Category Archives: chickens

The Great Betty

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.

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Betty, on the day she arrived in our lives

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.

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Hetty, on the right, about to clean Betty’s beak!

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Betty in 2008, note the shrunken comb

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.

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Betty and best friend Dora, March 2017

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.

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Betty disappeared every morning for a couple of weeks; this was what she was doing!

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.betty_closeup.png

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.

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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!

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The 10th Birthday Portrait

See also my coverage of Betty’s eighth birthday celebrations.

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A Sad Goodbye, 2016

This year has been one of settling down again, of getting our home into shape and enjoying the long warm summer. It has also been a year of sadness in the flock with a number of bouts of egg peritonitis and an unexplained death.

Goldilocks was the first to cause us concern this year. She was the last of our three Fenton Rose hens. Goldilocks had begun to look peaky at the end of January, with distinct signs of peritonitis. I took her to the vet for treatment and Emma gave her booster injections but it was already too late, I suspect. She died on 3rd of February, lying in the sunshine in the conservatory; she was 4 years old.

Goldilocks

Goldilocks

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Goldilocks comforting Charlie when he had a bad chest infection

Ruby, one of our Rhode Island Red hens, had been struggling with a saggy crop for some time and we thought we were handling it reasonably well, but it got worse and instead of soft and squidgy became hard and impacted. I had exhausted all of the information and advice on various poultry forums, so I took her to the vets. Emma was about to go on maternity leave, so she couldn’t perform the necessary operation, but she consulted her colleagues and one said he had seen it done and would have a go. I should have stopped right there and taken Ruby somewhere else, but I stupidly trusted them and poor sweet Ruby died under anaesthetic, on 8th March; she was just over 2 years old.

Both Maisie, the Whitestar, and Dora the Black Rock (and Betty’s right-hand hen) have suffered with peritonitis; Maisie suffered it twice. The first time it happened, after several days of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, I took Maisie to the vets for something more radical. The two vets at our usual vets practice who had had a real feel for hens-as-pets have both seemingly left, either on maternity leave or for good; the remaining vets seem to be its-only-a-hen-cull-it types and I lost all patience with them when they refused to treat Maisie and would offer only euthanasia. I took her home, gave her double doses of the antibiotics/anti-inflammatories, and supported that with Nutridrops and Bach’s Rescue Remedy to try to get her to eat and drink. It took a week, but she and I got her through it, her poo returned to normal, and she was anxious to return to the flock – hens really do not like being on their own and ache for company. I spent a lot of time with Maisie,  sitting with her to keep her company, chatting with her, and encouraging her to eat by providing lots of tasty morsels with high nutritional content. She perked up, started to eat gradually, and eventually joined the flock on their afternoon ramble around the garden. Once her poo looked normal and she was eating and drinking without constant encouragement I felt safe in letting her off the drugs and letting her stay outside. I know that, once she has had one bout of peritonitis she is likely to continue having problems, but instead of a euthanized hen, we have a happy healthy girl, so I don’t regret taking the time and energy getting her whole again.

Maisie in her temporary accommodation in the conservatory, already looking better!

No sooner had Maisie recovered than Dora showed signs of the same thing – hunched, off her food, mucky backend and yellow poo with green bits in. So indoors she came, to be cosseted and drugged as Maisie had been. Dora recovered very quickly and was back outside with the flock inside a week.

Dora, back to health

Dora, back to health

In the early autumn, Maisie succumbed a second time to peritonitis, but we caught it early, started her on the regime, and as soon as her poo was normal again, she went back outside. She laid a couple of eggs, then decided to have a late moult! She currently looks rather odd without her tail and with a shrunken comb, but on the other hand her coat is a gleaming white and she is running around fit and well.

Angel snoozing on my lap in the sunshine; the wind is whipping his tail around!

