Beatrice

In Brief

Hatched: January 2007 (estimated)
Died: 29th September, 2007

Weight: 2.30 kg

Breed: Barnevelder

Buried: under a Bramley’s Seedling apple tree

Total number of eggs: 8
Biggest egg: 55 g
Smallest egg: 49 g
Average weight: 52.8 g

The Arrival

We got Beatrice two days after Bessie arrived – bought from a local breeder, Roger Hill, through TradeMe. The sale was for a crossbreed point of lay pullet, but Roger had mentioned that he had some purebred birds that he would be willing to sell if we preferred.

And we did. She was a pure bred Barnevelder, from a line of good layers. But her makings were wrong – rather than the usual double lacing (red-gold over black), she was more like a gold-laced wyandotte. So we took her home.

The Pecking Order

We’d been lulled into a false sense of security with Bessie. There’d been no issues at all between her and Delilah, so we didn’t worry about what might happen when we added a third girl to the mix.

Oh dear.

Bessie did nothing: it was all Delilah. In the end we locked Delilah in the house for a couple of hours just so that Beatrice could stop running and learn where the food and water were. It was bad for about four days, and then Beatrice stopped reacting so violently to Delilah, and Delilah worked out that dominance had been established to her satisfaction. After that it was really just a case of Beatrice tucking her head in and being stoical about it all.

The same thing when Venus and Ella joined the flock – Beatrice was the smallest and youngest, and so her place was at the bottom of the pecking order. But she didn’t seem to mind.

The Name

We took a while to settle on a name for her. For a few days she was “Penelope”. Then, in an attempt at nominative determinism, she was (briefly) “Boudicca”, then we settled on a more appropriate name: Beatrice, after the wonderful New Zealand discus champion, Beatrice Faumuina. We’d hoped this would give her strength, determination and courage.

Oh well.

Laying …

Late August 2007, we noticed that Beatrice was spending quite a bit of time in the house when one or other of the other girls was in there laying. Sometimes she’d stand just outside the nest, and poke her head in. Other times she’d just duck in and out of the doorway. Her comb and wattles were noticeably fuller and redder.

September 1st was a Saturday – we were doing things in the garden, and started hearing a really odd scraping noise. Coming from the nestbox. It was Beatrice, making herself a nest. Well, rearranging the sawdust into as many different configurations as possible. This went on for three more days – following the others into the nestbox, spending half an hour on her own rearranging the furniture, coming and going like a semi-demented bumblebee.

Then on September 4th, I went out to collect the breakfast dishes, and there it was. A beautiful, brown, speckled, 49g egg, sitting on the straw in the middle of the run. After all that mucking about in the nestbox, she laid the damn thing outside!

She laid again the next day – in the nestbox this time. 51g. For some reason, she’d decided that the nestbox Delilah was in was the one she had to use, so they were in there together. Both eggs undamaged. Slightly surprising, given that after Delilah laid and left, Beatrice had thrown most of the shavings out of the nestbox. Sigh!

She laid six more eggs, on the 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th. 55g, 53g, 55g, 54g, 52g and 53g.

And then we lost her.

And then

On the 18th of September, I noticed that she was hanging back a bit. Being the bottom of the pecking order, she’d always made a point of being first on the scene whenever I came over to them, in case there was food available. But this time she wasn’t. She came over slowly, and didn’t seem interested in what I was doing. I watched her for a bit, and I could see there was something wrong. Her posture – normally she had a very high tail carriage, but she was standing hunched, with her tail drooping down. We examined her, and her lower abdomen was swollen and hard.

It had been a fortnight since she’d last laid – not unusual for a pullet just coming in to lay, but added to the swelling suggested something like egg binding. So we brought her inside an gave her the standard first-aid for such things: sat her for an hour in a warm waterbath, carefully blow-dried her with a hairdryer, and put her in a box overnight with a heatpad under towels in the bottom. The hope was that she would pass the egg overnight.

But she hadn’t. So we made a very cautious internal examination, to see if we could detect an egg at all. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for any of the parties involved, and wasn’t able to detect an egg. Which meant that either it was a blockage further up the oviduct (very bad) or something else equally bad. I managed to track down a vet who was prepared to treat a chicken, and took her in on Thursday 20th September to see Veronika Pipe at the Hornby Vet Clinic.

Beatrice’s temperature was very high, and her crop was full of small stones. Veronika confirmed that there wasn’t any obvious sign of egg binding, and kept Beatrice in the clinic to be put on antibiotics. We collected her again that Saturday – her crop had been emptied of the grit, her temperature was back down to more normal levels and she’d been eating and drinking again. We were given a crop needle to use in order to medicate her, and a supply of antibiotics (Baytril) for the next ten days. We put her in a box inside, to keep her close and warm. She ate and drank a bit, so we were feeling a bit more hopeful.

Sunday she refused to eat anything. We offered her all sorts of things to try and tempt her, but she showed no interest. Medicating her was also a bit fraught – we’d crushed the tablets to powder in a mortar and pestle, and then mixed them with enough water to get them to be able to go through the syringe. It wasn’t pleasant, but we did get her meds into her. But she ate virtually nothing, and drank the same. So Monday morning we took her back to the vets.

Veronika wasn’t there, so we saw a different vet this time, including a consult with Pauline, the practice’s avian specialist. They were both very worried – her temperature had spiked even further, and she was dehydrated. Pauline was also concerned about the colour of her poo – the urates were yellowish rather than the usual white colour, which was a possible indication of liver damage. They gave her a saline injection direct into the breast muscle, and put her on an additional antibiotic. They also did an X-ray – it showed a “diffuse” image in the lower abdomen, but definitely ruled out egg binding. The likely culprit? Egg-yolk peritonitis.

EYP in birds is roughly equivalent to an ectopic pregnancy in humans. The egg (in this case, the part we know as “yolk”) is released from the follicle, and must travel a certain distance before it reaches the upper end of the oviduct (fallopian tube in humans) where fertilisation usually takes place. Sometimes the egg/yolk doesn’t go the right way, and ends up floating freely in the abdomen. A fertilised human embryo may implant on a nearby surface – painful, potentially causing fatal bleeding. An egg yolk however can’t implant anywhere. Instead it must be reabsorbed by the body. And egg is the perfect medium for bacterial growth, so unless the reabsorbtion happens quickly and completely, the most likely result is huge bacterial infection. Which is what happens in 80% of cases.

And this is what our poor girl had. It’s such a horrible irony – she was so happy, so bustling and contented in her laying. And now this was going to kill her, if we couldn’t beat the infection.

And we couldn’t. A couple of times we seemed to be winning – she’d be active, alert, vocal. Eating and drinking. Just not enough.

On Friday 28th September she had completely stopped eating or drinking. We tried to crop tube fluids and food into her, but it wasn’t enough, and she fought it every time. Her comb and wattles were shrunken and pale. The day before we’d put her back with the others, in the hope that this would perk her up a bit, start her eating again. And she seemed happier – spent about half an hour scritching and dust batheing, and slept tucked up between the two Australorps. But Friday morning she was sitting with her eyes partly closed, beak open.

The vets did blood tests, and confirmed that it was EYP. They kept her there overnight, to be given fluids and antibiotics. But on Saturday morning it was clearly over. Her organs were shutting down, and her temperature kept rising. So we did the only thing we could do, and had her put to sleep.

We brought her home with us. She’s buried under a seedling apple tree, in a big pot in our garden. That way she’s always with us, and we can say hello to her in the morning when we go out to let the other girls out. And she can come with us when we eventually move.

Poor, sweet little girl. We still miss you.

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