If you’ve been reading my blog at all, I feel that I owe you an explanation . . . about the rather unusual name of my website. You’ve maybe picked up on the fact that my family of origin (e.g. the Youngs) frown on crude or poor language of any kind. Perhaps you’ve even heard me refer to the words we had to make up, as children, because so many words were forbidden in our house. “Vomiting” could be perceived by some as a crude word, if not a crude activity. So here the introduction ends and the explanation begins.
Last summer I noticed that one of our hens, “Nelly” by name, a lovely blue and brown Ameraucana, developed an unusually large crop. She was off-balance. As you probably already know, if you’re a chicken person (and you probably are, if you’re looking at this page) chickens possess a muscular pouch along the esophagus (charmingly spelled “oesophagus” in Britain, by the way) called the ‘crop’. It is a valuable little organ which serves to soften food and regulate its flow through the system by storing it temporarily. This organ seems to work to compensate for the fact that God did not choose to give chickens teeth.
Poor Nelly reminded me of a top-heavy woman when she scooted about, the swollen crop swaying in a disturbing manner. Her spirits seemed to be good, however. She was perky and energetic, amazingly, darting about after bugs and competing with the other chickens for scraps. It was a bit disconcerting to watch her, however.
I pondered. What could I do? Should I do something? Was there anything that could be done? Perhaps it was a problem that would take care of itself, I thought, squeamish coward that I am, so I decided to just watch her closely for a few days.
So, I watched her. I saw that she would lumber out of the coop in the mornings to eat and drink and scuttle about with the other chickens as if everything was hunky-dory, not at all like she was carrying what amounted to a largish softball in her chest cavity. She seemed a tad reflective. There didn’t appear to be any self-pity involved, any rancor or bitterness or the using of this trial as an excuse to treat her fellows with meanness.
Nelly has excellent character, apparently. She could be a model of surviving a difficult situation with bravery and aplomb. I needed to point her out to my children, I decided. They could learn from her. I could learn from her. (Sigh.)
I decided that I did, indeed, need to do something. Of course my first line of research is to call my dad. Dad is a farm boy and knows a lot about everything. I never know the difference between what topics he’s actually an expert on, and what he might just make up to satisfy me, because he always sounds so grave and intellectual.
Dad is a man of many gifts with an encyclopedic memory, and I knew he’d know how to fix my Nelly. Moreover, I knew he’d be empathetic and understanding, since I’m pretty sure that I inherited my painfully tender heart where animals are concerned from him. Dialing the phone, I imagined in a rush of affection that my dear ole’ dad would in all certainty rush out to cure my suffering chicken right then and there. Dad has swooped in many times over the years at times of crisis, to make everything right. I knew this would be one of those times.
My hopes were dashed. “Sounds like it’s time for chicken soup!” he proclaimed happily. I was appalled to hear him actually smacking his lips. “Coincidentally,” he added, “Mom has some fresh homemade noodles curing on the counter here. I could run some out. . .”
Well! So much for fatherly empathy and understanding.
“Dad. It’s Nelly, not some superfluous rooster. I don’t really want to butcher her,” I countered, much as the thought of chicken and noodles, to be honest, gave me pause. Mom does make the very best noodles. They are tender, yet chewy. They plump up in the broth so nicely. ( posted the recipe, by the way, right here, if you’re interested.) Oh! And she has perfected a chicken stock recipe so delicious that I will devote much of a day to making it, just to have the most delicious chicken stock you can imagine, in my freezer at all times. It’s that good.
Anyway–I had been so preoccupied by this bulging crop problem that I hadn’t cooked anything more complicated than boxed macaroni and cheese for a good two or three days, and I was hungry. Nelly, though, was one of my favorite hens, a good layer of bluish eggs, to boot. I really didn’t want to give up on her without some effort, my gnawingly-hungry stomach notwithstanding.
So, trying to forget Mom’s homemade noodles, plump and squishy and steamy hot in their aromatic stock, surrounded by hearty chunks of chicken meat—I’m drooling–onward and upward I went, to my next line of research: Google. I don’t often ignore the wisdom of Dad, but this time, Nelly’s life was at stake. Literally.
I dived in to “chicken crop problems” and immersed myself in reading about shared experiences and wacky hypotheses and bizarre chicken-crop-problem anecnotes that left me eventually bobbing to the surface, gasping for breath.
I was aghast, Gentle Reader, to find hundreds of entries about crop problems in chickens! (I didn’t read them all.) Who knew the crop was such a ailment-prone organ! I was astonished to read of people who spent hundreds of dollars (yes, hundreds) on vet bills for their pet chicken with the crop problem, only to have it die, anyway. I read about complicated recipes (always including, but not limited to, raw organic honey and Greek “yoghurt” and pure castor oil) that people recommended, along with tedious directions on how to feed this mixture to the chicken, with an eyedropper, several times an hour. For days . . . on . . . end.
Why did this bother me, you might ask, and well that you should Here’s a fact, dear reader: chickens are like pigs, in that they will eat anything. Not many people know this. I’ve seen hens gobble down moldy bread with relish, grab a live mouse and fight over it, eating it alive, and much, much worse. So why in the name of all that’s logical and sane would a chicken need to eat only organic honey?! Or honey at all, for that matter? Or expensive “yoghurt.” I began to wonder at the sanity of chicken owners (myself excepted, naturally).
One website asserted that the only way to really understand Sour Crop, another “frightening disorder,” was to “pretend, for a moment, that you are a chicken.” Another one explained in detail how to make a chicken vomit. (Being prone to car sickness since I was a baby, not to mention staggering through six nausea-filled pregnancies, I’ve had more experience with vomit than I’ll ever want to admit. I wasn’t going there, I decided.