Angel had big feathery feet that occasionally needed washing

The fifth birthday party in May 2016; cake, naturally

The summer was long, hot and dry at times, and very calm. The flock went about its business, roaming the field each afternoon, snoozing in the shade on hot sunny days, visiting the conservatory to hoover up crumbs dropped by careless humans! It was an idyllic time, and I loved lounging outside in the sunshine with hens around me and Angel the cockerel dozing on my lap. Summer slid into autumn and the warmth and sunshine did not abate; we picked fabulous crops of raspberries and blackcurrants, and examined our apples weekly for signs that they were ready to pick. In early October, the apple crop was ready, we had a crusher and a cider press on standby and waiting to turn it into our first cider brewing. On Saturday 15th October, it was a lovely sunny mild afternoon, so after chicken-house-cleaning, we set to and crushed and pressed our crop from five apple trees and set up 6 demijohns full of golden juice! Most of the hens wandered off when they realised there was no food to be had, but Angel hung around, watching us, clucking occasionally, trying to get into the laundry room to find treats, and eventually settling down to a nice snooze in a patch of sunshine in the garage. He was his usual self, both on Saturday and on Sunday when the sunny afternoon was as warm as a summers day. On Sunday, as he did every evening, when the flock began to wend its way to bed, Angel waited at the gate to the compound for his humans to come to pick him up and give him a cuddle then escort him personally to bed, where he had a few sunflower seeds as a treat and some corn, then retired to the nestbox to snuggle up with Rosie and Tamsin, his two Croad ladies. Sunday 16th October was no different; Angel stood patiently while Paul bent to pick him up, cuddled him and walked over to the Croad house, and put him on the ladder and gave him his treats, then said good night and closed the door. We finished locking the rest of the houses up and were about to leave the compound when we heard a commotion in the Croad house and although the stomping noises were not unusual Rosie’s terrified screams were. We rushed over to find Angel in the nestbox in the throes of a heart attack so massive that, to be honest, he was probably already dead. We tried compression and mouth to beak resuscitation but to no avail and he died in our arms. He was five and a half years old.

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Angel’s favourite pastime, being cuddled by his daddy

We had hatched Angel, his brother Jarvis and two sisters Daisy and Isabella over two days, 28-29th May 2011 (see Hatching Update and many subsequent posts). They were the sweetest chicks, with little feathery feet from the moment they left the egg; Angel was buff coloured initially, eventually growing to a pure snowy white; for a couple of days when he was small he held one of his wings straight up from his back, so the name Angel was was coined and stuck. In March 2012 Angel had injured his eye, and the left eyeball was eventually removed, but he recovered well and showed great resilience in overcoming his disability. He was the sweetest and gentlest of giants; he never once pecked me, never attacked a human, was reasonably considerate to his hens, and was in general very easy going, allowing us to cuddle him whenever we liked (which was often!) He went about his business muttering his little song, had a deep resonant crow that took a lot of effort, stretching his neck up and to the right and finding his voice from deep in his ample chest. Since he died, I miss his crowing and his constant chatter. The hens and even the other two cockerels have been quieter than usual; Rosie and Tamsin took a long time to recover from the trauma of being with him when he died. We shall never forget him, he was an important part of our lives and the heart of our flock for over 5 years, and could never be replaced.

R.I.P

Goldilocks, Fenton Rose, born spring 2012, bought 8th July 2012, died 3rd February 2016

Ruby, Rhode Island Red, born winter 2013, bought 7th March 2014, died 8th March 2016

Angel, Croad Langshan, born 29th May 2011, died 16th October 2016

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Comings and Goings in 2015

This year has seen a lot of upheaval, both in human terms and for the flock. We had been living in rented accommodation since September 2014, while the house was completely renovated. Driving to and fro every day, spending all day “at home” in an 8x10ft hut trying to keep warm and dry and tending to the flock, made life very difficult. But we survived, and moved back at the end of October. Life is slowly returning to normal.

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Goldilocks exploring Charlie’s new house with the old house in the background, left

On the chook front, we gave Charlie and his ladies a new home, built indoors over winter and finally erected on 21st February. We reorganised the layout of the pens for Charlie and Freddie, giving them each more room, then put up Charlie’s new house. There was much interest from the flock! By the time we had finished it was starting to get dark, so we didn’t have time to take the old house down but left it in place, closed up for the time being. Charlie, Ruby and Goldilocks had no hesitation, but marched up the steps into the new house, and did not even try to go into the old one! It was an instant success – clean warm and dry, no draughts, no rats able to gnaw their way in. Charlie had a new home at last, having lived in the old plywood coop for two years. The plywood house was the first hen house we built, over August Bank Holiday 2007 to accommodate our very first three hens. In the eight years we used it, it has been home to ex-batts, chicks, lone cockerels – virtually every chook we have had has lived in it at one time or another.  I’m not sorry to see it go as it was difficult to clean, but it is definitely part of our chook-keeping history and an important learning experience, informing our subsequent designs and housebuilding techniques.

