Saving Clementine, Part 3

(Start at the beginning of this saga of internal laying, here.)

After a full week of TLC, practical remedies and careful observation, Clementine was ready to go back to the nursing home flock. She was still skinny. Her keel bone was as sharp as a knife. She’d always have a bottom weighted down with solidified egg masses, so it was unlikely that she’d be able to hop onto a roost. But, a laundry room is no place for a hen. Besides, her people missed her.

LIsa and Clem


But, inside of a nursing home is no place for a hen to live, either. Clementine had to rejoin her flock.

When a hen is removed from a group and time has passed, say, five days (which is an eternity in a chicken’s mind) the flock does not welcome her back. Never. Ever. They will chase. They will peck. They might draw blood, and sometimes even kill. When you first put a hen back and see the mayhem, your first reaction is to want to pick up and protect the hen that you recently spent so much effort nursing back to health. Don’t. Do not, in your misguided kindness, relegate the hen to a loner’s life. Do not use the flock’s behavior as an excuse to make a house chicken out of her! The returning hen can and must be reintegrated into the flock.

The first thing to do is to make sure that the coop and run are ready for her. Your coop should meet all of the basic criteria – plenty of space, sunlight (the hens need to see inside of the coop!), outside and inside roosts, etc. If the space is cramped, then a hen can be cornered and injured. Fill the feeder and waterer. If the ground is hard and frozen, provide sand for scratching.


When I brought Clementine back to the nursing home, the hens were surprised to see her. They had to think about it. They eyeballed her, and then looked away. Although Clementine was familiar to them, she was changed, too. Chickens don’t like change. Clementine moved differently than the pre-internal laying Clementine. Chickens are concerned about status, and as far as they were concerned, she was now the “new” hen and they needed to know how she fit in.

Clementine was wary, but she was also so happy to see dirt and things to peck. As I said, a laundry room is no place for a hen.

clem returned


To determine status, there’s often chasing and pecking, which can get brutal if left unchecked. We gave the hens something interesting to divert their attention – a cucumber. For awhile, the cucumber was more interesting than the new hen.



When integrating a hen into an established flock, wait and observe. Behavior unfolds over time. The new hen will be attacked, usually by one chicken at a time. Gently discourage this by stepping between the two, or holding out your hand. Do not hit. Do not yell or chase. Simply interrupting the behavior will achieve what you want.

using a hand


Because Clementine will always be the weak hen, the others will shunt her off to the fringes of their society. Honestly, that doesn’t matter to a hen. As long as she isn’t physically injured, she’s fine with her life of low status. I watched to make sure that Clem was capable of walking away from aggressive posturing. When another hen snaked a beak at her to peck, Clem stepped aside. I watched for about 15 minutes, occasionally intercepting dominance behavior. All seemed fine. I left.

About fifteen minutes after settling in at home I got a panicked phone call. Clementine was being attacked. LIsa had scooped her up and was carrying her around, protecting her, but she had to leave work. What to do? I drove back.

There was a bitter cold wind, and temperatures hovered at freezing. I took Clementine from Lisa, and put her back in with the hens. Lisa watched anxiously. The Delaware pecked at Clem’s head. Without intervention, this could lead to serious injury. But, too much intervention, and the hen would never be able to rejoin the flock. I stepped in and the Delaware turned away. I stayed for almost an hour. At one point, Clementine hid in a nesting box, (in this coop, there are three on the floor) with her tail to the group. This is a smart move, as they can’t hurt her when she’s in that position. She’s also boring to them like that, and they leave her alone. The first time that she got up to eat, they chased her back. I let this happen. I knew she’d be safe. About ten minutes later, Clementine got up to eat again and they left her alone. It was getting dark and the hens were going inside to roost. I could go home.

In the morning I got another call. Clementine was still being pecked at. It was a sunny day, and so I told them to put her in the fenced yard next to the run. Clem was given food and water. The flock could see her but not get at her. She could see them. Chickens get bored easily. Clementine was now not worthy of their attention. The flock had better things to do than to expend their energy posturing and threatening the yellow hen. They went about their business. At roosting time, Clementine was put back in with the hens.

The next morning, everyone got along.

eating together


The lesson here is that returning a hen to a flock is not a matter of simply putting the chicken back in with her old friends. Time away changes everything, and there will be behaviors that can upset you, and potentially harm the bird. BUT, the hens are not being mean. They are being chickens. The hen that you nursed back to health is also a chicken. You have to let them sort things out – while creating safe parameters for the behavior. Do not give up. Do not avoid reintegration because you don’t like seeing the chickens do what chickens do. That said, there is a difference between pecking and pummeling. Allow the squabbling but prevent bloodshed. Gentle dissuasion, a fence, and a cucumber is all that it takes.

It’s been two weeks since Clementine has been returned to her flock. I’ve checked in with her people who tell me that Clem has been accepted by the other chickens. There’s no pecking with contact. She’s able to eat and drink and go about her day. Clementine will always have compromised health, but for now, she leads a good chicken life of dust baths and scratching and breathing fresh air, while also doing the work that this hen is so good at.

