Here’s a chicken story with a good ending.
Two weeks ago, we’d been out all day. As usual, when we got home I went out to check the flock. Right now, we have 11 hens, mostly large breed, that lay eggs so colossal they can’t be contained in a standard egg carton. There are two little black bantams in the mix that lay smaller round, white eggs. This is a prolific group of layers and they are happy, sturdy gals. We love this flock and I watch them closely as these foxy fowl are attractive to more than just humans.
I made the journey down the well worn path, past the giant white oak and to the coop. Immediately, I noticed feathers under the hen house.
After a quick head count, and it was determined that all chickens were present, I gazed into the run to see a drooping hen. She was eating, and moving, but slowly. There was blood on her leg.
At once, I went into the poop zone (I have boots for this purpose) and grabbed her out of the run. Now, I’m not one for blood and guts which is why I’m an English teacher, not a nurse. But, when I saw the gash on my Barred Rock’s leg, I knew there was no turning back. What I saw, when I moved her feathers aside resembled a poultry slaughter house. A drum stick and possibly an organ was in clear view.
I quickly brought the patient inside.
As most folks know, you don’t bring a chicken inside during the rainy season unless you’re cooking it or you’re nursing it. Mud and stink traveled into the house and this chick needed a cleansing. If you’ve ever washed a chicken’s feet, you understand how fowl can be descendants of dinosaurs. They literally have leather-like, reptile claws which is why they’re able to grip a wooden dowel all night at 6 degrees.
My husband happens to love blood and guts. So, when I asked him, “Do we have another suture kit?” …and… “I think you’re gonna need to stitch a chick tonight,” he responded, “Sure. After dinner.” Of course, he said this without looking up from his salad prep, in a tone reflective of one who does poultry surgery several times a week.
So, with the patient relatively clean, a suture kit, a nurse assistant (me), a headlamp and a willing surgeon, the procedure began. The laundry room was quickly converted to a surgery site complete with an obnoxiously bright light and metal tools. Music and scrubs were the only missing elements. Although the little hen did coo a bit as we held her tightly in the surgeon’s lap, she took the trauma like a real woman.
“Hon. This is a pretty nasty shred of a wound. I have my doubts this chicken will survive,” Matt said as he saw the exposed flesh and gore.
“We’ll have to look at it as an experiment,” I said. “If we stitch and she lives, then it was worth it. Otherwise, there’s no way she can live with a gash this size,” I surmised.
It took us about 20 minutes of feather plucking around the gaping injury and another several minutes of applying purple anesthetic to prep the sufferer. Then, the surgery began. There is something awesome that happens when a chicken goes into shock. The chicken just calms down and lets you do whatever you need to do to it. The young hen was wide awake and strong through the whole affair, cooing and grunting occasionally but not fussing too much.
After an hour of pinching and fastening skin, the deed was done. It probably took 20 – 25 stitches to sew her up. Look how happy my hubby is post-procedure. He really did miss his calling.
One benefit of being a convalescent chicken in midwinter is that you get to sleep in the big house next to the dryer. A nice bed was made for our little hen in a box and she took to it readily.
Next morning, just before the surgeon made his rounds, our patient had flown the box and was smugly perched atop the side, a haughty look across her beak. “Look at me,” she seemed to cluck. She reminded me of the heart patient taking his first walk around the hospital floor, the day after the bi-pass.
Day 1: She pecked slightly on two Frosted Mini Wheats.
Day 2: She gnoshed down a whole bowl of wild rice.
Day 3: She ate a bowl of feed was ready to go back to her people. That afternoon, I reintroduced her to the flock for a couple of hours. When I placed her in the coop, the others lifted their combed heads, pausing from that ever-important business of picking food from mud and poop. There was a collective acknowledgement amongst her coop-mates, “Oh. You’re alive.” The moment was brief, and then it was back to scratching. She joined them and it was then I knew she would make it.
A couple of days later, I took these photos.
Yesterday, we brought her in to take a look at the sutures and to apply more anesthetic. Amazingly, two weeks later, she is alive and well.
There are nay sayers out there, people who probably think we’ve been hen pecked a few too many times.
“You guys are crazy spending all that time on a lousy chicken that probably won’t lay again anyway.” That thought crossed my mind. Maybe they’re right. But, it’s been worth the try. She’s been a mighty good patient and a faithful layer. We owed it to her to give her a chance.
So far, the stitches have held. But, you just don’t know how it will play out. That’s the excitement of this hobby and its the fun of living with this sometimes-surgeon. You never know what experience is coming your way. Kinda like life generally.
So thankful to share the good news with you!