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Betty admiring her birthday cake!

On 1st April, we celebrated Betty’s eighth birthday, a grand age for a hen! She was a little bemused by the attention but enjoyed the muffins, grapes and other special treats.

It was my birthday in May, and I had no idea of what I wanted as a present from my husband. It was his suggestion that we expand the flock, and, knowing that I really liked cream legbars, he started looking around for a supplier. It was difficult to find a local breeder with stock available, and we ended up back at Storrs Poultry, where they had six left. They were garden variety rather than show quality, and in rather a poor state, having ragged

Amber in 2014

Amber in 2014

tails and solid clumps of dry mud on their feet making it difficult for them to walk, but we took them anyway. I think that having six new hens is a wonderful birthday present, better by far than diamonds!

Sadly, May did not finish on a happy note. Amber, the Fenton Rose, died on 24th May cause unknown. She had been point of lay in July 2012, when we had driven to Stafford to buy her and her two sisters, so at less than three and a half she should still have been active and healthy.

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Goldilocks comforting Charlie

Amber’s demise seemed to trigger a certain restlessness in Goldilocks, the last of the three Fenton Roses. She no longer seemed content living with Charlie, Ruby and three of the legbars, but took to pacing up and down by the pen gate. Eventually she followed me out of the gate one day and took up residence in the Palace, becoming Betty’s new wingman. She did, however, make an unscheduled trip back to Charlie in rather memorable circumstances. At the end of July, Charlie developed a chest infection, lost his voice completely, and was feeling very sorry for himself. He went to the vet, and was put on antibiotics, then just sat around in the pen thoroughly fed up. His flock seemed to give him a wide berth so he was alone in his misery. Goldilocks, his erstwhile girlfriend, stood outside the gate to Charlie’s pen and looked at me as if to say “well, let me in then!” When I opened the gate she went straight over to the “bus shelter” where Charlie was perching and hopped up beside him. She stayed there all day, snuggled up to him, and slept in Charlie’s house that night. A couple of days later Charlie was starting to recover his joie de vivre, and Goldilock’s again “asked” to be let out of the pen to rejoin the main flock. She had never done that either before nor since; it was a complete one off,  to give comfort to a poorly cockerel!

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Scarlett at the start of her drastic moult

At the end of August, Scarlett the Rhode Island Red started to moult. Whilst that was not in itself unusual, the manner of her moult was. She lost 90% of her feathers over just 48 hours, and although the weather was warm, she seemed not to be enjoying the sunshine in her skin, but sat hunched and miserable in the shade. I wondered afterwards whether her extreme moult had been caused by some vitimin deficiency,  but I could find nothing in the reference book on chicken health that suggested rapid moulting was a symptom of anything. She refused food and water, and we tried syringing water into her beak to keep her hydrated, but then on 6th September I noticed that she appeared to be blind, and was shaking her head from side to side. Since it was a Sunday, I could not take her to the vet, but resolved to do so the next day, and gave her anti-inflammatories and antibiotics as a stop gap. Sadly, by morning she had died. We had bought Scarlett at point of lay on 7th March 2014,  so she was a little under two years old. She should have lived longer than that.

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Scarlett and Freddie in Spring

Once we were back in our home and settling in, I started to think about getting some more hens. The Palace, built to accommodate fifteen, was housing only six hens, and winter, albeit a mild one, was rapidly approaching; it seemed like a good idea to fill the house with hens to help them all to keep warm! One Saturday, I was looking on Facebook and noticed a member of the Poutry group I belonged to was selling four point of lay hens. The pictures were enticing – four different breeds, in good condition, and local to us – and no one else had as yet offered for them. Off we went to Barnsley, and bought them on the spot. And so, on 28th November, we welcomed to the flock Myrtle the Copper Black Maran, Daphne the Columbian Blacktail, Lavender the Cream Legbar, and Marigold the Rhode Island Red. They have settled in nicely.

