Sad news – Mirri

November 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

And the annus horribilus continues. Yesterday we lost little Mirri. We don’t even know what killed her. Just that whatever it was, was quick, and devastating.

The irony is huge. A week ago Mirri stopped laying, and started pulling out her breast feathers, making tiny sub-audible bok-bokking noises and staying all day in the nestbox. Yep, Poppy’s Mini-Me had gone broody. After a bit of umming and ahhing, we decided that yes, we would give her the chance to be a mumma hen, and hatch the eggs we’d collected from Poppy and Lily. She was an untried broody, and quite young. But then so was Poppy when she first brooded a clutch. Mirri was roughly the same age, about the same size and weight, and was so like Poppy in other ways that we decided it was too good an opportunity to miss. If she failed to hatch them, well ok, it would be sad, but the eggs would only keep for two weeks anyway, so nothing was really wasted. If she hatched them but wasn’t a good mum, we were well able to take over and brood them ourselves. And if Poppy (or someone else) went broody in the interim, we’d have a back-up hen. We decided we’d give her three or four days to a week to be sure she was sitting tight, then put some eggs under her.So I spent the first few days of last week cleaning, disinfecting, re-oiling and refurbishing the broody coop, and setting it up ready for Mirri to move in.

On Wednesday I gave her a couple of hours in the broody, watching how she behaved. I wanted her to get used to where things were, and be able to keep an eye on how she responded. She was seriously zombie-like, and had been ever since she first went broody. It would be three or four minutes before she would seem to register her surroundings, and go to eat or drink or do anything other than sit down, trying to work out where her nest had gone. So I was quite pleased when she spent a few minutes walking slowly from feeder to drinker to door. She looked in the house a few times, but seemed a bit uncertain about what came next. Which was fine – I had to be away from home that afternoon, so I put her back in with the others for the rest of the day. And when we got home that evening, we transferred her into the broody nest under cover of darkness.

On Thursday morning she came out when I opened the house, and played a bit with her food before going to stand in the corner of the run. She seemed more puzzled than anything else – certainly not distressed about being away from the others. Mid-morning I realised she’d gone inside, and when I peered through the doorway she was sitting on the nest. She was still tending to get up and move away from the nest if I looked in at her, so I left her alone for the rest of the day, with her dish of mash sitting within beaking distance. In the evening she seemed firmly ensconced, so we went to bed feeling pretty positive.

Friday morning she seemed to be acting normally for a broody – definitely in a trance, and with only sporadic interest in anything much else (like food or water). When she came out, I made a point of checking the nest eggs. Which were spread out across the nest, and cold.

That wasn’t good. It meant that she hadn’t spent the night on them properly. I rearranged them in the centre of the nest, and just kept as unobtrusive an eye on her as I could. And she seemed to be spending quite a bit of time standing in the house, sometimes over the nest, sometimes just inside the door. Not good for a broody. About mid-morning I brought Poppy down to keep her company, with two motives: to prompt Mirri to either sit on her nest properly and defend it from the intruder; or to make her decide that this broody thing wasn’t so appealing after all. (A third motivation? To see if I could give Poppy the hint that now would be a good time for her to be broody.)

By mid afternoon it was clear that Mirri wasn’t sitting any more. She and Poppy spent the day outside in the run, nibbling grass. So I gave up, and took them both back down to the flock, to be normal chickens again.

That’s when I noticed Mirri’s breathing. Having been through the Winter of Hell with respiratory infections in the flock this year, I assumed that that was what it was – that her not-eating and weird broody-metabolism had triggered something otherwise latent. So I brought her inside again, set up the hospital cage in the spare room, dosed her with some tetravet and tried to interest her in food. Her crop was empty, other than the liquid I’d just pumped into her. She was still behaving in a way that I thought was broody – if I moved the food around in front of her, she would suddenly fix her attention on it and grab a mouthful. But then she’d lose interest after that, and I’d have to wave things around again to get her to eat. And it was the good stuff too – diced roast beef and cooked egg, even a couple of mealworms. But she ate virtually nothing, and just stood there. So I let her be for the rest of the day. I tried to crop-needle some sieved mash and egg into her in the evening, but she managed to get a bit of liquid going down the wrong way – as though her crop was obstructed somehow (I’m certain it wasn’t) and things flowed back up for a moment. She coughed and spluttered, and I ended up holding her upside down to try and drain any fluid out of her lungs. Which made her breathing worse, and made her feel and act pretty miserable. Poor girl. Her comb was also not looking good – the colour of old, slightly dried-out beef; a deep, dark, not-healthy red. I decided my attempts to help her seemed to be making things worse, so I tucked her in for the night and left her alone.

Next morning her breathing was definitely harsh. She did beak her morning mash a bit though, and had walked around the cage in the night. So we dosed her with tetravet again, and left her alone. When we got back in the afternoon she was a bit worse, and her crop was still empty. Even offering mealworms didn’t tempt her. It was too late to take her in to the vets, so we just did what we could – gave her some more tetravet, and tried to mix up a sufficiently thin slurry of mash to be able to tube into her. But it just kept clogging up, no matter how thin we made it. So we cursed, and tubed her with some more water and honey for energy. I’d noticed that her urates were a bit creamy yellow rather than white when she’d been in the broody coop – in retrospect, that was the warning sign. But it didn’t seem unreasonably odd for a broody hen, and so I’d just noted it and moved on. But now she was doing almost nothing but urate-poo, and now they were definitely yellow. We went to bed feeling pretty worried.

The next morning she was still alive, but her breathing was bad. She was standing with her tail down, and breathing with her whole body. The only overnight poo was a little smear of dark green-black, and some yellow urate. Feeling like we were rearranging deck-chairs on the Titanic, we tried again to tube some antibiotic and liquid in to her, to give her some sort of fighting chance. There was absolutely nothing we could do, so we left to do the chores in town that we had to do. When we got back a few hours later, she was dead.

Looking back, I don’t know what we should have done. Her urates on Sunday were the colour of brassica flowers – which means almost total organ failure, and there’s no surviving that. Had the vet been open on Sunday, we would probably have taken her in to be put to sleep. But she would probably have died on the way anyhow. Saturday we thought she still had a chance. Did I kill her by getting fluid into her lungs, being clumsy with my attempts to get food into her on the Friday? If I’d realised there was something wrong on Friday morning, could a vet have saved her? If I’d realised on Thursday? Wednesday? Was she even sick then? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I can’t not reproach myself, because I missed something. I’m sure now it wasn’t respiratory – her breathing never sounded obstructed or asthmatic. Just laboured. Again, in retrospect, it sounded like the breathing of an animal in distress. So whatever it was – some fast-acting virus? an infection of some sort? – it came on quickly and brutally. It may not have been something she could survive, even if I’d got her to the vet the instant it started. Either way, all I can do now is pray to a god I don’t believe in that whatever it was isn’t going to affect the others.

We’ve buried her next to Neroli, under a rose I got for my birthday. It’s right near where she spent a lot of time as a chick, and is halfway between the orchard and the paddock run. So we can talk to her when we go out to the veggie garden.

Our sweet, funny Mirri. Who used to wriggle into my arms from behind whenever Poppy was having a cuddle, so I’d have her face resting on her mother’s back, smiling up at me. (I’m still not sure if it was proximity to me or to Poppy that was the attraction. Both, possibly?) She was such a funny little grub, and so fiercely protective of her mum. Poppy’s shadow. Little Mirrabelle.

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