Cleaning a Chicken’s Butthole

Today, the first day of the new year, I cleaned a chicken’s asshole. Don’t think I need to say this was my first time, but it was. After gloving up, I identified the chicken needing a thorough wiping. I grabbed her by the tail and carefully held her steady with two hands before tucking her under my left arm. Then, using a handling technique taught to me the previous day, I gently rolled the bird onto her side while trying not to agitate her. I gave her vent a quick peek and winced. It was covered in a caky yellow goo that ran the length of her backside. So I turned on the barn faucet, got the water nice and warm, and basically gave the hen a thorough bidet. As the water flowed over her anus, I used my index finger to wipe away the accumulated muck. In doing so I uncovered a scab the size of a quarter. My trainer told me use tweezers to pick away the necrotic flesh. I had watched her do this yesterday and it looked easy enough. All I had to do was take the tweezers and get it done. But I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. My trainer told me it was OK, then graciously picked off the dead ends of the circular scab. Then I set the hen down and she promptly ran away. My trainer made it clear that not everyone is cut out for this sort of work. Shoot, I already knew that.

When I applied for a stint at Farm Sanctuary, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I don’t mind stomping through piles of animal shit, and I’ve gotten used to the funky smell of a chicken barn when it first opens up in the morning. I can aptly deal with temperamental animals and I’ve gotten good at dodging turkey bites and the barrage of protective, intimidating geese. Though I am still afraid of pigs, I feel like I am developing an understanding of their behavior that makes it easier to work with them. Yeah, me and pigs are cool.

But the past two days working a new position have been a hell of a foray into aspects of the job that, as an intern in 2012, remained totally hidden from me. But fact is, there’s a brutal reality to maintaining an animal sanctuary. It ain’t no petting zoo. Employees don’t spend their days feeding a bunch of cute animals and going home. No way. These folks are saints and passionately driven to do whatever’s necessary to keep their 400+ animals healthy and happy. The work is strenuous, disgusting, and devastating at times. But it’s also filled with joy — and the joy comes from completing daily chores that benefit the animals. I commend them for it, every last one of them. But dammit, these daily procedures make my personal short list of things I simply can’t do without wanting to cry like a baby. Today’s tweezing of dead tissue from a sickly hen’s cloaca gets top billing, so far. But close behind is picking from a pig’s flank the skin flakes left over from a severe bacterial infection. So is discovering a painful infestation of mites on a rooster. And praise be to God that I haven’t had to reinsert a duck’s engorged corkscrew penis back into its “storage compartment” (I’m afraid to Google what it’s actually called). But hey, there’s always tomorrow.

 

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