Clem and patient


UPDATE: Two weeks after Clementine returned to the nursing home, she passed away peacefully in her sleep. I was not surprised, but it was sad news. I did a necropsy, which confirmed my diagnosis of internal laying. It was the worst case that I have ever seen. Her body cavity was packed with masses of egg material. There was also a solidified egg with a soft shell stuck high up in the reproductive tract. It had obviously been there a long time. I believe that eggs formed, were blocked by that stuck egg from making their way down and out, and so instead backed up and fell into the body cavity. By the time Clementine showed signs of distress, this had all been going on for a long time. It’s amazing that she revived as she did. The necropsy also showed that she was eating fine, and that the rest of her systems were working, which illustrates how a chicken can continue to live  despite gross abnormalities inside of her. That means that it is our responsibility as their caretakers to make the right decisions. Clementine did revive. She was able to behave as a chicken does, eat, drink, and be part of a flock. If any of those things had changed before she passed away, it would have been a kindness to euthanize her. But, I’m glad that she had those last two weeks.

Saving Clementine, Part 2

(This story starts here. Please read that post first.)

After a week of care, Clementine was ready to go back to the nursing home. And I was more than ready to have her out of my laundry room! The house is no place for a chicken. Despite removing the manure multiple times a day, the room stank of chicken. It wasn’t only for my benefit that I wanted her back outside. Clem was isolated from other birds – not good for a flock animal, no matter how calm she looked – and she couldn’t scratch in dirt or dust bathe. As soon as a hen can do those things, I believe in getting her right back outside! In fact, if the weather hadn’t been so brutally cold, I would have kept Clementine in housing outside while nursing her back to health.


Although I felt that Clementine was ready to go back to her flock, I also knew that she would never be 100% back to normal. My best guess as to what was wrong inside of her was this: Clem is an internal layer. When the yolk is released from the ovaries it is caught by the fallopian tubes. This is not a closed system. There’s a gap. As the eggs progress down the reproductive tract the whites surround the yolk. At some point, instead of continuing on into the shell gland, the jelly-like masses backed up to the fallopian tubes and dropped into the abdomen. There they solidified, weighting down her abdomen and changing her stance. Yolks are the perfect medium for bacteria to grow and so “internal layers” often get sick and die of infection.

By giving Clementine the antibiotics, I stopped the infection. Giving her an epsom salt soak helped as a general tonic, and also relaxed her systems so that she could produce manure and excrete any bits of eggs that might be stuck in her tract. Keeping her in a darkened room helped to stop egg production. All along she was able to eat and drink on her own. If she hadn’t been able to do that, I would have euthanized her. I do not believe in feeding gruel or using an eye dropper. If a chicken can’t eat, they have a good reason not to. (However, I will dose a hen with medicine if she is sick with a respiratory disease, and her eyes are gunked up so that she can’t see,) Pushing food into a chicken will cause suffering. So, I did what I could, but I did not go to extremes. I would not have kept Clementine on for another week. If she hadn’t incrementally looked better daily, I would have let her pass on.

I have no way of knowing if once back in with the flock and in the sunshine, if she will return to being an internal layer. Some hens do and some don’t. If Clementine returns to that penguin stance, I will know that her time is up. What I did know was that after a week she was moving like a chicken and eating and drinking just fine. Her manure was normal. Her eyes were bright. She had energy. She was still (and will always be) bottom heavy. Those solidified eggs aren’t going anywhere. She’ll likely never be able to roost. But, the coop at the nursing home has nesting boxes on the floor. She’ll be okay.

I gave her one more epsom salt soak just to make sure that she was clean and had one last boost. (I don’t overdo these! If your bird is sick and doesn’t respond to the first one, another won’t help. If your hen responds to one, that doesn’t mean that she needs a daily bath.)

I put Clementine in the crate and drove to the nursing home. The residents were very happy to see her.



However, I still had work to do. Clementine had been away from her flock for a week, which is an eternity as far as chickens are concerned. She still had health issues. She would need to be reintegrated. More about that in the next post.

Saving Clementine

Clementine is the most beloved of the nursing home hens. So, when I got a call from Life Care telling me that she wasn’t looking well, I hurried over.

When I arrived late in the afternoon, Clementine was in an upright “penguin stance.” She was incapable of walking up the ramp and putting herself to bed. It was obvious that she was in distress. When a hen stands like that, she has something very, very wrong going on inside of her. I put her in a dog crate and brought her home. I set Clem down in my dark and warm laundry room. I didn’t fuss with her. Honestly, I thought that she was a goner. Usually, with a hen this ill, it is not a kindness to extend her life. I hoped that Clementine would pass peacefully overnight.

But the next morning, despite her extreme posture, Clementine was alive!

