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A Sorry Fermentation

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

In Which Shedley Saves Delia’s Life By Turning Her Upside Down

     We've learned to inspect our flock of bantams regularly. They skedaddle over when you call them and, when they're 'in lay' as they are right now, producing a steady two or three eggs daily between them, they will pause and crouch as you approach. We know they do this because they think you are a mighty cockerel...but it's gratifying nonetheless and has the added bonus of making it easy to pick them up and cuddle them and examine the flexing pink mouth that is their vent, the snaky legs and, most importantly, their crops.

     Delia alone consistently refuses our attentions and inspections and has to be snatched at and grabbed.

     Delia is our silver partridge pekin. She is very Madison Avenue in looks, with a splendid set of fire-engine-red wattles and a blood red comb which stands out  vivid and proud against her elegant black and white plumage.

     We named her when she was still a young 'pullet' after the cook Delia Smith. We imagined she'd grow up to be placid and round.

     Well, she's certainly a great waddling pudding of a bantam, rounder by far than Fanny, our golden partridge pekin. But where Fanny adores human contact and seeks to be picked up and petted and cuddled and enjoys nothing better than a ride around on Shedley's shoulders, Delia is stand-offish and temperamental. She's a bolshie girl, a Delia in Norwich City mode.

     We only got close to Delia when she was ill a couple of months ago. Her crop had become gravely impacted, the weight of it dragging at her darling little pekin breast. Her breathing was laboured and she had started to isolate herself from the rest of the flock.

     This was before our black hen Nigella developed a hernia and, at this point, we had not yet had a day's sickness in over two years of owning our flock. Suddenly we had a crash course in advanced chicken anatomy and biology.

     We contacted our chicken guru Miles Boarder who is endlessly generous with his time and advice. We consulted the internet and our various books. We brought Delia indoors to control and restrict her feeding, ensure she got plenty of water and keep her safe from predators.

     We put her on a diet of natural yoghurt, kale juice and chicken vitamins which she lapped delicately from a wooden spoon every 30 minutes.

     And amazingly she lived. She survived our amateur ministrations and returned to rude bolshie health.

But, as Miles Boarder warned, once the crop has become distended, it’s like a muscle which has lost its elasticity - problems will likely recur.

     Now she's poorly again. Now Shedley is watching You Tube videos to try and save her life...

      I saw Delia trying but failing to follow her friends up on to the raised bed where they like to peck and scratch.  I realised she'd become  front-heavy again: she could not gain altitude, couldn’t even get as high as the bench which we've put in place to help Floyd. Floyd doesn't do flying,  having been equipped with wings which are purely ornamental.

     We've diagnosed Delia with sour crop: she's full to brimming over with rancid, undigested, squishy stuff.

     She's a greedy girl and we think she discovered the grass cuttings, had a good old graze with the result that they've fermented inside her.

     She's resting up in our chicken sanitarium again.  She's on water with  a dash of poultry cider vinegar and she's back on the natural yoghurt which Shedley is pleased about because, with every large tub of Yeo Valley Organic yoghurt, comes the promise of winning £25,000 or one of two Land Rovers.

     So far we've only won 'Yeokens,' but you never know.

     'Land Rovers aren't exactly organic,' I remark to Shedley.

     Unlike the contents of Delia's sour crop which are memorably organic and which, thanks to the demonstration on You Tube, Shedley has just expelled from Delia. He turned the chicken upside down and massaged her expertly and probably saved her life and sacrificed to the subsequent spray he elicited from her,  a pair of rather good shoes but, we agreed, it was in an excellent cause.


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