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Dilys in April

But, as seems to happen too frequently, as our attention is diverted by a set of new hens, an existing flock member falls ill unnoticed. Dilys, one of Black Rocks we had bought in March 2014, suddenly took to sleeping in a nest box. I thought she was just reacting the the influx of new flockmates, but on 30th November she seemed rather hunched up and she let me stroke her (which is unusual). The next morning, she was still in the nest box and reluctant to stand, so I took her indoors, gave her antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and some water as she was probably dehydrated. I left her in a quiet place to see if she would pick up, but an hour later I found she had died. The second unexplained and very sudden death this year. And another young hen, only just two years old, who should have been with us so much longer.

So again, the year has ended on a sad note, but there were plenty of good things too. We lost three hens and gained ten. We had a significant birthday for Betty, some illness amongst the flock (one bout of chest infection for Freddie and two for Charlie, Betty’s slightly swollen face that quickly healed, and several hens with suspected peritonitis who recovered), and a new home for Charlie and for ourselves!

In Memoriam
Amber, Fenton Rose, hatched Spring 2012, bought 8 July 2012, died 24 May 2015
Scarlett, Rhode Island Red, hatched Winter 2013, bought 7 March 2014, died 7 September 2015
Dilys, Black Rock, hatched Winter 2013, bought 7 March 2014, died 1 December 2015

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Yippee! More Hens

I love our chickens, I really do. I love seeing them scratching around, dustbathing, perching and preening, and just generally enjoying the freedom of our field (and occasionally the field next door as well!) But there is always room for a few more. The Palace, in particular, has been looking a little depleted, now that there are only six hens in residence in a house that could hold fifteen or more.
Winter is not really a good time to buy hens, especially since we seem to be going through a particularly wet and windy period, but when I spotted on Facebook a particularly engaging quartet for sale locally I was smitten. I had to act fast as someone would snap up such beautiful looking hens,  so I contacted the seller and – to cut a long story short – we jumped in the car and drove to Barnsley.

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The hens are, as Dan described them, 100%. They are all healthy, friendly, superbly looked after, and a testament to his chicken-keeping skills. We were delighted!

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So now we have four new hens, living happily in the Palace. They are Lavender (a Cream Legbar), Marigold (a Rhode Island Red), Myrtle (a Copper Black Maran), and Daphne (a Columbian Blacktail). So far they have had to stand up to some pretty awful weather, with gale force winds and torrential rain over the weekend, but they seem to have settled in. The two more mature girls, Marigold and Myrtle, managed to go up the ladder and into the house last night when we were putting them to bed, and this morning I found they had laid us two lovely eggs in one of the nestboxes. Lavender and Daphne are not quite at the point of laying, but look like it will not be long before they do.

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So, overall, we are delighted with our new hens, and look forward to watching them scratch around, dustbathe,  perch and preen, and enjoy the freedom of the field. Once the weather improves, that is!

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Eight Years and Counting

On 2nd September 2007, our lives changed radically when we adopted three hens. They were Black Rock hybrids, named Betty, Hetty and Letty. Since then we have cared for, loved, and mourned more than forty hens and cockerels. I have written about them extensively in the past, and I don’t want to bore you by repeating myself. I just want to record the fact that today is the eighth anniversary of our keeping hens. Here’s to the next eight!

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Betty’s Eighth Birthday celebrations, April 2015

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Hetty Betty and Letty investigating our neighbours’ garden

Betty in October 2008

Betty in October 2008

Betty in August 2015

Betty in August 2015

 

Our Life with Chickens: part 1

Betty’s Big Day & Birthday Breakfast

 

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Six New Hens

It was my birthday at the beginning of May, and my husband racked his brains for ideas of what to buy me as a present. What do you give the woman who has all the electrical gadgets she can safely carry? Why, six more hens of course!
We lost our two remaining Cream Legbar hens at the end of 2014, and since I very much like the breed, we chose to increment our flock with six Legbars. It is a popular breed at the moment, as people seem to think that the blue-green eggs are fashionably desirable. I like the hens because they are busy little chooks and carry their fan-like tails with aplomb! And Charlie and Freddie, our two Legbar cockerels, needed some more ladies.

