A chicken named Myrtle recently had an emergency hysterectomy to remove 11 eggs that were stuck inside of her.
"She was egg bound," says Ellie Laks, the founder of a California animal sanctuary called The Gentle Barn, "not able to push the eggs out."
Myrtle's condition was discovered about two weeks ago during a monthly exam, during which The Gentle Barn's flock of some 45 middle-aged chickens are inspected to make sure that they aren't suffering from any of the conditions that can befall a bird who wasn't bred to reach four or five years of age.
It was noticed that Myrtle was unusually thin. A veterinarian confirmed that nearly a dozen unlaid eggs were "pushing on her internal organs," says Laks. "Pushing where food would have been."
Laks tells HuffPost she blames the egg industry's penchant for breeding chickens to lay eggs at a very young age for Myrtle's -- and her coop-mates' -- expensive and life-threatening predicaments.
"We have horses, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, peacocks, llamas, dogs, cats, donkeys and parrots. And you would assume of all the animals the larger animals would cost the most," she says. "And certainly feeding them and cleaning after them is the most expensive. But if you look at vet care, chickens cost us the most out of all our animals."
Laks says that's because "we are constantly doing these surgeries. And because the animals are so small, and their little uteruses are so small, it's pretty much a microscopic surgery, which takes hours and hours. And so Myrtle, for example, this surgery cost us $4,500. And with a flock of 45 chickens that are all middle-aged, we're having to do a lot of these surgeries on our birds. And so we're basically paying for the sins of the egg industry, which is really sad."
Mike Petrik, a Canadian veterinarian specializing in egg-laying hens -- his blog, which is a terrific read, is called Mike The Chicken Vet, and offers a nuanced view on various aspects of commercial egg production -- tells HuffPost that he has "seen this before" with stuck eggs.
Laying hens, he explains, will produce eggs "50, 60, 70 days in a row." But if something disrupts their ability to lay those eggs -- poor diet, disease or stress, for example, or even just growing old enough -- they may end up with what is "basically a traffic jam."
"If one egg gets blocked, but doesn't get infected or painful, the next eggs will pile up behind it," says Petrik. "The subsequent eggs do not have hard shells, they end up as membrane covered eggs."
Hen hysterectomies are relatively rare, Petrik says, mainly because you wouldn't give them to hens raised for the egg industry, and people who keep backyard hens often don't want to spend the money for this kind of care.
"Most chickens aren't that lucky," says Laks, who says she's wanted to open an animal refuge since she was seven years old; The Gentle Barn is devoted to teaching people "reverence for all life" through interactions with animals.
Myrtle herself is about six years old. She was hatched in a classroom, then later wound up in an animal shelter before coming to The Gentle Barn, where rescued animals are granted an unusually good life -- for example, there is a call out now for volunteer cow huggers to commit to once-a-week snuggle sessions.
Pigs get love, too:
And here's Laks with another of The Gentle Barn chickens, Norma Jean:
Earlier this week, Myrtle came out of her post-surgical quarantine. She's "happy, she's healthy, she's strong," Laks says.
But why ask volunteers to embrace rescued bovines? Why spend great sums of money to remove the uterus of an injured chicken -- or greater sums for multiple injured chickens?
"A lot of people don't value the life of a chicken," Laks says. "That's primarily people who haven't met chickens. Because if you meet a chicken, and you see how wonderful they are, how intelligent they are, how affectionate they are, then you're going to fall in love with them, just like they're a dog or a horse or a cat. And you're going to want to do everything that you can for them."
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