I came home last night to find Ethyl prolapsed, which is when the inside of a chicken is hanging outside of her "vent", the opening that she poops and lays eggs through. I picked her up and examined the situation; read through several threads of what to do on backyard chickens forum and decided this was a cull. Many people had managed to save their birds with prolonged, involved care, which included special diets, keeping them in a separate pen, breaking the laying cycle and washing the feces off their bottoms several times a day and more. I knew that i was not this person.
Not that i wouldnt go to extraordinary steps if i thought the hen would be viable. But let us be honest: the likelihood of her returning to laying well and not prolapsing again was not good. I informed mr. chickory (V) of my plans to which he completely balked. "give her a chance!" he cried. So i went to the store and bought some Preparation H, Pedialyte, yogurt and honey and returned. I washed Ethyl in the tub with warm water and some antibacterial soap; it was pretty rough, her entire bottom was red and raw and it smelled bad. I cleaned her up, blew dry the area applied the Prep H and pushed the innards back in. I held it there for a few minutes, and let her go only to have it pop back out only this time bigger and redder. The poor hen would let out a pitiful little screech as she strained to expel what must have obviously been quite uncomfortable. I tried the honey and again the insides popped back out. I gave her some pedialyte and yogurt which she refused, and then put her to bed in a carrier with some old towels i heated in the dryer.
Of course, V was not involved in this process. I tried throughout the evening to push the outs in and it just wouldnt hold. When i saw him next, i just shook my head no.
"We could take her to the vet" said V. "They could sew it up in there".
"and how will she poop" i asked?
"maybe Angela (our vet) can put her down for us"
"and charge how much? How much is it worth to avoid seeing blood"
"can't you break her neck?"
"im not sure i can get it done right the first time. do you want to see her flapping around paralyzed?"
"leave her out tomorrow and the hawks will get her"
"bad idea. it will train the hawks that our yard is a great place to pick up lunch"
I looked through the backyard chicken forum where i found this post. I read it to V and we couldnt stop laughing. It is a post on how to kill a chicken, written by somebody under the handle of "the city chicken":
.......I don’t take chickens to the vet (hundreds of dollars) and I don’t let them suffer and just die a slow death if they are terminal. The only way I know how to dispatch with a chicken is to chop its head off. I have never tried wringing their necks or the like; not confident enough to get that right. Dropping a hatchet, however, is a more detached feeling, because you don’t really have to feel the body at all. You just whack the hatchet and it feels like going through wood. But the process I take in order to chop a chicken’s head off is somewhat involved. I don’t just grab it and chop. First I put an old sock over the chicken’s head. This makes the chicken nearly fall asleep, as they are simplistic creatures. Also, with the sock, I don’t have to see it’s little face. Then I lash the chicken to a board in a certain way (if you really want to know I can tell you, but it’s all rather macabre.) Finally, after all these preparations (that I won’t go into) I drop the hatchet. The chicken can’t go anywhere because it’s legs are lashed to the board. Yesterday, however, the wire around its legs broke off of the board after I decapitated it. (Note to self: next time use stronger wire.) It started to flap around quite a lot, and sort of hop away, because its legs were still tied together but not tied to the board anymore. I had to get in there and grab the body by the wings and pin them back like I’ve seen people do. Then what do I do with it? I hadn’t planned for this possibility. I looked around frantically and saw a plastic bin and so I threw the body under that, and grabbed a nearby heavy flower pot and set that on top of the bin so that there was no way the bird was going to be able to flop out of there........
I went to her website and looked at the diagram which is similar to what i drew above. I got up before V this morning, went down and saw Ethyl was awake, but hadnt eaten and wouldnt drink. I rolled her up in an old towel, made some coffee and sat in the sunroom with her just stroking her and loving on her. I had made my decision and waited for V to get up.
When our eyes met, he knew i had decided. We built the execution board. V was worried the axe wasnt sharp enough. He suggested an alternative: the big paper cutter at the office. Bad idea said i, this will be messy and how are you going to secure the bird to the cutter? and, do you want to do this at the office?
"i hate this" said V.
"so do i, but honestly honey, what if we had to eat our chickens to live? we'd have to kill them. "
"I'll become a vegetarian"
"what about protein?'
"i'll eat fish"
"you dont have a problem cutting a fish head off"
"no. a fish wasnt a pet that i knew."
"chicken tacos dont grow on trees. Ethyl is a pet yes, and a food crop. now buck up and lets get this done. This is the right thing to do for her. it will be quick and painless and over. now c'mon."
I cut the toe of a white sock and fit it over her head. I couldnt help but smile at the odd familiarity of the scene - like westerns where someone is hooded before being hung. I pushed her head between the two nails and stretched her out long and tied the legs to the other nail. I didnt want the malfunction the 'city chicken" experienced so i wrapped the twine around Ethyls body several times.
she struggled a bit and the hood fell off. i didnt like the look on her face. she was almost certain to understand she was in mortal danger.
A long moment passed. The axe came down once, and then again sending Ethyls head into a soft landing among emerging spring columbines. The body did indeed flap and struggle, for almost a minute. But i mostly watched her head gasp for breath with no lungs to fill. the light died out in her eyes. I bagged her up as i was worried the dogs might dig her up if we buried her.
V did not linger and the look he gave me killed. He's mad at me. I am sure he is at his office right now, changing his power of attorney. I can see him in the hospital grasping the wrist of a friend or family and in desperate whisper say
"don't let Peanut pull the plug!"
It is a beautiful moment when you can say what you are out loud without regret. No i am not going to nurse this bird for weeks maybe months on the off chance she might return to a full laying life. However, in the future, and especially now that we have made the execution board, i will not ask V to assist me if we should have to cull another chicken. I am confident i can do all of it myself, and should have done so this time. Next time, I will say what parents say to their children: "Where is Rover? He went to live on a farm where he is very happy"
Ethyl was one of the two hens on top of the pecking order. The social structure of my flock will shift in the next few days and it will be interesting to see who emerges to take the second position. Ethyl was a brick of a bird, virtually impossible to tell her apart from Edith. She was a Plymouth Barred Rock, a good hen that rode nice and quiet in the car. Her eggs were brown and longer than the others. I will miss her but she will always be remembered as i have lots of movies of her happily scratching in the yard. She will most certainly reappear one day in a painting or drawing, and she will be shown for the lovely thing she was.
One more step up the ladder of country hardening up.