Egg-binding in a hen is not a laughing matter. Our poor hen Philippa, a black Cuckoo Maran, had been looking a little “off” for a day or two before I actually went to the trouble to corner her and catch her up and examine her. Now, my Gentle Reader, I’ll have to warn you: my usual, genial and mild-mannered stories now and again will contain some earthy details. This is one of them. Go no further if you haven’t had your breakfast yet, or if the words “manure” or “chicken bottom” will offend you.
There. Now we’ll proceed. So I caught up my little hen. It wasn’t easy. For looking so peaked, she could really move. I could see that there was a problem with her bottom. I turned her upside down, carefully, and examined that sensitive area. I could see clearly that there was an egg stuck in her vent. Only a small amount of the egg showed, along with some manure. As I held her, she strained, letting out a little moan, and I could see her entire bottom swell with the effort, but the egg didn’t budge. Poor thing.
I couldn’t stand it. Something had to be done for poor Philippa.
I shooed the other hens out of the nursery, the “spare room” in our coop, and latched the door with Philippa inside. I brought her water and feed, and then I trudged back to the house to do a little reading on the matter.
What I read wasn’t exactly encouraging. Most writers of chicken-related websites (there are a lot of them) asserted that egg-binding was a serious problem, and often resulted in death. I couldn’t stand that, either. A trip to a “seasoned, avian veteranarian” might be warranted, said one website. Lacking that, one must do what one could do. The whole deal frustrated me: there was an egg stuck in her vent–she didn’t have a rare fatal disease. It seemed more of a mechanical issue. I would just have to do everything I could do to get that egg out. This chicken wasn’t going down without a fight, so to speak.
I narrowed my eyes and girded my loins (figuratively speaking) and I decided on a course of action.
First, I isolated Philippa away from the other, more boisterous chickens. Several writers suggested giving the hen a 20-minute warm sitz bath, and then massaging petroleum jelly into her vent. “It has to be 20 minutes,” asserted one website. “10 minutes is not long enough. 15 minutes is not enough.” Okay, then. 20 minutes it would be. Pouring oil into the vent wasn’t recommended, as it could turn rancid. Gak. I wondered how they knew such things.
I half-filled a bucket with warm water, grabbed petroleum jelly and an old towel, my phone (for the clock), and a pair of gloves, and headed back out to the coop. I had also seen instructions for how to carefully break and remove the egg from the hen, but that was a tough and risky choice, and must be employed only as a desperate last resort, apparently. I was going to go for the bath. The 20-minute bath, that is, not the 10-minute one or the ineffective 15-minute one, either. The 20-minute one.
As a matter of fact, the house was characteristically noisy and a bit wild that particular morning, so I was looking forward to 20 minutes of quiet in the coop with nothing more than an ailing chicken to think about. I realize that sounds pathetic, but so be it. Somebody had to do it, and that somebody was me. But little Mack caught sight of me heading out with my arms full and he tagged along.
I caught Philippa and carefully pinned her wings to her sides with my hands, and immersed her bottom half into the bucket. That was about when little Mack came in, and when his one-hundred-and-one questions for me started.
(Sigh.) I should have known better than to hope for 20 actual minutes of quiet on this day.
“What’s wrong with Philippa? Why is the egg stuck in her bottom? Why don’t the other chickens have eggs stuck in their bottoms? Why do ladies have hairs growing out of their chins? Why is today Friday? When can we go to the zoo?”
My 20 minutes of quiet was not to be. But Mack’s services came in handy, too, as I couldn’t at that point reach into my pocket to get my ‘phone out and check the clock, both hands being full of Philippa. I had assumed that I could hold Philippa with one hand into the bucket, but every time I relaxed my hold a bit, she’d struggle mightily. She might have an egg stuck in her bottom, but she still had a feisty spirit and wanted to get away.
I can’t imagine why. Surely that warm bottom-bath felt very relaxing, indeed, to her swollen bottom. After her 20-minute soak, I pulled her out, dried her bottom, and applied generous amounts of petroleum jelly to the area around the egg. I looked at her bottom. It was the cleanest chicken bottom I’d ever seen, at least that much was sure. She strained gently as I watched, though, and it didn’t appear that she was coming any closer to getting that egg out. I put her down, wished her good luck in laying that egg, and headed back to the house. The websites I had consulted said that after this treatment, the egg should be laid within an hour or two, or within a day at the latest.
