I knew this question was going to come up eventually. Last week one of our four-year old chickens became obviously ill. Henrietta had been the head of our flock of four. Aloof and bossy, she regularly chased the other three away from the feeder when she was eating and would even go after Rudy the Corgi if he ventured too close. A personality change was the first sign something was up; she suddenly became nicer and quieter, letting us pet her, leaving the other chickens alone. And then she needed help climbing into her nesting box at night, and didn't come out on her own in the morning. At that point - around day 5 - we were pretty sure she was sick, and we had to ask ourselves, "Is Henrietta livestock? or a pet?"
If she were livestock, it might be time to "cull." We decided she was a pet. And then the big Pet Question raised its head: "What are we willing to pay for treatment by a vet? We came up with a random figure and John hauled Henrietta to a local veterinarian who specializes in birds. He came back with liquid feed, a tube, a syringe and antibiotics. Her belly was distended indicating possible egg-binding and/or infection. Since the cost of x-rays to see if she was egg-bound was prohibitive, we treated her for infection only. After three "feedings," it was clear she was not getting better and was - sorry for this - now puking up the food a few hours after we pumped it in. She didn't seem in distress, so we put her in a box lined with soft cotton rags and brought her inside where it was cooler and bug-free. She died that night.
The sweet vet offered us a free necropsy and we found it was egg yolk peritonitis - egg yolk lodged in the ovaduct, causing a bacterial infection. If we had caught it earlier, we could have started the antibiotics sooner, but it may not have helped. Egg yolk pertonitis is often fatal. I am still not sure whether we did the right thing by Henrietta, but that is always the burden on those of us who "own" animals.
Rest in peace, Henrietta. You were a mean girl, but we liked you a lot - kind of like a pet.