How our $1,000 chicken laid a golden egg

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 8, 2013 16:50

“A thousand bucks? To fix a chicken??”

My outrage echoed through the Twain Harte Veterinary Hospital lobby. A gaggle of waiting cat and dog owners looked up, suddenly alarmed that their own bills might also be unexpectedly high and perhaps put their families on all-Alpo diets for months to come.

Jack guards recovering Clucker

Jack guards recovering Clucker

“Can this possibly be right?” I continued, waving the $1,016.29 invoice and wondering what combination of sophisticated organ transplants, heart bypasses and cosmetic surgery (Beak job?  Wattle tuck?) could total more than a grand. All to save a Rhode Island Red that might go for 10 bucks at the local feed store.

The receptionist took my bill, studied it item-by-item (which is more than I had done), then handed it back. “Looks like everything’s in order here,” she said without even a hint of surprise at the amount.

Suddenly I was embarrassed.

Dr. Marv Ordway is a good friend and the least likely guy in the world to overcharge.  If he’s billing me over $1,000, he probably did $5,000 worth of work on Clucker. I just wish he had let us know before going forward with the skilled, technical and no doubt heroic measures he had taken to save and/or pretty-up our chicken.

But I pulled out my checkbook, again drawing the stares of fellow pet owners.  “Is that idiot really going to pay?” they no doubt wondered as I readied my pen.

But before I could sign, a technician emerged and said Dr. Ordway wanted to explain the charges.

“Listen, I’ll forgive the bill if you give me that chicken,” he told me.

I know that Marv loves chickens. He once drove the length of California with two hens and a rooster in the cab of his pickup truck. Later, encountering an injured rooster midway through a morning-long bike ride, he stuffed the bird into his jersey, completed the ride, then fixed up Foghorn Leghorn at the clinic. And when one of his laying hens at home dies, Dr. Ordway presides at a reverential backyard burial.

But trading away $1,000 in office revenue for Clucker? That’s crazy.

the gargantuan growth

the gargantuan growth

“It’s a deal,” I said.

“Well, I guess I should show you this first,” said Marv, opening a drawer and pulling out an egg.

Clucker is a prolific producer, but her latest egg was, well, different. It was a golden egg.

“You didn’t see it on your bill?” Marv grinned, and I looked down at the last item, “$900: delivery of golden egg.”

I’d been had.

But I did leave the clinic with a fixed chicken, a spray-painted golden egg (which tasted pretty good over easy), a bill that had been cut by 90 percent, and the partial consolation of knowing I wasn’t the first of Marv’s victims.  When a client comes to pick up male dog that’s been neutered, for example, the vet  often brings the formerly well-hung patient into the lobby with a purse around his neck. The gag works particularly well on owners with an exalted sense of their own masculinity.

No, he has yet to put the removed canine jewels in that purse. But, he concedes, “I’ve thought about it.”

So I carried Clucker back through the well-populated clinic lobby, leaving this question hanging behind me: “Did that guy really pay $1,000 to fix a chicken?”

The answer was no, but the mathematically inclined among you have probably figured out that I did pay $116.29  to fix a chicken. Yes, a chicken that might go for 10 bucks at the local feed store.

When he's not vetting, Dr. Ordway is riding ... even in the snow

When he’s not vetting, Ordway is riding … even in the snow

Credit my wife. She discovered a growth on Clucker’s right foot and brought her to the vet. Had our ailing bird been part of a multi-million-hen corporate flock laying for one of the nation’s largest egg producers, she likely would have been ground up and fed to her co-workers. Heck, very few backyard chicken farmers take their sick birds to the vet.

“I see maybe 10 a year,” said Marv. “Most people don’t think chickens are worth saving.”

But he was more than happy to save Clucker. After diagnosing her with a granuloma – a penetrating infected wound – Marv took our chicken to the operating room, removed the growth, stitched up her foot and sent her home with strict instructions: Keep her inside for two weeks, give her antibiotics regularly, make sure her living conditions are clean, then bring her back for a checkup before she rejoins the flock.

“Keep her inside?” I wondered. “How are we going to do that?”

Suzy had the answer. She put some hay, a feeder and a water bowl in the guest bathroom’s shower stall,  and told Clucker it was home. With central heat, soft lighting and daily maid service, our bird was living the good life.

Now Clucker’s back with our eight-hen working class. She’s healthy, laying regularly, indistinguishable from her fellow reds, and moving just fine on her repaired foot. Two week in a glass-and-tile penthouse apparently didn’t spoil this hen.   columns-of-columns

So, yes, even at $116.29, we figured Clucker was worth saving.

