Sasha, and why some jokes are a bad idea

January 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

All the jokes about our Sasha laying her bum off have come to haunt us. Yesterday we discovered her with a prolapsed vent.

It’s possible – probable – it happened the day before yesterday. We were in the vegie garden and heard a loud squark, and saw her fly over the low fence around the rubbishy area in their run. She’s always been very good about respecting fences, so it was a bit odd. We assumed from the noise that someone must have given her a peck or a chase, and that she flew to escape. (Neroli has managed to go above Sasha in the pecking order, and is being her usual toadish self about it.) When Stewart retrieved her, he noted that her petticoats were wet with urates and poo. But other than mentally noting to give her a bit of a clean the next day, we didn’t worry.

We should have worried.

The following day, I was checking the nestboxes and found Sasha standing hunched over a wet egg. I assumed she’d just laid it (she had) and that her posture was just post-lay straining. I collected the egg, and went on with my morning. But an hour or so later I realised that Sasha still hadn’t emerged, which was unlike her, so I went to check. My first thought was that she must be feeling broody – she’s a Rhodie, so it was likely. I lifted her out, and her backside pressed against my arm. And I realised it wasn’t just wet feathers I could feel.

When a hen lays an egg, the top of their oviduct (the equivalent to a human cervix) actually protrudes from the cloaca briefly, to push the egg out. Normally it’s just a tiny wink, but if something goes wrong, the muscles that usually pull everything back in to place may not do their job, and the hen ends up with the lower part of their bowel and/or reproductive tract hanging out of their bottom. And to other chooks, that’s a very strange thing indeed. Possibly edible. So, being chooks, they peck at it to investigate. We think this is what sent Sasha over the fence on Sunday afternoon. In which case she spent way too long trying to not have the others do more damage to her.

Anyhow, we did a fairly cursory job of cleaning her up (not wanting to risk make things worse), and took her in to Pauline. Doing some quick research, there seemed to be definitely mixed views on how catastrophic this event was – some people said it was pointless trying to save them from here, others saying that you most definitely could. The crucial thing, which everyone agreed on, was preventing other birds from pecking at the prolapse. So we were feeling pretty grim when we took her in.

To cut to the chase: Pauline cleaned the prolapse wound as best she could, and then the three of us reinserted her into herself. (There really isn’t a more delicate way of phrasing it.) Naturally, her response to this odd and painful thing being pushed into her bottom was to push it back out again, and to keep pushing, because it was still there and still felt wrong. All completely understandable, but exactly what we didn’t want. We had a couple more goes at reinsertion, and then Pauline gave her a shot of calcium (calcium deficiency can be a cause, and is certainly involved in muscle tone) and decided to keep her for twenty-four hours, to see if the cunning use of a water-balloon could help to keep things in. We went home feeling … not sure what to think. Worried. Hopeful, but worried.

This afternoon Pauline phoned us at home. The prolapse had stayed in for slightly longer over night, but was plopping out every time Sasha tried to poo. Oh, and she’d laid an egg as well. Pauline thought there was some improvement in muscle tone, but that the damaged tissue from where the others had pecked her was the problem. Infection was a huge concern, but just the irritation the rough tissue was providing was enough to make things really bad. We could, in theory, operate on her to remove the damaged section, but we would then have the surgical wound to contend with, and Pauline only gave it a 40 – 50% chance of saving her. Which left euthanasia as the only real option.

In one of those odd twists of fate, we were taking the call outside, and at one point in the ensuing conversation the phone dropped out. We were talking things over together, trying to decide what to do. It was probably twenty minutes before Pauline phoned us back. With Plan C.

Pauline had, in the intervening time, had another examination of Sasha, and noticed that a bit of damaged tissue had sloughed off when she pushed the prolapse back in. There was a chance, if we could keep on top of infection, that over time Sasha would just … heal. That the dead tissue would gradually slough off, and that her muscle tone would continue to improve (and that, with the rough dead tissue diminishing, be less and less likely to feel to Sasha like something to try and push out). The catch was that this would mean we would have to be willing to reinsert the prolapse, many, many times a day, and to very gently clean the wound to encourage the sloughing.

I think we’d said yes before Pauline finished talking. Mucky is not a problem, it really isn’t. As long as what we’re doing isn’t making her miserable (or is only briefly so), and there is a decent chance of her recovering. I have to admit that after losing Frida, I find my courage being tested by this sort of thing. But Sasha is young and healthy, and frankly she’s laid so well that even if she never lays another egg in her life, she has a place with us. Dear funny little noodle-girl. So we’ll do what we can: we owe her that.

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