This year, 2017, marks the 10th year of our chicken keeping experience, and today, on her tenth birthday, we pay tribute to the great and glorious Betty, one of our first three hens, and a remarkable survivor.
Betty came to us, with her two sisters, Hetty and Letty, on 2nd September 2007, a rather dull and damp Sunday as I recall. We had spent the previous weekend, August Bank Holiday, building a 4ft by 3ft chicken house from plywood, plus a six foot long 4 foot high fenced run to keep them safe. We took delivery of these feathery bundles and our hearts were instantly captured.
Although all three hens were bought as point-of-lay, Betty looked much younger than the other two and took longer to come into lay; Hetty laid an egg within a couple of hours of arriving, Letty’s first egg arrived a couple of days later. But Betty took nearly two months to produce her first effort. I was away at a conference on the momentous day and nearly whooped when I received the triumphant text from Paul that the Betty egg had arrived!
Despite being the youngest, Betty soon showed her character and took her place as top hen, and with every successive addition to the flock Betty let the newcomers know who was boss, ably assisted by her henchhen, Hetty.
In a remarkably long life (for a chicken), Betty has rarely been ill, or even off-colour; but she has caused concern once or twice. Once, she managed to get fine twine wrapped around her legs, but even hobbled by the twine she still managed to out-hop and out-manoeuvre us! We finally cornered her and removed the twine, but she struggled pretty much all the time; Betty is not into cuddles.
Three times, she has had a foreign object lodged in a nostril. The first time, I was alarmed to see a huge “growth” on the side of her beak, and after the inevitable chase and struggle, we caught her in order to investigate. After determining that it looked like a lump of dirt, I proceeded to soak it and gently manipulated it with tweezers, until I finally freed it and Betty could breathe properly again. When I cut the lump open, I found a sunflower seed at its heart! She had snorted one of her favourite treats and there it had lodged, gradually accreting dirt, mucus and goodness knows what else ! Every two or three years since she has managed to do the same or similar, and each time it has been a bit of a struggle and has taken the strength of two adult humans to hold her still while investigating and removing the foreign objects!
Having started laying later than the others, Betty gave up laying after about 4 years and has divided her time since to keeping the rest of the flock under her thumb and terrorising the cockerels.
I never realised, when I first started keeping chickens, that they could live to be 10 years old, but Betty has achieved it. She is a little less active these days, finds the steps down from the henhouse in the mornings a little troublesome, and will now let us pick her up gently and place her on the ground when she hesitates on the top step; we are still not allowed to give lengthy cuddles, however. She is not quite so territorial over food, allowing the others to take food, even her favourite grapes and sunflower seeds, but she can still deliver a quick peck to another hen if they transgress some unwritten but fiercely policed chicken rule.
She has seen a lot of hens, and two cockerels, come and go over the years; she lost her henchhens Molly and Polly in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and her beloved Hetty in 2014 also. I’m glad that, after Hetty died, she made a friend of Dora, our other Black Rock and very like Hetty in colouring. Dora sleeps next to her on the perch, keeps an eye on her during the day, and generally provides companionship whilst the other, younger, hens race around about their own business.
I know that every day with Betty in our lives is a bonus. Her body has to give up eventually, but her spirit is so strong that I think she will be Top Hen for as long as we keep chickens.
Happy Birthday to our Great and Glorious Betty!
See also my coverage of Betty’s eighth birthday celebrations.