I know, I know – everytime I see ads for Brazilian Blowouts it seems naughty to me too and I don’t want to ask.
But if you are going to have chickens at home, you need to think about some of the weirder diseases chickens get by virtue of their anatomy, and this is the story of Shy Chicken’s illness.
To understand her illness you need to (at least conceptually) recognize several different things. One is, while America may have stories of Silicon Valley rags-to-riches where a poor child from the projects can make it to a new echelon of society, Chickenland is more grim and 1984-ish. If you are low on the pecking order due to size/weight/fighting menace and personality, you pretty much stay there. Such is the way of Shy Chicken, who Jason and I believe is lowest on the pecking order of our three chickens.
Also, it’s not like Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park’s Chicken Run – there’s a lot of pecking and backbiting and nastiness among chickens regardless of rank.
The third thing to ponder is a chicken’s butt. Most people would prefer not to think of where eggs actually come from, and for the squeamish I offer you the demure shot of Business Chicken below.
As you think of Business Chicken’s gorgeous tail feathers, remember that they conceal the chicken’s vent, or where the egg finally comes out, and the channels leading from the vent into the reproductive and digestive tracts of the chicken (namely the cloaca, but also this pouch called the cloacal bursa). Where humans have developed separate areas for reproduction and elimination of wastes, birds are different.
Jason noticed that the other chickens were picking at Shy Chicken’s buttfeathers, and examining her, it didn’t look good (rather bloody in fact). He brought her to the Bird and Exotic Clinic of Seattle where they explained that her oviduct (passage where egg matures) had essentially “blown out” through her vent, and the other chickens were picking and pecking at it.
“Blowout” according to the Chicken Health Handbook can happen if the chicken passes an unusually large egg, (what we were thinking for Shy Chicken), starts laying too young ( Shy WAS in fact the first of the three to lay), or is too fat (Shy Chicken has stayed the littlest chicken, we think in part because she’s lowest on pecking order – fat is not her issue).
To prevent further damage, we brought Shy Chicken indoors after the vet got her less inside-out and gave her medication to ease her suffering. For those who wondered, we spread newspaper all over the floor of one bathroom (we should have used thicker tarps we had, oh well) and kept her in there for a week while we medicated her. Keeping her indoors was bad for her psychologically – chickens are flock birds – but protected her butt from being pecked to death before it could heal.
This stint indoors led to the famous “post childbirth” photo that Jason laughs at me for, but in getting hold of Shy Chicken in order for him to dose her, I looked exactly like the rumpled mother of a newborn.Mostly, I draped myself in washable terrycloth bathrobes and towels because I was afraid of being pooped on and/or pecked in Shy Chicken’s distress.
While on the topic of what can go long in the internals of a chicken laying eggs, I want to call out another condition (lethal to the chicken) called egg binding. This is when an egg gets stuck in the gears, so to speak, and if its not removed or broken carefully ( and the pieces removed) the chicken will die.
We haven’t run into egg binding yet, but I’ve seen two remedies described. The For Dummies folks have a strategy involving moist heat and my trusty Chicken Health Handbook calls for coating your finger in KY jelly, sticking the finger into the chicken’s vent (yes, I know, but remember the chicken dies if you don’t do this). Holding the chicken’s abdomen with the other hand, you look for the egg – if too big to pass, you break it carefully, removing sharp bits of shell without hurting the chicken, and rinse the cloaca with hydrogen peroxide.
It’s possible this process creates a situation similar to Shy Chicken’s blowout, where the cloacal tissue extends out through the vent. As before, you need to isolate the blown-out chicken so the others don’t peck her. Really if I suspected egg binding, I’d be a wuss and be at the vet’s immediately, but if things are dire and you don’t want to wait, you now have two tactics to apply.
Eventually, Shy Chicken’s butt returned to normal (obviously her normal egg laying was disrupted during this time) and we were able to return her to the flock, still a bit aghast (as new chicken owners) at chicken’s inhumanity to chicken. But this was not to be the only time we brought a chicken indoors. More on that, in a separate post.