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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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