Friday penguin stance


She was so upright that she was balancing using her tail feathers. I palpated her abdomen. As I expected, I could feel a large mass. Without actually looking inside (via autopsy after death) I couldn’t be 100% certain, – but I suspected that Clem was an internal layer, and that eggs had been dropping into her abdominal cavity, where they solidified. (Sometimes they remain liquid and become infected, but that feels like a water balloon, and Clem’s abdomen was hard.) I’ve have found such masses, doing autopsies, and know that the birds had lived with the solidified eggs for months if not years. Then again, Clem’s mass could be cancer. That I can’t treat, but if it was internal laying she had a slight chance of survival. This hen was very special to some special people. I set to it.

I laced her water with Duramycin, an antibiotic approved for poultry. If a hen is too weak to eat or drink on her own, I do not feed with a dropper. Not eating or drinking is a sure sign that the bird be allowed to die. Clementine showed that there was still life in her. She drank.

antibiotic water


Sometimes hens take on that penguin stance because they have a diseased or blocked intestinal tract. They won’t (and shouldn’t) eat, and they can’t produce manure. Clem, however, was pooping. Another good sign was that there were bits of solids in the manure, and it wasn’t bright green or yellow (those colors indicate an active infection.)



Clementine’s keel bone stuck out sharply, which is another sign of an ill hen that hasn’t been eating or digesting food properly. I fed her scrambled egg and gave her rolled oats for treats. She ate with the appetite of a healthy hen. She was particularly delighted with spaghetti coated with olive oil.

Next, I gave Clementine a long, warm soak in epsom salts. If there were any impacted eggs in her reproductive tract, this would help to move them out. Epsom salts are also a revitalizing tonic. She didn’t excrete lash, but she did like the spa treatment.



Clem also liked the blow dry. She waddled up and sat on my lap. I believe that one reason that she was reviving was because this is a friendly hen. That’s why she is such a good therapy hen. Clem is calm and trusting.

blow dry


Still, she was a very sick bird.

C in crate


I don’t usually bring sick hens inside for any length of time. However, Clementine wasn’t part of my flock, and she was ill, so I didn’t want her in my coop. Also, temperatures were well below freezing. Not only did she need to be warm, but I didn’t want to go outside numerous times during the day! She stayed in my laundry room.

Over the next few days, I continued to give Clementine antibiotics in her water. I kept her calm. I monitored her manure production and food consumption – both improved, as did her stance.


Thursday stance


Each day saw an improvement.

Friday stance


I trimmed off her tail feathers ruined by her penguin stance, but she no longer needed them to balance! Clementine was now walking in a more chicken-like way. She was able to peck. She started scratching the ground. She was even able to preen.



But, a hen kept indoors, and one that has been too weak to dust bathe does see an increase in the numbers of poultry lice crawling on her. She needed a dusting with louse powder.


It is not good to keep an ill, listless hen alive. One that can’t do normal chicken behavior, or eventually live in the coop as a full member of the flock, should not be kept going. I observed Clementine carefully. This was a hen on the rebound. I had never before been able to bring a hen back from such a severe case of (what I believe is) internal laying. Clementine continued to earn her stripes as a very special chicken, indeed.

I picked her up from the nursing home on a Thursday night, and a week later, on a Friday, I returned her to the flock. More about that in the next post.

The Prettiest Ever Egg Salad

This time of year I always have hard-cooked eggs in the fridge. I also often have a jar of Pickled Beets and Eggs at the ready in the refrigerator (recipe here.)

pickled beets and eggs


I came home from the supermarket with pecan-cranberry wheat rolls. I was hungry. In two minutes I made Pickled Beets and Eggs Egg Salad and had a gorgeous and yummy lunch.

egg salad

This is how to make it: Mash up hard-cooked eggs and beet pickled eggs. Season with salt – I used my Citrus Seasoned Salt (recipe in The Farmstead Egg Guide and Cookbook.)  Stir in just enough mayonnaise to hold it all together. Absolutely beautiful Easy. Wholesome. My type of quick lunch.

Vintage Cat Photo

I’d like to have more readers for my blog. I’ve been thinking about what it is that I can do to make it more popular. What’s missing? What makes other blogs wildly popular?

Cats, of course. Here at HenCam I don’t have any cats. Cats are the one animal that I (admit to) being allergic to. A cat walks past me and my eyes swell up. Total bummer.

I do, however, have cats in my collection of vintage photographs of animals and their people. Here’s one:

vintage cat


Look at the girl with her striped socks and high, many-buttoned boots (can we bring back that look?)

Let’s zoom in.

vintage cat closeup

The bow! (We don’t have to bring that look back.)

I love this hefty cat. I’ve no doubt that that kitty was both a friend and a good mouser. Alas, such a solid, sensible animal isn’t about to be an internet sensation. Even if it does have the best ever long white spiky whiskers. But, a cat like this one is cute enough for me. In fact, I prefer that determined expression of I have better things to do than to be adorable. Let’s at it!

Do you have a cat? More than one? Who out there is a cat person? Let me know in the comments.