We have a small flock of urban chickens; Goose, Cluckles, Silas, Strawberries and Henri. They are ISA Browns, Rhode Island Reds and a Leghorn. Lovely. Recently we noticed Henri had a large bulge on her chest, more accurately an enlarged ‘crop’. Now, short chicken anatomy lesson – chickens are skittish creatures and eat whenever they get a chance and as fast as they can, always mindful that when their beaks are pointing down their juicy thighs are pointing up; enticing a python, or a baboon or a hungry human. They must eat fast and then flee, back into the jungle I guess. If they find a bountiful meal they need to ingest it much faster than it can be processed. Therefore chickens have a handy pouch above their stomach called a ‘crop’ which is basically your school bag at an all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut in 1994. Very convenient. From time to time a chicken’s crop can become blocked (food, infection, injury etc) and things can get nasty if the blockage is not cleared. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened to Henri.
My google diagnosis/ treatment advice led me to attempt all sorts of things, each more agricultural than the last, and most beyond my agri-suburban threshold (I wear old Palladium boots to collect the eggs afterall); massaging her chest, eye droppers with olive oil, apple cider vinegar in her water and finally hanging her upside down to allow the crop to drain out because (another fun poultry fact) chickens can’t vomit. This goes down exactly as you are imagining it, messily. The boys sensibly watched through glass from inside the living room.
After a few days it was apparent that our efforts were not serving to clear the blockage and Henri was now just sitting quietly in the shade, looking around at her wildly pecking and digging friends, and probably not feeling too wonderful. After a few phone calls we found an avian expert vet and so Monty and I packed Henri up into a cardboard box and drove her across town.
The vet was lovely and said the things we had been trying, although not without risk, were essentially the right remedies, and that unless he could clear the blockage there was no medicine that would make a difference. Henri would ultimately starve to death if we left her. He did not look hopeful as he carried Henri away but said he would use his ‘crop syringe’ to get some saline liquid right down into her crop, and do his best.
At this stage Monty was bored and was asking to go home. We had already discussed the possibility that if the vet couldn’t help Henri we might have to put her down, to avoid further suffering. He said he understood but in the 10 minutes that we sat together in the small consultation room he clearly hadn’t really processed that possible outcome.
The vet returned somewhat ashen faced (a genuine but well-practised look), said he too had been unable to get much out of the crop and that euthanasia was now the most humane step. I explained this mysterious word to Monty and he caught me by surprise with his immediate and desperate sobs.
It was clear to me from his reaction that Monty is not a psychopath. This is good, and something that a parent may go years not knowing for sure about their child.
Monty was bellowing loudly, rivulets running down his cheeks. The vet asked if I would like to ‘settle the account’ in the consultation room so we did not have to stand in the queue outside, I agreed. This is a very awkward, and unavoidable human transaction. I signed a consent form, tapped my credit card and then said goodbye to Henri. Monty and I gave her a nice back rub such that her little eyes closed for a moment, and then the vet took her away in her box.
I carried Monty to the car, sobbing quietly now, and strapped him in. It wasn’t long before he had fallen asleep, his cheeks tear-stained, his faced still anguished and his little body heaving up and down involuntarily every so often. But before he fell asleep we had both agreed that Henri had always had delicious food to eat, a warm spot to roost at night, and good friends to kick around with all day. And for that we were both glad.