I'm about to get all kinds of TMI on you. I'm talking seriously gory. If you have a weak stomach, or very little interest in the care of terribly sick chickens, you should skip this post. I am happy to tell you though, that I didn't take any photographs of the experience I'm about to detail, so you won't be forced to look at them. You can use your imagination. It will be plenty.
Our sweet Goldilocks is our handicapped chicken. For a reason I never did determine, back around the time the girls were feathering out, Goldi developed a strange limp/wobble sort of problem. She walks a few steps, then wobbles and falls back. She carries her wings loosely at her sides instead of tucked up neatly like the other hens, and her tail is always down. It's like she has such weak muscle structure that she can't support herself. I know this is a common problem with meat chickens, but she's a laying breed, and isn't exceptionally large. She's never seemed unhappy though - she eats and drinks as well as the rest, and seems to manage alright despite her handicap. She's particularly well loved for being one of the more calm and gentle chickens... probably because she's too slow to run away when a Little Girl wants to hold her.
Anyway. So that's Goldi's back story. We've always known she wasn't well. I haven't expected her to live very long. But we've loved her just the same.
Well, Goldi laid her first egg yesterday, and I could tell by looking at the egg that it was a struggle for her. It was covered in blood, mucous, and feces. Most eggs come out quite clean, but this one was really gross. And I noticed she was starting to get poo matted to her back side, never a good sign. I went out today with a tub of water and a rag to try cleaning her up a bit, and what I found when I lifted her tail almost made me gag. Egg binding mixed with a prolapse. It was an egg, hanging from her vent, still completely surrounded by the vent tissue. Her insides were hanging out of her body, with an egg stuck in them. Cora said, "Mom! Goldi's laying a red egg!" I promptly sent both girls inside.
Then I geared up for playing chicken-doula. With rubber gloves on, I oiled my fingers and massaged the tissue surrounding the egg, trying to lubricate it enough that the egg could come out. I soaked her in a warm bath with lavender and olive oil, massaging the whole lower half of her abdomen. The awful part was that she didn't mind. No healthy chicken likes being put in a tub of water, but she just relaxed and let me rub her. When I let her up, she stumbled a bit and walked sideways, but then righted herself and walked away... egg still hanging from the vent, with bits of intestine squeezing out alongside it.
It was at the point that I called my husband and let him know he'd need to plan on putting a chicken down when he got home from work.
And then I went back out... and the egg was out! Another nasty, bloody, slimy mess laying on the ground, but it was out! I looked at her back side... and it was awful. Not as awful as the egg just hanging there wrapped in bloody vent tissue, but clearly a good bit of her insides were still hanging out of her body. Some research on the internet, and some advice from the ladies at the BackYardChickens forum led me to the next move: using a gloved finger, lubricated with Preparation H, to push the prolapse back into her body cavity.
I decided my husband's finger was the one we should use.
He was able to temporarily incapacitate the bird by tucking her head under her wing and swinging her slowly around in circles in front of him, a trick taught to him years ago by a family friend. (Thanks, Mr. Bonnell!) It didn't hurt her at all, only made her too dizzy and disoriented to fight for a minute. And any sane chicken - even a hurting one - would fight if you were shoving her organs back inside her rear end.
She laid amazingly still. Her vent was so swollen it was a trick to get the intestines back inside her body and to actually stay there. Poop was running out as we did it, which I tried to wipe away with a rag, but it was impossible to get it all off. I'm worried about it causing an infection. Oh my god, I wiped chicken poop off of chicken intestines hanging out of a chicken vent. There are a lot of things I never thought I'd do in my life. But I never even considered this one.
It was an awful, horrific process. It was bloody and poopy and gory. Amazingly, when it was all over and it appeared that the vent sphincter would actually hold the intestines inside her body, she got up and walked away. Ten minutes later she was happily pecking at some spinach and cucumber, and drinking a healthy amount of water.
So we didn't put her down. Yet. I'm worried that with whatever condition it is that she has, that makes her so weak and wobbly, this will be an ongoing problem. And I have to say, as much as I love our sweet, handicapped Goldi, I have no intention of pushing her intestines back inside her body every time she lays an egg. That is no life for a chicken to have to live, and no life for me to have to live either. If it happens again, we're going to have to put her out of her misery.
And so for now, Goldi is locked in a separate area in the coop, where the other hens can't peck at her rear end until it's had time to heal. And so the stupid rooster can't force her to mate, which is seriously the very last thing the poor girl needs right now, and the first thing he tried. She's miserable, locked away from the rest of the flock like that, and it's going to be a rough couple of nights until she gets used to it. But it's what is best for her.
So say a little prayer tonight for our sweet Goldi-girl. Two Little Girls are going to be broken hearted if she doesn't survive, though I've done my best to prepare them for it.
This chicken-raising is some seriously stressful stuff! Probably more trouble than it's worth. But we love all of our girls (and our rotten rooster) dearly, whether we ever intended to get attached or not.