Sadly while we were away in July, the African Harrier Hawk took another of our hens. This particular hen had raised 5 babies to maturity (4 of them being cockerels!) so we have at least have her one pullet to remember her by. This mommy hen was another example of us ‘playing vet’.
This poor little girl, named Peepy-Lee, came up to us one afternoon which was quite unusual. She looked a bit constipated but we assumed she would be able to relieve herself and all would be well. Two days later she came up to us again with her neck sunken into her shoulders and gasping for air. She was very shy so by coming to us, we knew she needed help. We had a quick look and suspected she was egg bound. She laid very big eggs and it is possible for a egg to become trapped, or have a soft shell making it difficult to pass through the vent. This can kill a chicken within 48 hours. We soaked her in Epsom Salt baths every couple of hours (you don’t want to know what a wet chicken smells like – yuck!) and dried her with a hairdryer. We did this for a whole day and night but began to panic. She was passing very smelly poop but her vent area (where the eggs come out) was swelling rapidly and looked very painful. We called our vet but she could not prescribe anything without examination. We couldn’t take her to the vet, we thought. We can’t afford a consult for a chicken! Surely not, that’s crazy. But we persisted. We posted her situation on our favourite forum, Backyard Chickens, with no luck.
One morning, while soaking her in a warm Epsom Salt bath, Andre accidentally let go of her and her top end went bottom, and the bottom end went up. This big swollen area was actually filled with air and so buoyant that it caused her back end to float! We knew that time was of the essence and we would try anything to save her. We decided to puncture this bulge and see if it was filled with air, and hopefully release the air. We went to the cattle guys on our land and asked for a needle. They gave us the smallest needle, we cleaned the swollen area, sterilized everything, gave the chicken Rescue remedy and inserted the needle. What came out was like a giant smelly, loud fart! This whole bulge was filled with air. This poor chicken who had been gasping for air for days now was able to squawk minutes after we had done this. There was obviously so much pressure on her that she couldn’t breathe or squawk!
We kept her isolated in the warm, sunny greenhouse, feeding her crushed seed and yoghurt to build up her immunity and digestive bacteria. We went to our local farm shop and bought a broad spectrum antibiotic and another for respiratory infections, for her for a couple days. She clearly wasn’t going to lay anytime soon. Most chickens get these antibiotics in their water EVERY SINGLE DAY so although we didn’t want to medicate our animals, there are times where we have to.
A couple days later this bulge filled with air again and we had to repeat the procedure. We had to do it four or five times over a period of three weeks until it had stopped filling with air. We slowly started to release this poor little bird back into the flock for a few supervised minutes at a time. She was so weak at the beginning that she could hardly walk more than a few steps. Because she had been separated for so long, the other hens tried to pick a fight so we had to be on guard. Eventually she was able to return happily to the flock and never had another issue. She remained a friendly chicken and visited the greenhouse any chance that she got – she clearly remembered her time there.
We still don’t really know what happened but we suspect that either through fighting with the other hens, or the rooster mounting her, one of her air sacs was popped. Chickens, being birds, are filled with sacs of air to keep them light.
At the time, this was very scary and overwhelmingbut we learnt A LOT and bonded in a special way with her.