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Annus Horribilis

Forgive me if this post seems rather long, but it has been a terrible year and I feel the need to express my feelings.

Twenty-seventeen saw a significant milestone in our lives. Ten years ago, on August Bank Holiday Weekend 2007, we spent the weekend building a chicken house and small run. We had never built a coop before, and so we followed instructions found on the Internet. We had also never kept chickens before, in fact neither of us had had a pet since we were children. Rather a strange hobby for two middle-aged people to be embarking upon.  Nevertheless, I had read all the advice in magazines and on the internet chicken sites, talked at length to a hen-keeping colleague at work, and I was now ready to give it a go. Hetty, Betty and Letty entered our lives, and nothing has been the same since.


Hetty Betty and Letty, Oct 2008

Today, 2nd September 2017, marks our ten year anniversary of the joy, rapture, despair and heartache that is chicken keeping. Joy and rapture, because they are such wonderful, engaging, joyous creatures, interested in everything (try keeping them out of the kitchen if you inadvertently leave the door open!), willing to eat anything (Millie caught a small shrew this autumn and despatched it with vigorous efficiency), smart (they have been shown to apply deductive reasoning, and they certainly recognise and remember), and surprisingly caring of each other even if they do have a reputation for hierarchical organisation and enforcement (the pecking order). Despair and heartache because of the many illnesses that can befall a chicken, how very fragile they can seem, and how much they touch our hearts during their brief lives.

Today, at the end of our momentous year, I am sad at our losses but also so thankful that we took that step into the unknown ten years ago, because I would not have missed knowing and loving these chooks for any other experience you could name.


Lupin, Jan 2017

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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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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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A Sad Day

Isabella died today. She hurt her leg about a week ago, and, being a large heavy chook, she couldn’t walk, just shuffled around. The vet diagnosed a dislocated hock tendon, and took an x-ray this morning to see what could be done, but Isabella never recovered from the anaesthetic. She was 2 years and 8 months old, having been hatched on 29th May 2011, along with sister Daisy, and brothers Angel and Jarvis Cockerel (see the posts Croad Langshans: hatching update & Croad Langshans).

Isabella’s plight is eerily reminiscent of Daisy’s hock injury when she was just a few months old, and although she lived for a year after becoming disabled, I cannot in truth say that she had a good quality of life. Perhaps it is for the best that Isabella went to sleep this morning and did not wake up again.

Daisy & Isabella enjoy the sunshine

Daisy & Isabella enjoy the sunshine


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And Then There Was One

Mabel on the day of her rescue

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

Ginger and the distinctive “yoghurt beak” effect

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.

Ginger & Mabel enjoying carrot cake, grapes and banana on their Henniversary, Oct 2011

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!

Doris and her wonky beak


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Long Time No Post

I can’t believe it is nearly a year since I last posted anything on this blog! It’s not as though I haven’t had the time. So much has happened in the last year that I’m not really sure where to begin, but here goes.

I got married! After 16 years of living in non-connubial bliss we decided to throw a party for our friends and relatives, and tacked on a marriage ceremony just for the hell of it! It was a fun day. I made my own outfit, a silk trouser suit and top, with a Nehru-style jacket. It was lovely, though I do say it myself.  That took weeks and weeks of careful cutting and sewing, but I loved every minute of it! I also made the silver filigree bouquet, hair ornament and groom’s buttonhole. My silver earrings were made in Holmfirth using small leaves from the Holmfirth fig-tree. Our wedding rings were also made in Holmfirth by the hugely talented Jacqui Laithwaite-Rawes at Silver Dream Studios. The party was held at Holmfirth Vineyard, a truly stunning restaurant overlooking the Holme Valley. It was as local as we could make it! We didn’t have a honeymoon immediately, but went sailing in La Gomera (the Canaries) in November as a honeymoon-cum-birthday holiday.

Shawl with knitted-on border in Rowan Kidsilk Haze

I have taken up Lace Knitting with a vengeance! I took a one-day course at Up Country in Holmfirth and it really helped me to understand lace-knitting charts, so I made a simple triangular shawl in Rowan Kidsilk Haze as my first attempt, and I am now close to completing a more ambitious project, a 6ft-diameter spider’s-web shawl, also in Kidsilk haze (I will post a picture of that when it is finished). This shawl is a good deal more complicated that the first one; I am working my way up to being able to make and eventually design more complex pieces. I love the challenge of knitting or crocheting complex patterns.

On top of the eight chicks we hatched last year (see Hatching Times and Croad Langshans blog posts last year) I decided to try it again this year (2012). We were about to sell our Cream Legbars (Luke, Baby, Blossom and Amy) because of conflict with our Croad cockerel, Angel – another story another time. So I popped 6 of their eggs into the incubator, and five of them hatched! So now we have two Cream Legbar Cockerels and three little ladies. They are about 10-weeks old now, and cute as buttons, but we won’t be able to keep the cockerels because of Angel, so are looking for good homes for the two boys (any takers in the Huddersfield area?). Next Year, I might try some of the Croad eggs, although I’m not absolutely sure Angel knows what he is doing in the sex department!

