One thing about having chickens, is that they never let you sleep late. They hens wake up at dawn, and loudly fuss until they are let out of the hen house. This morning I was more tired than usual, and wove the noise the hens were making into a complicated dream in which Princess Letizia of Spain was responsible for the commotion. My dream-brain assured me that if I could assemble a sentence out of words that started with each consecutive letter of the alphabet, Letizia would make the hens be quiet.
I stumbled out of bed at 5:45, let the hens out, fed the cats, brushed my teeth, and then went back to sleep. It struck me as odd that my hen Anne Elliott was sitting on the nest box so early in the morning, but at the time my brain was more occupied with the Spanish Alphabet Puzzle. (I never did figure out the perfect phrase.)
Hours later, I noticed that Anne Elliott was still sitting on the nest box. Usually our hens will take about a half an hour to lay an egg. They climb into one of the nest boxes, get a far-away expression on their chicken-faces, and eventually push out an egg. Sometimes this is punctuated with fussing and marching around, sometimes not.
I went about my business, but when I realized that this bird had been sitting on her nest for six hours, I contacted my sister who is my urban chicken guru.
Following Martha's advice, I shooed my hen off the nest box, and got her moving around the yard. Anne Eliott's backside was pulsing, and she looked uncomfortable when she walked. I followed her around, trying to get a good look at her hind end. What I noticed was something white, and about the size of a finger poking out of her cloaca. It would poke out, and then it would disappear. At first I thought this was some kind of gross chicken poo, but it became clear that it was more complicated than that.
I filled a basin with warm water. Both Robb and I donned elbow-length industrial gloves. And we set to work, giving our hen a sitz bath. Anne Elliott is not the cleanest bird under the best of circumstances, and today she was covered in poop. I washed her off, and held her butt underwater, hoping to relax her muscles. As we did this, the white thing emerged a bit, and Robb gently took hold of it. As she pulsed, he kept his grip, and was able to carefully extract a strange object, the texture of wet paper.
Once in a while, a hen will lay a malformed egg. There's no actual egg inside, it's just a flimsy membrane, that's not quite an eggshell. In Anne Elliott's case, it seemed that she wasn't able to expel this object, probably because it had neither the density nor shape of an actual chicken egg.
She may not agree, but we think Anne Elliott was lucky to have us to help her.
And she repaid our kindness by spraying poop soaked water all over us, shaking off her filthy bath water like an energetic golden retriever. Pulling strange objects out of a chicken's butt was bad enough, getting sprayed really completed the experience.
I expect an apology from the Spanish Royal Family.