last year, my dear hen named strawmouth (jenn named her that) fell ill and slowly died over the course of a week or two. curious, i performed an autopsy on her and found her bloated belly full of green fluid. birds don’t piss so i figured it must be related to bile. i did some research and learned that liver failure is common in the commercial hens bred for high egg production, and ascites (fluid accumulation in the abdomen) is secondary to liver failure due to blood not being able to flow easily through the inflamed liver. well, how about that.
so last week when i noticed another of my commercial breed hens (ms. haun, this time) displaying the same symptoms that strawmouth did, i kept a watchful eye on her. after about a week of gradual decline, i decided i needed to grow some testicles and put the poor bird out of her misery. but how to do it?
i looked online and learned about the most humane methods of euthanizing chickens, and settled on the cervical dislocation method. you essentially break their neck just below the skull, causing the spinal cord to snap and whip back at the brain, rendering the bird unconscious while they actually die over the course of 30-40 seconds.
so i went outside and found ms. haun squating in the chicken coop in the middle of the day (typical behaviour of a very sick hen). i picked her up, pet and soothed her for a minute, then flipped her over, grabbed her legs and head, arched her head back sharply, and pulled hard. i felt several distinct clicks. the hen went limp, and a bunch of bile started pouring out her beak. i thought, wow, that was easy. but maybe a minute later, she started moving slightly and her eyes opened and closed a bit. i put my finger right up to an open eye and it slowly closed — though delayed, it was still responsive so i knew i hadn’t broken her neck correctly. i assumed the position again and pulled harder. this time there was a big THUNK, her neck gave about an inch, and her body immediately started convulsing gently. i felt her neck and found the blank space just below her head where i had finally broken it. her eyes no longer responded to stimuli. she was dead.
i don’t feel good that it took me a few tries to get it right but i’m glad that i a) recognized when it wasn’t done right, b) tried again and got it, and c) learned to do something unpleasant but necessary. it’s a hard thing to do, to end the life of something you care about, but there usually comes a point when that is the humane thing to do. so i’m proud.
and now that i have this new skill, i’ve put the remaining hens on notice that egg production better pick up soon or else there will be a lot more broken necks where that one came from. daddy just realized he is a god among hens, and he is a wrathful god.
jk. we have a hen that hasn’t laid worth a shit in years but i’m still not ready to pull the plug on her just yet. i still love just watching her truck around, doing chicken stuff. so don’t worry, i’m not letting this newfound power go to my head.
RIP, ms. haun. your people-centric behaviour and tendency to investigate cars, basements, travel trailers, and dog houses will always be remembered.