I have only once experienced an egg bound hen. Mango had chicks in mid-May and had just returned to the flock after an 8 week hiatus from laying. I noticed a blob of poop on her vent and when I removed it I noticed she had a distended (not prolapsed) vent. She hadn’t displayed any of the symptoms associated with being egg bound: lethargy, sitting for long periods in the nest box, straining to lay an egg, decreased activity, pale comb or wattles, and the classic upright stance and walking like a penguin.
She’d been eating, drinking and walking just fine, but the situation didn’t get better so I put her in a dog crate for observation. I put crushed Tums into her water and gave her a warm bath with epsom salts – both of which help with contractions. The bulge looked like a weakening of the muscle around the vent and hadn’t gotten better or worse.
By the following day the bulge had increased in size. I could actually see the shape of the egg through her distended vent. I repeated the warm bath with epsom salts and several times she tried to push the egg out. Although she was straining and I could see the egg, it wouldn’t budge. I inserted some lube into her vent and used my finger to try to ease the egg out. No luck, just a lot of stinky poop (the egg was acting as a block). I gave her more calcium and put her back in the crate while I worked out a plan of action.
I’d read that a sharp object can be used to pierce the shell and then, carefully using a needle-less syringe the contents could be sucked out before gently removing the shell. I gave a quick call to my vet to confirm that this would be the best solution and they concurred. I was nervous performing amateur surgery but I knew that being egg bound is a life-threatening condition: the hen can’t poop because of the blockage and other eggs get backed up in the reproductive system (shown in the necropsy photos below).
I went out to check her hoping to find a freshly laid egg, but had also prepared myself to removing it on my own. I had my ‘operating table’ set up in the kitchen just in case.
She was bundled in a towel with her head covered and was a remarkably compliant patient. The procedure went really well and really fast with no complications.
The egg was @1/8 – 1/4 outside her vent, but not moving – back in or out. I put my fingers on both sides of the egg on the outside of her body to stop it from being drawn back in. I hit it with a sharp skewer, breaking it then syringed out some albumen. I broke a bit of shell and hauled out the yolk. Next forceps were used to pull out big pieces of shell. The egg pretty much collapsed in on itself so that was easy and I was confident that I got it all.
I was quite surprised that the egg wasn’t particularly large, which is often the cause of egg binding. Other reasons include: calcium deficiency, obesity, oviduct infections or the use of supplemental light to force laying year round. I didn’t relate to any of those explanations: I’m careful to give my birds a good supply of oyster shells and crushed egg shells and they are provided healthy balanced diets. I don’t use lighting in winter to allow them a break from laying.
The worst part of the procedure was once the egg was removed a ton of really stinky poop followed (even though she pooped a lot in her bath that afternoon).
Her vent was still distended and hanging open a bit so I put Preparation H and Vetericyn on in an attempt to shrink the tissue. She went back into a darkened crate to discourage her from laying. Unfortunately she laid an egg two days later and seemed quite anxious to return to the flock so I let her out.
For the next three weeks she continued to lay – all regular sized eggs – each one streaked with blood, but, thankfully, less each day. I wondered what kind of damage she sustained and what the long-term implications might be.
And then she went broody again! Her timing was impeccable as I had a clutch of partially incubated eggs that had been abandoned by another hen and I needed a broody hen to get them to hatch day. Three chicks hatched – only two survived – including a frizzle cockerel who was her son. Mango stayed with them till they were 9 weeks old, until little Harry and Hermione went off to their new home – a houseful of Harry Potter fans. She would have kept them for longer if I had let her.
The last few months she’d been doing okay, but hadn’t resumed egg laying. Because she didn’t seem to have control over fully opening and closing her vent her feathers were often covered in poop. I tried to clean her but that’s an impossible task to do daily. Another issue was that poop would dry and harden on her vent creating a plug which needed to be removed, often.
I noticed in the last few weeks, despite eating and drinking, she was a little more subdued and was sometimes hesitating when getting up to, or down from, the roost bars. I became concerned about her vulnerability to issues related to her injury, like Salpingitis or Flystrike.
I weighed the options and decided the balance was tipped in favour of her quality of life. I asked Thomas if he would euthanize her and do a necropsy, which he did. I thought he might find signs of an infection from damage to her oviduct, but he found nothing of note. He did think that she was underweight with no body fat (when I picked her up I thought she was a reasonable weight). Also of interest were no developing eggs. The last egg she laid was over five months ago. I don’t know if she ever would have resuming laying and if so, would there have been complications.
She was one of my chicks hatched in September 2016. At some point I owned her mother, father and paternal grandparents. Her grandparents on both side were all purebreds ((bantam Cochin frizzle, Lavender Orpington, Barnevelder and Silver Laced Wyandotte), which made for a real barnyard mix. Mango was a deep orange colour (hence her name) with blue feathers in her wings and tail and of course, curled feathers from the frizzle gene.
Mango was one of favourite birds: beautiful, a reliable layer, a good broody hen, who produced some funky looking offspring. She’ll be missed.
Additional photo courtesy of Bitchin’ Chickens friend Gracie Ridenour.