Sorrel

Sorrel

Suzie and Sage

Suzie and Sage

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off we went to Storrs Poultry, and bought their last remaining half-dozen POL hens. It was a day of high winds and torrential rain, but we managed to keep them separate with some shelter, until chicken bedtime, when we distributed them among the houses. There was some resistance, involving chasing and cornering!

The next morning, when we came to let them out of the coops, we let them select where they would prefer to live, and three decided to live with Charlie, the other three being happy with Freddie. They were accepted into their new homes with a minimum of fuss and the boys have been most attentive, finding them tasty treats, shepherding them into bed at night, and generally looking after them. They have all come into lay, most days giving us four blue eggs, one greenish blue egg and one egg so pale it is almost white.

Lovage and Lupin

Lovage and Lupin

A belated welcome to Suzie, Sorrel and Sage (all with Freddie), and Lucy, Lovage and Lupin (with Charlie).

Lucy

Lucy

 

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Amber the Fenton Rose

One warm July day, back in 2012, we drove all the way to Stafford to collect three POL hens. They were a new hybrid breed called Fenton Rose, from the same breeder who developed the Fenton Blue. They lay the same blue-green eggs as a Fenton Blue but are pale apricot in colour, with a little crest and floppy comb like a Cream Legbar. They are a beautiful hen, with a calm inquisitive nature. We took Honeybun, Goldilocks (named because her crest was the same colour as her feathers) and Amber (her crest was largely white) home with us and put them into our separate house and run for a few days quarantine before introducing them to the main flock. Amber and Goldilocks settled in quickly, enjoyed exploring and ate voraciously. Honeybun, on the other hand, refused to eat and spent most of her time searching, and crying, for another hen. I think we must have inadvertently separated her from a friend, but there was  nothing we could do about it, just hope that she would eventually accept the situation. But she didn’t.  She mourned the loss, she wouldn’t eat, eventually she refused to drink, and despite a visit to the vet (who found nothing wrong with her) and attempts to force feed her, she declined and died three weeks after we had collected her.

Amber being photobombed by Polly, 2013

Amber being photobombed by Polly, 2013

But Amber and Goldilocks went from strength to strength and integrated well into the flock. Amber laid pale brown eggs (only 80% of the breed will produce blue eggs) and Goldilocks laid blue eggs until late last year when they both stopped laying and did not resume this spring. Both have had problems with mild cases of peritonitis, treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories; both recovered well from their problems. But Amber seemed to suffer a recurrence this April, and became very lethargic. Some more drugs and a lot of tender loving care seemed to do the trick, and she recovered her appetite and her zest for life.
It was on Friday afternoon that I noticed she had become rather dozy again, and started her on the drug regime once more, but on Saturday morning she did not come out of the henhouse for her breakfast, and was showing signs of not being able to see. We put her on the grass in the sunshine  and she wandered around rather aimlessly, then just sat and went to sleep. We gave her lots of cuddles, but her prospects did not look good, and I was not really surprised (although very upset) to find the next morning that she had died during the night.
Amber was a little hen with a lot of personality. Since Hetty died in December last year she had become Betty’s companion, and Betty has been very upset losing yet another friend in such a short space of time.

Amber, April 2015

Amber, April 2015

RIP Amber, born early 2012, died 24 May 2015.

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Betty’s Birthday Breakfast

Betty was a little nonplussed by the attention, but when she realised that we were not offering her treats in order to lure her into an unwanted cuddle, she relaxed and tucked into sultana and pine kernel muffins and juicy diced grapes!

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The rest of the flock were also suitably impressed with the unusual birthday spread laid on by the mad woman who lets them out in the mornings.

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Betty is eight years old today. Happy Birthday, lovely Betty!

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Betty’s Big Day

Today is the birthday of Queen Betty of the Coop. We wish her majesty many happy returns of the day.

Of course, Betty is really just a hen, but a very special one. She is eight years old this spring, but since she was hatched at Storrs Poultry I do not know when exactly she was born, so I have designated the 1st of April as her birthday.

