Tag Archives: Black Rocks

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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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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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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Meet The Flock

It strikes me that, lately, I have been dwelling too much on the sad side of keeping chickens – death and disease – and not celebrating the joyous side, so today’s post will be relentlessly happy!

The current flock stands at eleven hens and three cockerels. These are our happy girls and boys. The hens are named Betty, Hetty, Polly, Katie, Isabella, Rosie, Tamsin, Primrose, Tulip, Amber & Goldilocks, and the boys are Angel, Charlie & Freddie.

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Our Life with Chickens: Part 1

It was a difficult decision to make, taking on a coop full of hens. Neither of us had cared for pets since we were children, both of us suffer from asthma, both of us work full time. On the plus side, we have a large field for them to scratch in, and I had had a lot of contact with birds in the past, even a Silkie cockerel that my Mum and Dad took in when the local school needed to find the chick a home during the school holidays.

I worked at the time with Richard, who had been keeping hens off and on all his life. He loaned me magazines on poultry, showed me pictures of his small flock, and extolled the virtues of having hens of your own at almost every conversation. Paul and I discussed it at length, and then, in late August 2007, we made up our minds, went to B & Q and bought plywood, and spent August Bank Holiday weekend making a 4ft by 3ft house and an enclosed run. After work, during the following week, I called in at our local agricultural merchants and bought feed, drinkers and feeders, and at work I arranged with Richard how and what we were going to buy. Richard said he would choose some good birds from a well-established local poultry breeder for us, and on the first Sunday in September he brought over three lovely point of lay Black Rocks. I immediately named them Hetty, Betty and Letty. Hetty was quite a well built chicken, with a good pink comb, and obviously already in lay as less than two hours after they arrived I found an egg in the nestbox. Letty was the smallest of the three with a beautiful ruff of golden feathers. Betty, well we were not sure Betty was actually female, so I thought if I called her Betty we could change it easily to Bertie should she start doodling. Betty had almost no comb, pale eyes and did not lay. Our little flock was complete. I discovered that evening, though, that they needed to be shown where they were to sleep, as despite having been in and out of the house all day they just stood around looking confused when dusk fell. I flickered a torch at the pophole until they finally got the message. I had to do this each night when I got home Betty's first day with usfrom work for several days, but this was not a problem since I spent my time – from 5pm when I got home until dusk – with the flock, sitting on a folding chair next to their pen, and passing them sunflower seeds and handfuls of fresh grass through the mesh. I watched them avidly; if I was not outside with them I watched them through the window. Their activities were endlessly fascinating. Within a couple of days they were eating seeds from my hand. An egg arrived every couple of days laid, we suspected, by Hetty. We discovered that they liked grapes with a passion, and Betty would climb over the others to get more than her fair share. By the end of their first week with us, I found a small speckled egg in the nestbox, quite unlike Hetty’s previous offerings. The next day a larger speckled egg arrived; we were now convinced that Letty had started laying.

At the end of their first week, we let them out into the field and watched as they got to know the land. I reported in my diary that Betty appeared to be the lowest in the pecking order. They branched out into our neighbour’s field and were not very co-operative when I tried to herd them back. After that I left them to roam. They seem to enjoy the field as there were lots of bugs in the short grass left over from the last flock of sheep.

After 15 days we were getting two eggs nearly every day; Letty was definitely the new layer, and she took her time each day to produce a good sized brown egg, and let everyone know after that she had finished! Our first omelette was fantastic!

In early November I went away for a week for a conference and while I was away Betty suddenly produced a tiny egg; hooray, Betty was a girl after all! Continue reading

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