I also found detailed instructions (with pictures!) on how to do crop surgery on a hen, with the assurance that chickens, after all, have “amazing healing capacity,” and that it was notably cheaper than taking the afflicted bird to the vet. That was intriguing . . . I’ve always been the sort of person who was happy to be asked to pull a tooth, or extricate a sliver . . . maybe this wouldn’t be that much different? Nah.
Chicken with noodles was sounding better and better. I was not taking Nelly to the vet, or spending hundreds of dollars on her. I was fond of her, but I wasn’t a lunatic. (I won’t judge those of you who have taken a treasured hen to the vet, by the way. Neither will I criticize those of you who might be lunatics. It’s a free country. I nearly took a favorite duck to the vet once, but that’s another story. His name was “Wheezy.” He died, sadly. Perhaps he would still be alive today if I had forked out hundreds of dollars to the local vet. (But probably not.)
I finally went on a short walk to clear my head. While out, I spotted Nelly, and guilt washed over me. Poor thing! Here she was, giving her all, laying those beautiful eggs day after day and I couldn’t be bothered to take care of something as simple as an impacted crop, merely because I happened to be a bit squeamish about vomit.
For Pete’s sake–she had been suffering for several days by now. She was a noble chicken with excellent character. She deserved better. Then and there I decided that it was time: something had to be done. Her corpulence was, in fact, alarming. But what, from all the remedies that I had read about, should I do?
Diagnosis was an important first step, so I carefully caught Nelly and palpated the lump. From what I had read, it could be impacted grain, or impacted hay and grass, and the latter was by far the more complicated problem. Hmmm . . . Nelly seemed to have impacted grain and hay and probably grass, too, as far as I could tell. I could feel clearly the contents of the crop through the skin, stretched tight as a drum.
I drew on my vast wealth of Google-knowledge for the next step in the diagnostic procedure: to smell the chicken’s breath. If it had an “offensive odour,” it could mean “sour crop” which is a worse problem yet, and usually results in (you guessed it) chicken noodle soup. Or dumplings. Or stewed chicken. It was a little hard to smell Nelly’s breath, because she was flailing about so, but as far as I could tell it seemed pretty much like any other chicken’s breath. (A moment of honesty here: she was wildly trying to peck me as I lowered my face to hers, so I didn’t really get that good of a whiff. She just smelled, overall, chickeny.)
The surgery was by far the last course of action that I would have chosen, and I sure wasn’t going to pour any of our raw organic honey down Nelly’s throat, and for Pete’s sake I didn’t even buy pricey Greek “yoghurt” for my own kids. I certainly was not going to buy it for my chicken. Much as I liked Nelly, I wasn’t that far gone. And pretending to be a chicken? C’mon.
It seemed to me that the easiest course of action might be to go in for the vomit. So I took a deep breath, braced my feet, and . . . trying to recall the articles I had perused on the subject, positioned Nelly with her head downwards. She relaxed a little, and stopped trying to kill me, being in this vulnerable position. Honestly, I think she decided that it was the homemade noodles for her and resigned herself to her fate.
I prayed for gravity to take effect, as I began to massage the crop, gingerly at first, and then a bit more vigorously. I did get a few coughs out of her, and then as she shook her head in distaste, and splattered spittle out onto my hands and arms and jeans, I thought I could detect a “foul odour” on her breath. Hmm. . . could it be the dreaded sour crop? She started flailing and squawking wildly by this time, though, which made the crop-massaging pretty difficult. I was using, roughly, 90% of my energy on chicken-restraining, and only about 10% on crop-massaging and vomit-encouraging.
Nelly did spit up a little grain, and some water, but I wouldn’t say that it was a satisfying experience for either of us. Not like it would have been, say, if she’d really just upchucked all over the place, and then hopped down, crop nice and flat and smallish again, as it was meant to be, and cheerfully joined her friends in the grass for her evening salad, winking her thanks to me–her selfless benefactress–and maybe even laying an extra blue egg of gratitude.
But no. I continued to massage, trying to be as gentle as possible. I was afraid that more vigorous massaging might lead to crop-puncture or one of the myriad problems I’d read about during my internet search. But was I being too gentle?
I was so intent on my work that I didn’t even hear my daughter Amalia walk across the yard to my side, and I jumped when she spoke.
“What are you doing to that chicken?” she asked, her blue eyes open wide.
“Trying to make her vomit,” I muttered. I managed a brave grin of sorts, through the hair that had fallen in my face. I must have looked every bit of a maniacal lunatic, disguised as her mother.
Without a word, my daughter turned and walked stiffly back to the house. Probably she was practicing what she was going to say when she made the ‘phone call to her dad to inform him that his lunatic wife was out in the yard, trying to make a chicken vomit. Their lives would never be the same, after I was hauled off to the asylum. What would all her friends say, she wondered, dully, as she stumped back to the house.
I repeated this little procedure a few times over the next couple of days, convinced that it was, after all, doing some good. Nelly started to run when she saw me coming–away from me, that is, not towards me. Happily, she did recover. She’s still a little on the stout side, but I never did have to resort to taking her to the vet, performing at-home surgery, pretending that I was a chicken, or feeding her with an eyedropper ‘round the clock. Not that I actually would have done any of those things.
In retrospect, the entire episode was probably worth it to see Bryan’s face on that first day when he got home from work and asked me his daily question: “Did you do anything interesting today?”
So now you know, Gentle Reader, if you made it to the end of this long and rambling tale–why the . . . um . . . strange name of my blog. It was a memorable moment, trying to make my chicken vomit, and I’ve still got the chicken, Nelly, to prove it.
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