Betty, on the day she arrived in our lives

Betty, on the day she arrived in our lives

We acquired Betty and her Black Rock sisters, Hetty and Letty, on Sunday 2nd September 2007. They represent our very first foray into chicken keeping. They were all supposed to be point of lay, and Letty did indeed lay her first egg later the same day, with Hetty laying her first a week or so later. Betty, however, was in no hurry to start and it was nearly eight weeks later that she produced a tiny egg. It was quickly apparent that, despite her relative youth, Betty had become chief chicken, and she kept the other hens in line with well aimed pecks. Despite her age, she is still quite capable of keeping the others in line, and new hens quickly learn that they eat her treats at their peril!

Betty in October 2008

Betty in October 2008

She developed a liking for sunflower seeds almost immediately, and to this day comes to me each morning asking in her inimitable way for her favourite treat. She likes them so much that she once got a seed stuck up one nostril; it gathered so much dirt that it distended her nostril and affected her breathing. It took a while to soften and remove the lump, at which point it became clear that she had attempted to snort a sunflower seed!

Hetty, on the right, about to clean Betty's beak!

Hetty, on the right, about to clean Betty’s beak!

Betty has a very distinctive voice, a high pitched ‘meep,  meep, meep’. I don’t have to be able to see her to know where she is!

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Betty in Summer 2014

She has the most beautiful plumage: a very glossy black, which sometimes looks bluebottle purple and sometimes beetle green, and under her chin a bib of glowing russet red feathers. Despite seven moults she looks the same today as she did all those years ago, when she and her sisters came into our lives and changed us forever.

Happy Birthday, Betty!

 

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Comings and Goings in 2014

Chicken keeping, it seems to me, is a series of joys and sorrows. If you are lucky the joys outweigh the sorrows. This year has seen a lot of changes to the flock, a lot of joy, rather too much sorrow for my liking; six hens arrived and six departed, Freddie finally moved into a new house and acquired a lady friend, and Charlie’s new house has been started.

Daisy & Isabella enjoy the sunshine

Daisy & Isabella enjoy the sunshine

January 2014 was muddy and I was not surprised that one of our larger hens, the Croad Langshan Isabella, seemed to slip on the mud and injure her leg. We had a similar problem with Daisy, Isabella’s hatch-sister, who displaced the tendon in her hock when she was a few months old and lived the life of an invalid thereafter. I very much feared that Isabella had done the same thing, and the vet confirmed that this was the most likely case. He wanted to take an x-ray of the leg to determine if anything could be done to correct the problem, so I took her into the surgery in Huddersfield and then went shopping. I was in T K Maxx when I got the phone call telling me that she had died under anaesthetic.  It came as a huge shock.

In March, we decided that the flock had become so depleted that we needed to bring in new laying hens. We again went to Storrs Poultry and selected six POL girls:  two Rhode Island Red, two Whitestar and two Black Rock. We named them Scarlett,  Ruby,  Millie,  Maisie, Dora and Dilys. At first, they lived with the main flock in the Palace, but once Freddie new home was finished we gave him the two Rhodies,  plus Amber the Fenton Rose, for companionship. Amber quickly decided that she was having none of it and became a regular escapee from Freddie pen and eventually we relented and let her live with the main flock again. Ruby started to terrorise poor Scarlett and removed all the feathers on her bottom and a good number on her head and neck as well, turning her into a nervous wreck in the process. We had to do something, and so removed Ruby and put her with Charlie and Goldilocks,  our other Fenton Rose, where she immediately calmed down. The three now live in perfect harmony with rarely a squabble or an angry peck, and Scarlett has regained her lovely red plumage and has also calmed down.

Polly strides out, her tail held proudly aloft

Polly strides out, her tail held proudly aloft

In Spring we noticed that both Polly,  our remaining Bluebelle, and Katie, our last Warren, we’re slowing down and beginning to look unwell. They spent long hours sitting hunched under the hawthorn bushes, eating and drinking a little but not with their former appetites.  Poll’s lovely grey plumage started to look dull, and Katie developed a large bulge in her abdomen and took to standing upright, rather like a penguin, in an attempt to balance. I believed that both were succumbing to cancer but took them to the vet anyway, in the hope that something could be done for them. Tylan was recommended for bacterial infection and Metacam for inflammation and pain relief, and so the nightly ritual began of trying to grab them – even sick chickens are remarkably agile – and dose them. At least they got to enjoy some lovely weather in early July before they died, Katie on the 5th July and Polly two days later on the 7th.

