Every now and then I learn things the hard way. This week the price of my tuition almost cost the life of one of our beloved hens. I thought I was being a good farmer by applying practical, even enterprising, uses for the hay the goats were wasting. I happily tossed it to the chickens. They seemed overjoyed at their bounty and reduced it to nearly nothing in a matter of hours. All seemed right in our little world. Then we woke up to find one of the hens acting strangely. She was doing this head and neck bobbing thing. Much like you would expect from a Lady Gaga performance only the hen didn't have much of a rhythm to her movements. As she moved, her throat gyrated back and forth in a pendulous shimmy. It was as if she had trapped a liter of water in her throat. My daughter who spends all her free time learning everything she can about poultry said, “Mom, I think she has sour crop”. She then proceeded to explain to me that sour crop is a condition that happens when a chicken's crop becomes impacted by something that the chicken has ingested and it becomes lodged in the crop. A chicken's crop is an organ in a birds digestive system that is between the esophagus and the stomach and acts as a storage area for food. If a chicken eats something that becomes impacted in the crop and the chicken is unable to pass the impaction then the chicken will eventually starve to death. Sure enough as we began to palpate the hen's throat area we could feel a very large mass. It was easy to manipulate but ultimately it was still a mass. I was almost certain all the wonderful hay I'd been joyfully tossing into the chicken coop was now causing our problem. We have a wonderful veterinary hospital that sees all types of animals, even chickens. They were able to get us right in and it was determined that our hen needed surgery or she was not long for this world. She was already very thin and I cringe to think of how long she had the impaction before we noticed. We spend a lot of time with all of our animals everyday. We hold them and talk to them. They are our family. Why hadn't we seen this large bulge days earlier? Why did we miss the signs of this hen loosing weight? It was a long day as we waited by the phone praying for the Lord's will to be the same as ours and that our hen would be back home safe and sound again. When the call came that Speckles had made it through the surgery just fine and that we could pick her up we were so relieved.
This is the mass of Timothy grass hay that was lodged in the crop of the hen, it measures: 5” x 3” x 2”.
This is a photo of her incision. It is about three inches long. She has dissolvable sutures. Her feathers cover up the incision to protect it from the other hens once she is able to be with them again.
Our little hen is doing well. She has her own personal chef now and she gets to have really neat food like: rice, yogurt, cottage cheese, oatmeal, and even scrambled eggs, every hour.
She has decided that bananas are gross but crumbled-up bread is wonderful. She also gets to live in the house for the next couple weeks.
Speckles checking out her new digs.
Hopefully the other hens will be nice about letting her back into the flock. I will keep you posted when we re-introduce them.
Update 3/21/12: The price of tuition just became too high. Yesterday I cleaned out all the remaining hay from the coop, but apparently another hen of ours ingested too much grass hay before I realized that I had caused this dangerous situation. She did not make it through surgery even though our veterinarian tried extremely hard to save her. We are blessed that we have not had more hens with a problem. I have learned a very valuable and sad lesson.