In early October 2010, we adopted six ex-barn hens through the British Hen Welfare Trust. We lost one, Enid, within 2 weeks – she simply could not adapt to life outside. We lost another, Ethel, after 40 weeks, of a type of cancer (we think). Gracie died just 1 week short of her Henniversary, in September 2011, again of cancer – she had an enormous growth on the tummy. Just before Christmas, we lost Ginger to the same disease.
We went for six months with no problems, and then suddenly Mabel went off her food and started standing around hunched up and rather sleepy. She even took to sleeping standing up in a nest box – very unusual for her – and dozing off under a bush in the middle of the day when normally she would have been into everything. She allowed me to pick her up but her tummy was obviously tender and she didn’t like me holding her under her chest, squealing pitifully if I tried to pick her up in the usual way. I gave her a short course of Tylan and she appeared to improve and started eating again, but it was not to last. Two weeks later I gave her another course of Tylan and when that had no effect took her to the vet. Although the vet could find no unusual tumours or evidence of peritonitis, she did not hold out a lot of hope. Neither did I, as Mabel seemed very docile (very unlike her usual lively self) and I suspected she was
blind in one eye. I remembered what had happened to Ethel, and I despaired. I erected the hospital box and put it in the hall and made her comfortable in it, with her favourite treat of grapes chopped up and some yoghurt. She didn’t seem very interested in the grapes but she seemed to enjoy the yogurt and lapped it up, resulting in the inevitable “milk moustache” effect (or “yoghurt beak”), which on a chicken is hilarious. She got lots of cuddles and lots of attention, but all she really wanted to do was snooze.
Two days after seeing the vet, we came down to breakfast and found her on her side in the box, still breathing but not, we suspected, for long. We made her comfortable, and after Paul had gone to work, I sat with her stroking her feathers lightly, talking to her and weeping over her. At about 11am, as I was stroking her neck, she stretched it slightly her eyelid flickered and she was gone.
Mabel had not been the most docile hen. She had quickly become the top hen amongst the rescue flock, and had wielded her beak ruthlessly against the others. She was the fastest to feather up, mainly because she pecked out any new feathers that appeared on the other hens’ backs or tails. Ginger had had a particularly bad time, and retained a scraggy tail for over a year. Mabel’s attitude was so detrimental to the rest of the rescue flock that, after two months in the small hen house we had to move her to the main house, amongst the “big” girls, where she would be the bottom of the pecking order and might learn a little respect! She was a feisty bird, though, and managed to hold her own. Whenever we let all of the hens out together, she immediately gravitated to her old flock and would take up where she had left off. Very little intimidated her, she adapted to her new circumstances and got on with life. I shall remember her as a survivor, who seized her freedom and enjoyed her days in the sun. She lived 21 months after she was rescued, a testament to her staying power.
Now we have just one rescue hen left, Doris, she of the wonky beak. She is still very active, always up to mischief. She has taken to living with the Croads; they are gentle birds that do not peck at her like the hybrids do, and she seems to have taken a fancy to Angel, the cockerel. Perhaps she will get to celebrate her 2-year Henniversary in October!