Katie was just over 4 years old  having been hatched at Easter 2010. She, along with her sisters Camilla and Florence, had been given

Katie, looking a bit scruffy around the neck

Katie, looking a bit scruffy around the neck

to us by neighbours who were moving into a smaller house with no garden room for hens. All three had already become familiar with our flock, having free ranged in our garden and would visit me each morning looking for a handful of sunflower seeds, and so the transition to actually living with our hens was almost seamless. Katie spent a lot of her time with a bare neck, having either moulted the feathers and they had not grown back or had them ruthlessly pecked out by her sisters. Once Florence and Camilla were no longer around, they grew back and she had very handsome plumage at the end.

Polly came to us from Storrs Poultry on 4th July 2008, at about 18 weeks old. She and sister Molly were always very nervy chooks and were quick to scoot out of the way if we came anywhere near them. Nevertheless,  they were beautiful to look at and laid large pale brown eggs on a regular basis. Polly even laid us one last egg only a few weeks before she died, at 6 and a half years old.

Tulip (in front) and Primrose

Tulip (in front) and Primrose

The rest of the summer and autumn passed peacefully enough, and we were unprepared for the winter sadness that was to come. Back in March 2012, I had taken 6 eggs from our Cream Legbar hens, Baby, Amy and Blossom, and set them in the incubator, just before I sold the hens and cockerel Luke to our neighbour’s little boy. Five of the six eggs hatched on 12th April, giving us Charlie, Freddie,  Tulip, Hyacinth, and Primrose. Hyacinth died as a result of a stoat attack in November 2012, but the others all remained healthy and trouble free. This autumn, I noticed that both Tulip and Primrose had taken to sitting around for a large part of the day.  They ate and drank normally but neither seemed very active. Their faces took on a greyish tinge and they were not quite so quick on their feet. Primrose’s left eye looked distorted, with the pupil a permanent pinprick.. At only 2 and a half, they should have been in their prime, but they seemed to be fading, and I suspected Marek’s disease  On 2nd November, Paul noticed Tulip collapsed on the floor of the house, and although we tried to revive her, she died in his arms a few minutes later. Primrose, now partially blind and missing her sister, lasted another month and died on 5th December.

We began chicken keeping with three Black Rock hens from Storrs Poultry, in September 2007. Of those three, we had lost only one, Letty, to a hawk attack in July 2008.

Hetty Spring 2014

Hetty Spring 2014

Betty and Hetty thrived, with Betty as chief hen and Hetty her wingman. Despite their age (8 years old next spring), they seemed remarkably fit and healthy. Hetty started to slow down a bit this autumn, but she didn’t really seem ill until just before Christmas when I thought she had slipped and injured her leg since she started walking with a pronounced limp. We could do nothing over the holiday period other than give he anti-inflammatories and hope that she wasn’t in pain. On 27th December we took her to the vet where he diagnosed a hard lump in her abdomen which was probably attached to her liver, given that her skin showed signs of jaundice.  She was obviously very weak and probably in pain, and so we took the very difficult decision to put her to sleep. Hetty had been a wonderful hen, friendly, fun to watch dustbathing or hunting for worms, and a friend and companion for Betty in her youth and her old age. I love all my hens and cockerels but I think Hetty was always my favourite,  so for me the year 2014 has ended on a very sad note.

In memoriam
Isabella, Croad Langshan,  hatched 29th May 2011, died 21st January 2014
Katie, Warren, hatched Easter 2010, died 5th July 2014
Polly, Bluebelle, hatched early spring 2008, died 7th July 2014
Tulip, Cream Legbar, hatched 12th April 2012, died 2nd November 2014
Primrose, Cream Legbar, hatched 12th April 2012, died 5th December 2014
Hetty, Black Rock, hatched spring 2007, died 27th December 2014

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