken (or duck or goose) strains to pass a too big egg. Essentially, the lower part of the oviduct, the tube by which the eggs passes, turns inside out.
If caught early, I've read that it's possible to wash the area with warm water and a gentle antiseptic or even sugar water, to help reduce the swelling, before gently pushing the mass back in. Then you apply hemorrhoidal cream such as Prep H to the area and isolate the hen so the others don't pick at her. (If you want more info, go here, here, here or here.)
Unfortunately, I think I found it too late. I tried cleaning the area and while she wasn't agitated at all, it was impossible to remove all the detritus. There was just too much swelling and poop and nastiness. And the smell... I'm not normally a queasy person but thank goodness I hadn't eaten breakfast yet. Unfortunately, a stench like that suggests infection and that's not a good thing.
So I know what I have to do: I should put her out of her misery. And I'm being a total coward about it. If I'm totally honest, there's a part of me that hopes she passes while I'm inside trying to figure out HOW to do this. Like dying a slow death due to shock or sepsis is more palatable than a quick death my hands. Right.
I'm not the only greenhorn to go through this, I know. Just yesterday I read and commented on a great post at E-I-E-I-OMG! about how blogger Susan had to call in a neighbour to help her do the ultimate dispatch.
She captured my feeling towards this perfectly when she wrote,
"I think a lot of my cowardice comes from equal parts: fear and ignorance. Fear that I will somehow botch the job and make the suffering worse, and ignorance of what is the best and most humane way to end a chicken's life. Sure, I know all the processing methods - quick chop/sharp axe, broom handle/foot, cone/knife - I've got the books. But this (at least to me) is different. Maybe that's where I'm going wrong. I had better arm myself better for the future - knowledge-wise, that is."
I promised to share the misses and blisses of life on our farm and this is definitely one of the misses. I'll keep you posted.
UPDATE: Okay, I'm still sitting at my computer trying to figure out what to do. I've been reading this thread at BackYard Chickens and I'm more confused than ever! Do I break its neck, using its head like a handle and then spin (I shuddered just writing that) or take a hatchet to it (the thought totally turns my stomach)? Or do something else? I've never ever killed anything before but I don't think it's fair that I always get Lucas to do this kind of dirty work.
I'm freaking out here. Any thoughts, suggestions?