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Another Day in the Country

Egg bound and down

© Another Day in the Country

It’s the eggs that fascinate me most about chickens.

I love to gather them. It takes me back to childhood, to the excitement of reaching into a nest and wondering how many eggs I would find.

Being an artist, I love the different colors of eggs and the fact that each hen lays a signature hue. When I gather eggs from my hens, I relish the fact that they come in several shades of blue, green, brown, and white. They look like an art piece in my egg dish.

Visiting my grandson during spring break, I discovered he needed some egg gathering education.

“You have to do it daily,” I told him, “and when you bring them in, you need to wash them if they are dirty.”

With all the spring rain in California, it was almost impossible to get pristine clean eggs out of the nest box before somebody tracked in mud. I could tell they hadn’t been too religious about washing because I found a carton of pathetic looking eggs in the refrigerator. There is nothing quite so unappealing as a carton of dirty eggs.

Not only was Dagfinnr learning important lessons; I had some lessons to learn, too.

One morning I came out and Peckerface was in the chicken run and couldn’t walk. We finally got her out, checked her all over, and couldn’t find anything broken or bleeding.

She just sat hunched up, not moving, and it reminded me of symptoms I’d read in my Chicken Bible about a hen being “egg bound.”

“What can we do?” my daughter asked.

I didn’t know. I had only seen this a couple of times, and it was a diagnosis made after I’d found the hens dead.

If you’ve mostly just eaten chicken and not played nurse-maid to them, being egg-bound means that the egg is too big to be laid. The bird cannot discharge waste because the elimination system becomes closed. The chicken becomes toxic and dies.

I’d no more than admitted my ignorance when my daughter was already searching on her miraculous phone for the answer.

“Sitz bath in warm Epsom salts,” she said, “application of lubricant in the vent…”

She went on reading about what we could do to help Peckerface with her problem.

Miraculously, Jana had Epsom salts —flat out astonishing, because this is my daughter who doesn’t always even have staples like flour or cornstarch in her cupboard.

Within minutes, we had warm water running in the kitchen sink. It’s a testimony to the pain that Peckerface was in that she allowed herself to be put into the water without flapping around and fighting. She had to be in there for 20 minutes according to the instructions.

After the 20-minute bath was over, I used a blow dryer to dry her feathers, and she tolerated that, too. It takes quite awhile to blow dry a chicken, by the way, just in case it’s an experience you haven’t had.

Then came my daughter with lubricant jelly on her finger, bravely probing the vent to see if there was a stuck egg that we could reach.

There wasn’t.

Evidently, the egg was higher up. Hopefully our lubrication would just make the downward slide more slippery. We isolated the hen with food and water, and waited.

Several hours later, we found a blue egg in the straw, but Peckerface still couldn’t stand up. She looked like a brown penguin sitting in her cage. Instructions miraculously appearing from Google said that we should keep her isolated for 48 hours and see if she improved.

Right about then, my grandson was feeling rather uneasy about his chicken-raising project. With only six female chicks in the original flock, our numbers already were reduced to one rooster and three hens, due to faulty gender identification and predators, and now this dilemma.

We crossed our fingers and waited.

It took another Epsom salts bath, blow dry, and lube before Peckerface began to improve. When we finally deemed her well enough to join the other chickens, we discovered that she still couldn’t fly up from the chicken run to the elevated hen house door, so we had to put a concrete block below the door like a step so she could get into the house on her own.

We still don’t know if we diagnosed her ailment correctly or if she’d been injured in some other way; but our ministrations weren’t in vain. Peckerface is still alive and well, laying those highly prized blue eggs on another day in the country.

Last modified May 10, 2018

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