If this didn’t happen, the hen would probably die.
I trudged out to the coop later that day, hoping for a perky Philippa and a freshly-laid egg in the nursery. But no. So, I gave Philippa a second 20-minute bottom-soak. Perhaps she’d lay the egg during the night? She looked absolutely miserable, and I heartily hoped that she’d succeed at pushing that egg out. It was pleasant outside, so we sat outside for this second soak. Amalia happened to have the camera handy, so she took my picture.
“You can write a blog post about it–” she pointed out, “if she survives, that is.”
Oh, if I had anything to do with it, she was going to survive. I didn’t sleep well that night, and I’m sure poor Philippa didn’t, either. First thing the next morning, I hurried out to check on her. She was still suffering and looked more distressed than ever. There was a lot of manure now around the vent, and it looked sore and strained. I went back to the house and brought all the soaking equipment back out again. Gloves, bucket, petroleum jelly, clock. Little Mack didn’t tag along this time. He’d had enough of the chicken coop, not to mention Philippa’s sore bottom. Philippa and I were getting to know each other pretty well.
Over the next two days, I gave my poor hen four 20-minute bottom-baths, to no avail. After the fourth one, I did pour a small amount of vegetable oil into her vent, hoping that it would coat the egg and make it more slippery for laying, cautionary notes notwithstanding. It was Sunday night and I felt pretty miserable about Philippa’s chances. She was not eating and felt bony and weak to me now when I held her. She didn’t even fight any more to get away from me. I really didn’t think she’s be alive in the morning.
I woke up many times during the night and prayed for my poor hen. I prayed that God would help her lay that egg, and if it was not to be, that she’d die at last and not suffer any longer. Perhaps, after all, she had some sort of a ailment or physical condition that I couldn’t see from the outside that was going to prevent that egg from ever being laid. In any case, I couldn’t bear the thought of the poor thing suffering any longer.
Morning came, and I didn’t hurry out to the coop this time. I was weary from my restless night, and I had a feeling that my poor hen, as weak and frail as she had gotten, was going to be dead. I almost even grabbed a trash bag on my way out the door, to put her poor pitiful body in. But something stopped me.
Guess what, Gentle Readers? My little hen met me at the door, skinny and wan, but her eyes bright, clucking softly, and standing over the egg that she had laid during the night. It was the egg that had been so firmly lodged in her bulging bottom for several days. Bless her heart. I reached down to pat her, but she had already regained some strength and took off away from me.
Well. That was okay. She still looked a little peaked (she would for a few days) since she hadn’t been eating, and her bottom was still swollen, but over the next couple of days she would slowly return to normal. I’ve actually had another hen a couple of months ago who died from egg-binding, so I was particularly happy and relieved that Philippa survived her bout. I’ve had other hens struggling with egg-laying issues (I won’t go into detail here, and you’re entirely welcome) and I’ve begun wondering if I can improve my choices of feed.
Of course your chickens, just like your family, are going to be healthier if you feed them what they are made to eat, or at least a decent facsimile of the same. Hens are made to eat, I believe, grass, weeds, and bugs. For a good six months of the year here in Nebraska (or longer!) there is no fresh grass or live bugs to be had, so I feed them a good layer ration, but I also supplement that with cracked corn, purchased from our local co-op in bulk, because that’s the cheapest (and it’s not cheap, either) grain I can get in bulk. Unfortunately, this is the genetically-modified corn, and I’ve always felt a bit guilty about feeding this questionable stuff to my hens. I’ve recently found a source for organic grains, and even though it’s a bit farther to drive to get them, that’s what I’m going to try.
We’ll see what happens, but I’m hoping to not go through this experience with another
hen–happy ending or no!
Update: I’m happy to report, one year later, that I’ve been feeding sprouted organic grains to my hens now for nearly a year, and I’ve not had even one case of egg-binding in my hens. Anecdotal? I don’t know. But I’m happy about it. Here’s how I sprout my grains, just in case you’re interested.
Oh! I’m linking this post up with the fun folks over at Jill’s Prairie Homestead Barn Hop. Join me! It’s fun and I promise you that you’ll learn something new!
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- Book Report: The Wild Table