Last weekend I was all set to head off to the wonderful fruit farm in nearby Tiptree, the produce of which is turned into world-famous Wilkin & Sons preserves in the on-site factory. It was one of some 400 farms taking part in Open Farm Sunday. Sadly, I discovered a problem on my own miniature farm which needed attending to and put paid to any such plans. Yet again the brown Araucana Mabel (purveyor of the beautiful pale-green eggs) was attempting to enter the house via the open patio doors. I heard her scrabbling around on the frame and caught her just as she tottered onto the mat. On scooping her up I discovered a large lump on her front. I gently probed it – it felt like a squash ball, both in terms of size and flexibility. I placed her back on the lawn and picked up Audrey to examine her. She had exactly the same bump. I must admit I felt completely panic-stricken and grabbed all the henkeeping guides I have from the bookshelf to search for the ailment. It was the Haynes Chicken Manual by Laurence Beeken (Haynes, £21.99) that, again, offered the best advice along with a handy illustration of a hen’s anatomy. It was clear that the girls had impacted crops – ie the crop, where they soften their food before it passes down to the stomach was blocked (in the morning it should be empty after a night’s digestion). The most common causes of this is ranging on grass that’s too long. I felt terrible – I’d been meaning to mow the lawn for weeks, it had shot up due to the rain. The book stated three options. We could:
a.) Pour warm water into the beak to encourage vomitting, hold the hen upside down, taking care not to allow blockages which could suffocate the bird
b.) Syringe warmed olive oil into beak and gently massage crop to lubricate grass and help shift the mass
c.) Take chicken to the vet for an operation to remove mass of grass from the crop
Unsurprisingly, James and I decided that option two sounded the most pleasant. So there was no time to lose – we moved the henhouse and run onto some slabs rather than grass and mixes up some pellets with water and a little olive oil so the girls had food that would slip down nicely. Next James managed to find a tiny chicken-size syringe!), which seemed like a mini-miracle (we’ve no idea why he had it – we’ve never had to perform such a treatment before!) and placed one chicken at a time on my lap.
I managed to keep their legs under control by gently tucking them into my apron. James skillfully managed to steady their heads, which frantically bobbed about, as they avoided the syringe and open their tiny beaks. I then carefully massaged their crop and I think they rather enjoyed this part – as did I. I might well do it in future anyway as it was a rather lovely way to bond. The girls were then on liquid food supplemented by some lettuce for two days and, thankfully, this seems to have done the job. Their crops are now back to normal and, suffice to say, I plan to mow the grass first thing on Saturday morning – weather willing!