Learning from Loss of White Leghorn

Sunday at my house was a sobering affair; but not entirely unexpected. For the last few weeks, one of our white leghorns was a little "off". There were no real symptoms to diagnose, I'd just notice her hanging back from the others and being slow to get off the perch in the morning. My husband and I thought maybe the winter was harder on her than normal, but frankly, it's been a really mild winter. So, I kept an eye out for her and waited. This was one of our original chickens, so I knew, she's getting older and things can happen.

Then on Saturday evening, the kids were helping to put the chickens away for the night. They picked up our leghorn who, for some reason, was hanging out by the dog's water bowl. When they picked her up, she "threw up" all over them. I had never heard of this before and considered this suspicious.

On Sunday morning, she was slow to get off her perch and I just had a bad feeling. About an hour later, I went to check on her and, sure enough, I found her on the floor of the coop. She wasn't dead, but she wasn't moving a lot either. I picked her up, took her inside and put her in a box lined with chips. What I did notice was that her crop was full, even though it was morning. It wasn't hard like she had eaten lots of food, it was watery like a balloon.

I started looking up these symptoms online and found that she probably had a condition called sour crop which is caused when a chicken's crop doesn't empty fully overnight causing the food to ferment and a fungal infection to occur. I found lots of home remedies but many of them seemed cruel and dangerous. The common theme was that we had to make our white leghorn "throw up" her crop and then start her on some antibiotics. If things didn't improve, a vet visit would be necessary. So my husband held her at a downward angle, but not upside down, and I gently massaged her crop toward her downward-facing mouth. Immediately fluid came flowing out of her beak, lots of fluid. I made sure not to do this more than 20 seconds and that none of it went back into her lungs. After it was over, she seemed greatly relieved and her crop was much smaller.

I was cautiously optimistic, but had the nagging worry that she was too far along to be helped. And, I was right. Hours later, I found her dead in her box. While sad, I was glad her last hours were comfortable, safely tucked in her box in the warmth and filtered sunlight of my laundry room. I was also thankful for the lesson she taught me. From now on, I'll know to look for "hidden" signs, like a watery crop in the morning. You can bet that if this ever happens again, I'll be on top of it!

Last evening, we buried our white leghorn beneath a sycamore tree overlooking our chicken coop and I said goodbye to an old friend.
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