I was working in the yard yesterday and had let the ladies out to wander around (they're especially happy when I'm raking on the big leaf pile, because they get to poke around for the bugs I stir up.) After awhile, one of them went back in to the nest box to lay, and the other accompanied her in as she often does. Ten minutes later, I had a worried-looking hen (don't ask me how I knew) at my heels, trying to get my attention. As I turned around, she headed back toward the coop, looking over her shoulder in what I swear was a "follow me" expression. So I followed her back down, where she promptly jumped up into the nest box beside her companion and lay her beak on her friend's back.
I could hear that the other chicken was making some odd sounds every thirty seconds or so, and it seemed as if she was having trouble getting an egg out, so I trooped back up to the house and Googled (I swear) "Chicken egg stuck". That's when I discovered that this is an actual condition called being "egg bound." I had no idea as none of our hens ever had trouble when they started laying (when, apparently, this is much more common). One website mentioned that if chickens are really cold this can be more common, and since the temperature here has been well below freezing, that might've been it. Unfortunately, I also discovered that being egg bound is a serious condition that often results in death. I don't think I could stand it if another chicken died this year, so I was willing to go to heroic lengths to help this one out.
The "surefire cure" recommended on various websites was to give the chicken a warm bath. Now, that's easier said than done and since this is our fiestiest chicken, I had my doubts as to the feasibility of such an endeavor, but when I picked her up she came agreeably enough and we went up to the house and into the bathroom. Ten minutes in a warm bath didn't produce any eggs, but the chicken seemed like she was in a lot less distress at least. There were some funny moments as she looked at herself in the bathroom mirror, trying to figure out where the other chicken was.
According to the chicken experts, I was also supposed to...um... lube up the "vent" area (they actually recommend KY jelly) to facilitate slipperiness and egg expulsion. Here's where I started to feel a bit James Herriot-ish, since I recall he always had a hand up some animal or another. But, being the urban farmwife that I now am, I gave it a try. Fortunately, I could feel the egg right there, so I had a hunch that she'd be okay.
By this time it was getting dark and almost time for me to head to work. My husband didn't want to try carrying the chicken back down (I'm sure he was having flashbacks to the last time he tried to catch a chicken, an act that provided much amusement for the entire neighborhood). But she was far too wet to take out in such cold. The answer? A hair dryer. I never use one, so I had to dig around awhile to find it, but eventually we were blow-drying the chicken (oh I wish I had a photo of this), and could return her to the coop, warm and at least more comfortable.
Within an hour, she'd laid the egg and all's well that ends well. The things that most impressed me from this little escapade were the sweet way that Dingbat (one of our hens) came and got my attention to go help her friend, and how sweet our fiesty little Hera was as I tried to help her. Also, my continuing education as a keeper of chickens and perhaps even Hairdresser to the Poultry World.