After weighing out all of the options for Chip’s impacted crop, we decided to surgically empty it. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to any of you who know us and especially to those who have met Chip.
Although this procedure should only be considered in extreme cases and when all other options have been exhausted, it had been in the back of our minds for a number of weeks, long before her case had become extreme. We talked about and began acquiring equipment that we would need (headlamps, scalpel, forceps, syringe for irrigating, needle and absorbable sutures). We also began watching youtube videos showing chicken crop surgery (not for the faint of heart and not right after a meal). The majority of youtube videos showed people with very little medical knowledge pulling off successful surgeries. Some of them were ghastly to watch, using dull knives and scissors to open and crazy glue to close the incisions. Most videos showed crops filled with masses of straw or hay bedding that their chickens had consumed. We wondered aloud what was the cause of her impacted crop, since we don’t use straw in the coop. Could it be piece of plastic found in the ‘fill’ around the garden? Could it be a piece of that fraying tarp under the porch? Could it be some of the dry, brown grasses still lingering in the garden from last fall?
We finally decided that she was close to crisis. If we waited any longer, she would be too weak to recover from surgery and too susceptible to infection during the healing process. We set a date for Saturday and steeled ourselves up.
When our operating room and recovery box were ready, I went out to find Chip. As usual, she eventually came out of hiding to visit me and I was able to scoop her easily. Her crop was larger than an egg even though it was morning. We lay her down, covered her head with a tea towel and bound her legs loosely with an elastic. My job was to hold her still and keep her from flapping her wings while FM had the tougher task of performing the operation.
Everything went just as planned. FM cleared away feathers with scissors from a very large area of her chest and we used a surgical drape to hold the remaining feathers out of the way. The incision was made high up on her crop, avoiding any blood vessels and it was about 5 cm long in both the skin and the crop tissue. There was very little blood.
As soon as her crop was opened, that familiar dark brown liquid oozed out and the smell was nasty. She was full of green grass, clover and barley (from the scratch feed) which are all normal consumables for our girls. But she also had a lot of pine shavings in her crop, the type that we use for the coop floor and nesting boxes. As FM emptied the crop, he found that the entrance to the proventriculus/gizzard was packed with these pine shavings. It was no wonder that she was losing weight.
Using forceps and tweezers, FM pulled out all the contents of her crop, pinch by pinch. There was no solid mass like in the images we’d seen. Instead, it was a long labour of a few leaves at a time. He used the syringe with saline to rinse and irrigate the crop, ensuring that all nooks and crannies were cleaned out. As the crop was emptied, it shrunk and collapsed in on itself, as it should do, making it difficult to see if we got everything out. FM was determined to do a thorough job, knowing that we really have only one opportunity to do it.
Just before he stitched her up, he swabbed her, trying to make sure that the incision would be clean and clear of any remaining crop juices or contents. The swabbing caused her to bleed and suddenly there was a fair amount of blood. I felt myself go pale and FM’s hands began to shake. We both had a panicked minute while we tried to deal with this unexpected twist. With a good amount of gauze and pressure, he got the bleed under control and he was able to close the crop with 7 stitches. The skin took another 7 stitches and a dab of crazy glue at each end. We cleansed the area, put a good blob of polysporin antibiotic ointment and bandaged her with gauze and tape.
Chip held so still throughout it all, flinching and attempting to sit up only 3 times – during the first skin incision, during the final cleaning of the incision area and during one of the stitches. When she was all bandaged up, we helped her up and she just stood there looking at us for minute. I held her on my lap for a few minutes until she drifted off to sleep and then I placed her in the recovery bay.
We kept her in the house, in the recovery box for 2 days and 2 nights. She removed her bandage as soon as we put it on every time, but she didn’t pick at her stitches. She slept for almost all of the first day and night and became more vocal on the second day. We fed her dishes of moistened chick starter (high in protein) which she enjoyed although it took her a long time to get through a tablespoon of it. On the morning of the third day, she was squawking and eager to get outside. As soon as I brought her outdoors, the other hens came running over to see her and seemed genuinely content to have her back.
We have kept a watchful eye on her and are so pleased to see her eating normally, flocking with the others and having no infection near the incision. Her crop has been flat in the mornings and smallish in the evenings, just as it should be.
Thing We Wish We Had Known
1) The surgery from start to end took about 1.5 hours – much, much longer than we anticipated. We were not trying to set any speed records, but it was a long time for us all to be under such stress.
2) It is possible to get anesthetics – either topical or injectable – and I wish we could have used something for her pain. But we did all of this with no freezing at all.
3) We were so busy with the intensity of the moment that we took no photos at all. It was helpful to see others’ photos and videos so that we knew what things would look like. It would have been good to share ours as well.