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sick chicken update... not much to update

In the past few days I've become an expert on treatments for egg-bound chickens. I've given several hot baths and stuck an oiled finger up a chicken's butt too many times to recount. She's still straining at the nesting box, but when I kick her out onto the lawn she seems to be eating, drinking, and pooping just fine. It's been since Thursday that she's stuck to the box without passing an egg. says if she's egg bound she should probably die within 48 hours.

I am not 100% convinced that a stuck egg is the problem. When I give her the old how's-your-father I can't feel anything like an egg insider her, just a long empty vent with a hard mass up on top of it. Perhaps the egg is stuck WAAAAAAAY up in there, and failure to descend is the problem. Maybe there's something else gone horribly wrong internally. At least I feel that I've done all I can do by way of home remedies. I've bathed her, lubricated her, given her plenty of exercise. By now I'm ready to let nature take its course in either direction.

I could take her to see a vet, theoretically. Way back in the beginning, when I was thinking of getting chickens, I reasoned that I would never take them to see a vet. Baby chicks cost under $4. Every month I buy about $20 of food and supplies (shavings, worms, etc.) so what I've put into this particular chicken, as one of four, is less than $60 so far. A vet visit would cost over $100, and who knows if it would help. Financially speaking, it'd be crazy.

And yet, I look into those beady chicken eyes and do feel bad...

People have asked me if I will eat the chicken should she die. My answer is: I don't know. Probably not. On one hand, she's not dying of disease, so she's probably safe to eat. On the other hand, if I wait for the stuck egg to kill her I'm not exactly sure by what mechanism this happens. Does the back-up cause sepsis or something? If so, it's probably not the healthiest meat. Better to eat a chicken that you slaughter, rather than one you find dead in the henhouse in the morning. Also, I'd still have to bleed the bird, boil a huge pot of water, pluck all the feathers, figure out the dissection, er, preparation process... After all that a fancy $15 chicken from Whole Foods sounds pretty good. So I probably won't eat her, but I might do some sort of autopsy to satisfy my curiosity about what went wrong.

If so, are any of our blog readers interested in photos?

I want to say something more in case readers think I'm horrible and heartless for not taking my chicken to the vet. We love having chickens. I can say that I "love" the chickens as a flock even if I don't love every individual chicken as a pet. I love having them around, seeing them peck about the yard and dash at worms. I love fresh eggs every day. I also see them as "livestock" which is to say they're like a stock of food, like how you stock your pantry, and there's a certain fluctuation up and down when you keep stock of anything. It's the same when that stock is "live." Which is to say, we came into this process expecting a certain amount of loss, which is to say death. When this happens it can be sad while also unsurprising. I can have different emotions at the same time. I have sadness for the animal, pride in my unflinching hands-on care for her, wonder at the nature of life itself. I feel very humble that it works at all, as it does most of the time.

And I also feel in awe (forgive me for quoting scripture here - you must be exhausted if you've read this far - the last thing my non-Christian friends need to hear is a bit of bible again - but this part is for ME!) I feel in awe that God created these amazing birds, sold so cheap, yet says, "Not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father." (Matthew 10:29.) And he says this to speak of his love for US. "So don't be afraid," Jesus says, "You are worth more than many birds."

So that's the update on our sick chicken. If anything, this experience has only made me want to get MORE hens. Which is, um, good. I guess.

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