Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dealing with prolapse

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?


Annie's Granny said...

I had to put a small bird out of its misery last year, and it was difficult for me to do it. I remembered what a vet told me once, when we had to put down a hamster, so I did this with the bird. It might just work with your hen. Put the animal/bird gently into a plastic bag, and hold it up to the tailpipe of your running car. It takes a very short time to end the life, and it is painless for the bird/animal. Good luck.

Fiona said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mustangsabby said...

OK, so a little gory, but here is my memory.

I remember seeing the local farmer with his meat birds. He had a cone shaped metal tube affixed to the wall, which he stuffed the bird head first down into it, then pulled the head slightly through to expose the neck. Then, with a quick slash of a (very sharp) knife, cut the birds throat. No thrashing about, no flapping and struggling, and then, when the bird was dead (and bled out), he pulled it out and then on to the boiling water for plucking.

(I think you can see this process also done in Food Inc, where the farmer is talking about how they tried to shut his chicken processing down because it was "outside", all the while they are processing meat birds.)

It sounds terrible, but think of it this way. We, as animal owners, have the responsibility and honour to be able to end an animals suffering. By understanding that this animal will suffer, we can be humane, and ease their pain. I am always humbled when I know that this animal is dependant on me, and I give many thanks for the life it had with us. this goes for any animal one owns, I think, be it a treasured pet, or a dedicated laying hen.

Best of luck.

Fiona said...

Hmmm.. lost my response. Let's try this again.
Thanks for the suggestion, Granny. This sounds like somethign I could stomach. It's the violence, or my perception of violence, that gets me with the other methods, even though it's an act of compassion and not cruely. This seems more like sending her off to sleep, although I'd probably change my tune if she freaked while in the bag.
Raising the animals is the "simple" part, isn't it. It's dealing with their full life cycle that gets tricky.

Mama Pea said...

Try to get to a place where you're not thinking of the "killing" but rather putting this poor bird out of her misery in the quickest way possible.

Make sure you have a sharp hatchet or axe. Thank her for all the eggs she's provided your family and tell her you don't want her to suffer anymore. Lay her with her head and neck on a wide chopping block, one that will hold her head, neck and part of her body. In her state, she probably won't be moving much. (If necessary to restrain her, pound two long nails into the chopping block, maybe 2" apart, near one edge, lay her head on one side of the nails with her body held by her feet on the other.)

Make one swift, hard chop behind her head. DON'T shut your eyes at the last minute or take your eyes off the spot you want to hit. It will be over in an instant.

We're all there with you, Fiona dear. The first is always the hardest.

Erin said...

omigosh! That's terrible, but at some point when you raise chickens it happens. Where's MamaPea? That's your go-to, either her or her daughter Chicken Mama would know exactly how to do it. Honestly, if I was outside city limits and in an emergency I would probably shoot it with a .22 at close range obviously. ???? Or very sharp knife quickly and while covering its eyes? Mama Pea where are you?! Anxiously awaiting further knowledge to file away for the future...

Fiona said...

Thanks everyone for providing valuable comment, without judgement.

Mustangsabby -- I've seen the cone method and I've read lots about it and I expect if we ever raise meat birds, that's the method we'd go by. Thanks for your insight and wisdom. You put it beautifully.

Mama Pea -- you're right. I know you are. I know what I have to do. I just ahve to get up the guts to do it but it's horrible watching her suffer. Thank you.

Erin - I do hope this helps you. I've learned so much from your blog -- at least I can feel good about giving back with some of my knowledge and experience.

I'll keep you all posted.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly how you are feeling!!! Last year I had a hen that ended up with visceral gout. Yuck!
I had the block and axe all ready. Lifted it to do the deed and couldn't bring myself to drop it down. I knew she was in misery. But I couldn't do it.

Thankfully, I didn't have to . She ended up dying within a couple hours. I dread the day when a situation will arise again. So far, so good.

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