I’m a worrier by default. Plain and simple.
If I am not careful to regulate my mindset and remind myself to be calm and happy, I’m a nervous wreck. It’s one of my least favorite traits about myself, and I’ve realized it is inherited. My mother is the same, and my grandmother was too. Give us a child lying on a big pile of fluffy pillows, and we can tell you 1,000 ways tragedy could ensue.
My worrying mind was no more apparent then on one bright sunny day last summer. My chickens had finally reached the age that they completely feathered out and had been living happily in their outdoor coop for a few months. I was sitting on the concrete slab near our garage where we feed our flock.
Sweet Pea, one of our Wyandotte hens, was happily pecking the ground at a few remaining kernels of cracked corn while the others looked on. I leaned back, without a care in the world, listening to her soft hen song. Life was good.
After enjoying a few moments of happy sunshine, I opened my eyes and glanced back at the flock as they were walking away from the bare earth and onto greener pastures. That’s when I noticed it.
Something was wrong with Sweet Pea.
As she walked away, I could see the right side of her breast nearly dragging the ground. Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding. Que immediate panic. I ran over to her, and sure enough, her right breast area was swollen nearly four times the size of her left. I picked her up and felt a brick hard, grainy ball, sized between a softball and volleyball, on her chest. My heart sank. I immediately thought back to a few days before, when I noticed how big one side of her chest looked, but I didn’t think much about it. It had gotten significantly worse.
I ran inside and did the only thing I knew to do. Google.
“Why would a chicken have an enlarged right breast?”
I read dozens and dozens of articles, blog posts and forums, and there was only one reoccurring answer – impacted crop.
For those who may not know, a crop is the first stop in a chicken’s digestive system. Food that the chicken eats is collected and stored in the crop organ throughout the day, and at night while they are resting, it empties into the stomach. When a chicken eats long strands of grass or hay, it can clog the exit hole of the crop causing impaction. When this happens, food backs up in the crop, never continuing on to the stomach. So, the chicken will continue to eat and eat in an attempt to subdue the hunger pains, but the food will never reach her stomach, and she will eventually starve to death.
I ran to my husband, in tears, and told him what I had found. He initially told me I was crazy, but always worried about our animals, he quickly grabbed the laptop and started his own research. After a few minutes, he was also convinced that Sweet Pea had an impacted crop. Article after article after article all described what we were seeing with Sweet Pea.
We sat for hours, me on my cell phone and Drew on the laptop, looking up stories of chickens with impacted crops. We searched for remedies, which included feeding oil, which we tried, but her crop remained the same.
The only last resort solution listed in all the articles? Surgery. Surgery on a live, awake chicken, with no pain medication, on a kitchen table, preformed by a red-headed man who can’t stand the sight of blood and a blonde-haired girl who can’t stand the thought of her sweet chicken suffering.
Since we are in such a rural area, there is no nearby avian veterinarian. So it was just up to Drew and me. It made me sick to think about it, but I knew if it came down to either doing surgery on our sweet little chicken or letting her starve to death, I’d bite my lip, fight back the tears and do what I had to do. I was confident Drew would do the same.
So, we read articles on how to perform the surgery. Then we watched YouTube videos, dozens of videos on how to perform surgery on an impacted crop. In each of the videos a chicken owner cut through the skin, then esophagus to reach the crop. Once they had access to the crop, they pulled out a dozens of handfuls of rotten straw and grass before the exit of the crop was cleared.
We learned the best place to order a scalpel and surgery kit and exactly how long it would take to receive it. We learned that super gluing the wounds back together was more successful than stitching. We learned that numerous people had attempted the surgery, in their own kitchens, with no more medical knowledge than we had, and saved their birds.
By the time we felt confident in the amount of research, it was 3 a.m. The plan was to try to rest through the morning, and then we’d order our supplies. Drew would also call his mom, who is a R.N., to see if she might be willing to oversee our little project.
Drew caught a few hours of sleep that morning, but I didn’t sleep a wink. I kept thinking about how painful it must be for Sweet Pea to be starving to death. I thought about how painful it would be to be cut without any pain medication. By the time I saw the first glints of sunlight, I was sick to my stomach and more tired than ever.
I pulled on my boots and went to see my sweet girl out in the coop. Sweet Pea sat on the roost with the rest of the flock. I pulled her down to give her a loving embrace. I stroked her feathers for a few minutes before I noticed it.
A completely flat crop!
I almost started crying with joy and ran inside to tell Drew, who immediately burst out laughing. It turns out Sweet Pea gorged herself the day before, and the huge enlarged crop was just holding the food from that big buffet. She did the same thing for two more days, before she started her first spell of broodiness.
So, I’ve learned to try to remain calm, despite my worrying ways, and that I should probably try to at least sleep on it before I start ordering surgical supplies.