Dogs lay around most of the day, chickens do not. They are constantly busy and usually stick rather close to one another. If one is listless and by herself, she is sick.
I keep chickens. I’m pretty new at it. We have six hens. On Sunday evening, Ben noticed that one of the youngest hens was acting funny. Andre (a Jersey Giant) was not herself. I glanced in her direction, thinking maybe the first of warm days of the year had her a bit tired out.
Last night, when we got home from work, I went to let all the girls out into the yard and found Andre hunkered down in the coop.
I scooped her up and checked her vent (the all purpose chicken exit). It looked fine. I looked for injuries. I didn’t find any, but she didn’t seem as supple as my other birds and her feathers looked a bit ratty.
She was uninterested in grain. I shooed her into the yard and she just found another place to hunker down. Her best friend, an Australorp named Henny Penny, circled nervously around her.
Andre is my husband’s chicken. Ben was not crazy about getting chickens, but after we got the first four, he came around and decided he wanted a Jersey Giant (the biggest chicken you can get). She was his birthday present. He named her Andre. I do not want anything to happen to this chicken.
Ben and I briefly discuss the possibility of taking her to the vet. The regular vet may be an option, an emergency after-hours vet is not.
After dinner I check on her again. She is hiding under Nora’s raised sandbox. Henny Penny is still with her. I squat down for another inspection. She closes her eyes. It seems she could stop breathing at any moment. Henny Penny walks up to me and looks me straight in the eye. Her brown eyes stare into mine for a good five seconds. It is one of those moments of inter-species connection you may have had with a dog. I just had it with a chicken. I am now obligated to do everything I can to save Henny Penny’s friend and protector.
I return to the house and search the internet. Nora, sensing tension, is at her toddler worst. She is jumping on the bed, climbing on us, yelling. Trying to step in the keyboard. I am irritated and get a bit snappy.
Ben, in a stroke of absolutely beautiful parenting, gently pulls Nora close and explains that Andre is sick and we are trying to find out how to help her. We are not mad at Nora, but we are worried about Andre, so we need her to use her gentlest touches and be as calm as she can while we figure out what to do.
I keep seeing mentions to check the chicken’s “crop.” I do not know what a “crop” is, which frustrates me, as I feel like I researched chickens rather thoroughly. I finally piece it together. The crop sack located at the front of the chest and is used in digestion. If the chicken eats a bunch of grass, or (god forbid) string, it can clump and impact the crop, preventing nutrients from being absorbed and actually starving the chicken. It can take awhile for the chicken to show signs of illness.
Back outside, I feel the around on Andre’s chest and find her crop feels like a wad of silly putty. I grab Henny Penny, her crop is undetectable. I run to the coop, where Ben has put the older hens, to keep them from bullying the sick chicken. All their chests are smooth.
Following instructions from the internet, Ben takes Nora downstairs to get a plastic tube, while I mix a solution of plain yogurt and olive oil. I scoop up Andre, flip her over, force open her beak, put the tube in her mouth and pour the mixture down her gullet. Righting her, I wait a few minutes. Then I begin to gently knead the ball of goo stuck in her crop. At intervals, I grab her feet and turn her upside down, hoping she will vomit some of the contents of her crop. Very little comes back out. I wait awhile, still holding her. I find I am rocking her like a baby. Nora and Ben sit on the patio. Nora is calm, asking questions. We explain there is some grass and junk stuck in Andre’s throat and we need to help her get it out. Nora comes over and I place her hand on the swollen crop so she can feel the mass.
Ben constructs a holding pen in the coop, to keep Andre safe and separated. He hangs the chick light, to keep her warm, as she’s been shaking a bit. We give her fresh water and a small amount of food. We tuck everyone in for the night.
This morning, Henny Penny was roosting on the electrical cord of the chick light, keeping vigil. Andre was laying quietly in her pen. The mass is a bit smaller, but still substantial. I gave her another treatment and will speak with the vet today. I am hopeful.