But, alas, we’re still waiting for her second  golden egg.

Chris Bateman, 66, is a journalist based in Sonora, California, where over the past 40 years he has covered everything under the Central Sierra sun. 

Copyright © 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 8, 2013 16:50
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  1. Jennifer Rapp March 8, 18:27

    I always enjoy reading your column! I brought out the column you wrote about the four of us at the Oakland/niner pre-season game. I proudly displayed it at my super bow party. My friends got a real kick out of it and yes I still have the inflatable 49er helmet! No quiche this year, gourmet chile verde and yes Chardonnay! Hope all is well with you and your family, say hi to Suzy for me!

  2. Jan Mathews March 8, 20:24

    Hi Chris and Suzy–I’ve rarely told my chicken story, but your chicken largess has emboldened me. On a sunny summer Saturday morning eight or nine years ago, on impulse I released Kaiya, my trusty canine sidekick, out for her morning business on her own, thinking she had proven herself to be responsible and no longer needed to be accompanied every single morning. I returned to my bed to laze and read for awhile. About 15 minutes later my lie in was interrupted by the sound of chickens frantically squawking out alarm calls in the forest two stories below. I looked out my bed window to see the door on the chicken pen was ajar and Kaiya was merrily chasing down hen after hen. She was doing what hunting dogs do when birds make a flap–grabbing them in her mouth and giving them a good shaking. In shock I raced to the rescue, and quickly found 4 beautiful young hens, Granite, Opal, Pearl and Onyx strewn around the forest floor, lifeless. I ran to the pen and found our old buff orpington hen, Prudence, hunkered down in the corner of the hen house making not a sound. Prudence had been the sole survivor of a midnight raccoon raid a few years earlier, and her better judgment apparently told her it wasn’t safe to go foraging in the forest. Seeing Kaiya alerting to something under the deck, I found the remaining hen, Garnet, badly injured. Garnet spent the day in the house, sitting in a warming box while I held out hope she could recuperate from the assault. My optimism increased when she ate a little grain and drank a sip of water, and then surged when I found an egg in her box in the middle of the afternoon. How badly injured could she be? By evening, my son Abran suggested it was clear Garnet needed some attention if she was going to have a chance. We wrapped her in a blanket and drove 15 miles to the local 24 hour emergency vet clinic. The vet on duty was kind. She explained Garnet appeared to have significant injuries that would need extensive care. She said she could try to save her, but she thought Garnet’s chances were slim. Kindly, she suggested its hard to tell if chickens are suffering, and it might be best for Garnet to opt for euthanizing. Tearfully, I agreed and she took Garnet to another room. With a heavy heart, I paid the $330 bill and drove home. Three days later, after the shock of the whole event began to wear off, and Kaiya and I had begun to repair our bond, we were in my car commuting home from work in Sacramento when it occurred to me I had paid $330 to have a chicken euthanized. I called Abran (this wasn’t against the law back then) to tell him I was getting my sense of perspective back. His comment was, “Yeah, it didn’t seem right at the time to question your choices, but I was thinking why not fried chicken?” How the gate was unlatched is still a mystery. We’re more careful now. If ever we have another life and death chicken incident, I’ll do it right next time. We’ll load up in the truck and make the 95 mile drive to Dr. Marv.

  3. al mandell March 8, 20:33


  4. dave bergersen March 8, 21:59

    as usual chris your storys about life in general and chickens in this blog brought a smile to my face. looking forward to your next story!!!!

  5. Arlene Uslander March 9, 08:00

    Do not be surprised if the rest of your chicken-laying staff come up with various symptoms so that they, too, will receive the same special treatment as Clucker (a fine name for a chicken if I ever heard one). A happy way to start the weekend is reading another of your blogs.

  6. Nina Resnik March 9, 08:20

    Good Morning Chris, Only us animal lovers will go to the lengths for our critters. Years ago I was brought a little field mice and was asked can you raise him and let him go? Now this was a challage but he didn’t choice to be born a mice. This little guy was eager to eat and survive. So kept him warm and fed reg. meals and let him go. I always tell this story in my talks so everyone knows I’ll not turn anything away but try my best. Yes I would have done the same thing with my chickens or anything else that comes through my hands. Jolly good to the both of you. Your friend through the animal world Nina Resnik Director Rosewolf Wildlife Rescue

  7. Robert Dorroh March 14, 09:49

    Another gem, Chris. Miss the days at the newspaper where we discussed critical issues like ’50s trivia and trips to the infamous Lusk, Wyo.

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