Having lost Letty, our little flock was down to five hens. I did not want to wait too long to get another hen, as I thought we could integrate a sixth hen better than last time and wanted to replenish the flock before winter set in. On a gloriously sunny Saturday in early September 2008, we went to the Penistone Show, an annual agricultural show with amazing tents full of poultry, rabbits, country crafts, horse riding competitions, sheep pig goat and cattle judging, and so on. We had spent the whole day at the show, and were about to go home, when I noticed that Storrs Poultry had a stand, with equipment and hens for sale. We had bought all of our hens from Storrs, and knew their birds were of excellent quality. In one small pen there were half a dozen Warrens. Most of the birds were fairly subdued, having had a long day in the pen, but one was climbing over the others searching for a way out; she seemed feisty and I wanted her! She had a beautiful ruff of pale cream feathers making her stand out from the other plainer brown hens. We had not intended to come home with anything other than some pots of local honey and a bundle of leaflets; instead we acquired a hen! The only box they had for transporting her was rather large and it was all I could do to carry it back to the car, as she was constantly moving around in the box scratching at the floor of the box as though trying to escape. On the way home, I announced that she was called Lily – I don’t know why, I just liked the name (and the flower) and it seemed appropriate. We arrived home and left Lily in the box with water and feed, shut in the garage until night fall. I was determined that she would be integrated into the flock more successfully than Dolly Polly and Molly.
After dark, we took her out of the box and carried her to the hen house, placing her in one of the nest boxes. She seemed calm and sleepy, and the other hens noticed nothing. The next morning I got up early, and let them out of the house; they were a bit narky and the after-dark introduction trick had not really worked as well as I had hoped, but Lily was pretty nimble on her feet and managed to avoid most of the beaks aimed at her. She kept herself to herself much of the time, but when we let the flock out to roam the garden, she seemed to stick with the others and enjoyed scratching.
She had been with us a couple of weeks when I began to notice that she was not really eating; she pecked and scratched but did not actually eat. She also seemed slower than when she had first come to us, and when she thought she was unobserved would stand hunched up looking miserable; she had been such a feisty hen at the Show, but now she seemed subdued and fed-up. I was at a loss to know what to do; I picked her up and felt her crop and it was empty, so too was her stomach. It looked like she had not eaten for days, and I could not tempt her with treats even when she was away from the others. I had always put down two or three bowls of food in the run so that the shyer hens would get something, but this did not appear to be working for Lily. I called Richard for advice, and he kindly came over after work to take a look at her. She was still sleeping in the nestbox, well away from the others, so it was relatively easy to pick her up and bring her into the house for examination. He thought that she had a bit of an over-bite beakwise, and we gently filed the tip down just a little to see if that made any difference. He also advised worming her and forcing some food into her beak as she may have “forgotten” how to eat. The only worming treatment I had was Verm-X pellets, so we forced a few of those into her beak and made sure she swallowed them. There was little else we could do, but observe and re-treat if necessary, so we put her back out in the nestbox.
The next morning I woke with some trepidation and went to let the hens out. Lily ran out of the house and immediately started cramming as much food into her beak as she could! The others stood and watched in some bemusement as the little hen made up for two weeks of not eating. After that there was no stopping her, and although I watched her carefully for some weeks afterwards, she always had a well-filled crop, and the sad look in her eyes had disappeared. I have since heard of other instances where, taken out of her usual environment a hen can forget how to eat, so Lily was not an unusual case.
So now we had a nicely balanced flock, two black, two grey, and two brown. Laying continued well, although it tailed off a little over the winter.
The following Spring, Lily again gave me cause for concern. When she thought I was not looking, she would stand around hunched up, sometimes on one leg; if she saw me watching her she would pretend to peck at the ground, but I was not fooled. She sometimes stood apart from the rest of the flock, but it was interesting to see that they did not abandon her nor did they peck or chase her as her lowly place in the pecking order befitted, but seemed to actually be supporting her in a chickeny sort of way. They grazed and scratched within a few feet of her, never letting her stand for long on her own, as though they realised she was too weak to keep up with them. I had to do something, so I took her indoors, examined her, investigated her symptoms in the Chicken Health book, and decided to keep her indoors for a few days. She obviously had a stomach upset, so ground her food up in the blender and prepared a drench of very diluted molasses for her to drink. I also constructed a temporary hut from a cardboard box, cut a “pophole” in the side and filled it with bedding material; I set this down in the porch and Lily was put into her new temporary home. She stayed there for three days, having worming treatment and a little food. She gradually regained her strength and her appetite, and once she was fully recovered I put her back out with the others.
Touch wood, she has not had any other problems, and has been a seemingly happy member of the flock since. When we built the new chicken house, we made sure there was a second perch so that she could get away from the pecking at night if she wanted to, and she certainly used it, except when it was very cold and she found the need to snuggle up no matter that she was pecked. When she moulted in the Winter of 2010, she lost her pale ruff of feathers, and developed a very interesting colour: dark gingery head and neck, changing suddenly to pale buff for her wings and the rest of her body. She is a striking looking hen! She is no longer the bottom of the pecking order either; she now has a lowlier hen to bully, but that is another story!