Hen today, gone tomorrow
By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener It was bound to happen sometime. We’ve just lost one of the Wildlife Garden hens. Bizarrely, it was Mademoiselle Pompidelle, the’big blousy orange Diana Dors of a bird’, top of the pecking order and permanent grump, who went first.
It was a normal Monday morning: I had fed the Junior Wildlife Gardeners and gone down to the henhouse to let the ladies out and treat them to some tinned sweetcorn. It’s cold and snowy and they’ve hardly seen a blade of grass all week. Three hens tumbled down the ladder and fell upon the sweetcorn frenziedly. Three hens means that one is in the nest box, laying. I’ve often peeked into the nest box to see a wonderful warm fresh egg drop from a fluffy bottom. And today there was a hen in the box, but a curiously flat one, curled on her side, and stone cold. Oh dear. You can identify a corpse at first sight because it is flat. Breath keeps an animal plump and living; the last outbreath deflates and deforms it. I’ve seen lots of dead pets over the decades and it’s that general flatness that says’too late’. I was stunned: Pompey was in fine fettle yesterday, plump and shiny, out and scratching a tiny patch of lawn. I was in a dilemma about whether to tell the JWGs about Pompey before school, but my red-rimmed eyes were a giveaway and I had to come clean. JWG1, a hands-on natural with animals, was distraught. JWG2 who has a much more clinical approach to the natural world was more interested in our emotional reaction than Pompey’s corpse. Then we had a horrible walk to school on icy paths through a haze of tears, JWG1 slipping several times and just not having the usual good humour to see the funny side of black ice. In the commotion I forgot to put on my snow boots and walked in wellies, falling on my backside all the way home. So what caused Pompey’s unexpected demise? Initially I thought she might have frozen to death, but regular readers will know that I go to great lengths to keep the hens warm and happy (M/C link to Gin Hens and Vaseline). I gingerly examined her and noticed that she had a prolapse from her vent: her internal tubing had somehow become external within the last 12 hours. I’m surprised this killed her ” usually the hen seems sickly and the protruding tubing can be gently pushed back in, but I’d noticed nothing wrong with her yesterday to warrant any intervention. Perhaps her apparatus simply wore out. Pompey was a Warren, an egg machine bred to endure battery conditions. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall advocated keeping this tough breed of hen as they lay reliably even if badly treated, ergo some TLC and good welfare should result in a long, happy and productive life (theoretically rather like buying a Land Rover and driving it only on tarmac). However, we bought Pompey and her sisters in June 2009 and she has more or less laid an egg a day since then – that’s around 500 eggs for her little avian system to cope with. Does this mean that we can expect Laverne, Imelda and Mrs von Quark to quit this mortal coil as abruptly? How soon can I deal with more teary walks to school? We certainly need to obtain a couple more hens, as much to keep the right stocking density in the henhouse to maintain warmth and the continuity of eggs, but this is the stuff of future articles. The other three hens seem fine just now, and Imelda, as bottom of the pecking order, will not miss Pompey’s bullying. So, to paraphrase The Apprentice: Mademoiselle Pompidelle, you were in the Wildlife Garden for 72 weeks, let’s take a look at your highlights:
The first egg!
Pompey au pot
- Spurn Spawn! - 26th February, 2014
- Bluebells on wheels: axles of evil? - 2nd February, 2011
- Raising the ba: Wildlife and the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead - 8th January, 2011
6 thoughts on “Hen today, gone tomorrow”
Thank you, ghostmoth and Wendy. We gave Pompey a Viking-style funeral pyre sendoff that involved a large pile of wood and enough petrol to singe Mr WG’s jumper when he ignited it from 4ft away. But it did the job as nothing recognisable was left. RIP.
What a vivid and fitting tribute to a well-loved bird. (Lucky hens!) Condolences.
So sad. The review of her life in pictures was inspired and I don’t remember seeing the picture of her goosestepping through the snow.
My chicken expert tweeps on Twitter @Coileach and @ChickenStreet advise me that it’s likely Pompey had an aggressive cancerous tumour that displaced the internals causing the prolapse. It was mighty quick.
Thanks, Richard – I do like bantams. Yes – I heard the author Maeve Binchy talking on Radio 4 about her mum’s hens. One died suddenly so she took it to the vet, worried about fowl pest. When the vet asked how old the hen was she replied “Fourteen” and wondered why he fell about laughing.
The other WG hens appear in rude health – it will probably be fragile little Imelda who hits the 14 mark!
Oh no – that’s always a horrible thing to find. If it’s any consolation, the lifespans seem to vary wildly – we got a few silky bantams as working pets 8 or 9 years ago. Excluding the fox casualties, one died after about a year, one died at 7 years old and another is still going strong at 9.
The fact that Mme. Pompey had a prolapse rather than dying of old age would suggest to me that the others should have long lives ahead of them!