Our temporary next-door neighbours decided to move away just before Christmas, and since they could not take their three hens to their new home, decided to offer them to us. And so we acquired three more Warrens – Katie, Florence and Camilla.

Gracie in April 2011

On a sadder note, we have had a good deal of illness and death amongst the flock. It was probably this more than anything that stopped me blogging, I was just too sad. Ethel had died on 14th July (see Farewell to Ethel blog post) and another of our rescue hens, Gracie, continued to give us cause for concern throughout the summer and in late September we brought her into the kitchen to keep an eye on her as she seemed a lot worse. On 27th September 2011 she died in my arms having suffered a heart attack in our kitchen during breakfast. Paul came home early from work so that we could bury her next to Ethel.

Lily when young

The very next day, when I went to open the henhouses, I found Lily (not one of our rescue hens) semi-collapsed in one of the nest boxes. I had noticed she had been a little subdued the previous couple of days but having been concerned with Gracie I had not given Lily much attention. I was at a loss to know what the problem was as she had been eating and drinking fairly normally, and she had no obvious signs of peritonitis, egg-binding, worms, or anything else I could think of. I took her indoors and made a nest for her in an old washing-up bowl and placed her in the sunshine whilst I got on with my day, checking back on her every half-hour or so. At about 3pm she died quietly and with little fuss, having slept most of the day in a patch of sheltered sunshine. We had bought her at the Penistone Show in September 2008, so at the time of her death she was about 3-and-a-half years old. Paul had to come home from work early a second evening for another funeral. It was a massive shock to lose two hens in two days.

Ginger and her scraggy tail

Ginger and her scraggy tail

October and November 2011 were fairly uneventful (apart, of course, for the wedding!) but Ginger stopped eating and started to look off colour in early December. I treated her for worms, and when that did not have much effect, decided on antibiotics. We kept her in the warmth of the kitchen and gave her lots of TLC, but she was lonely without her friend Doris (and Doris was anxiously looking in the nest box every morning for Ginger), so Doris came to live in the kitchen too, keeping Ginger company. During her enforced stay away from the other hens, Ginger’s tail began to grow, after over a year of scraggy feathers constantly being pecked out by other hens, and she finally achieved a proper tail. Sadly, she never got to show it to the others, as she died on 23rd December, with her friend Doris beside her. She had enjoyed

Ginger (top of the picture) and her new tail

freedom for nearly 15 months, a record for a rescue hen where the average is closer to 3 months. And she got her tail at last.

So, a mixed year. Lots of joy, lots of sorrow. Arrivals and departures.


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Farewell to Ethel

Dearest sweetest Ethel,

I knew something was wrong with you on Thursday, when you didn’t want to come out of the hen house in the morning, and when I proffered sunflower seeds, your favourite breakfast snack, you looked under my hand not at the seeds. Then, instead of stepping demurely down the steps from the house, you executed an inelegant banister-slide, landing in a heap on the ground from which you picked yourself up and tottered off. I suspected blindness immediately, but was shocked at how quickly it had come on, because you had seemed fine the previous night. I brought you into the kitchen to be company for your friend Gracie, who was off her food and very lethargic. You ate Gracie’s unwanted food, and did not seem to have a problem with your appetite, but both you and Gracie sat or stood for lengthy periods with your eyes closed and heads bowed. I wondered if you had acquired a heavy worm burden, as I had read that there were worms which attacked the eyes. But you had no discharge from your eyes, they remained bright and well coloured, but you patently could not see. I scoured the internet, and checked various books for help, but could not find anything, although I did read something about blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency in its turn caused by a heavy worm load. Everything seemed to be pointing towards a worm infestation, and I wanted to start you on Flubenvet, but by this time you had lost your appetite. On Sunday, we put you outside to enjoy the warm sunshine, but you were having a hard time walking. You made it to the far side of the garden and hid under your favourite dust-bathing bush; you seemed to be content, and Ginger was keeping you company, but when I went to pick you up to bring you inside in the evening, you did not appear to be able to stand. It was shocking to see that you had gone from a seemingly healthy hen to blind and paralysed in 4 days.

On Monday morning I took you to the vet. We saw Cat, who had treated you successfully during your illness in February. Your comb was completely flopped over one eye, and when I lifted you out of the box onto the examination table, you could not stand at all. Cat carefully examined you and found a lump in your abdomen, and said that it was probably Marek’s disease, a form of cancer. Such devastating news, I could not help but weep. Cat gave you a couple of antibiotic shots and a multi-vitamin injection, and I took you home. I don’t know how I managed the drive back to the house. I sat you on a cushion with water and treats close by, and put you in the sun to enjoy the warmth and fresh air. Gracie and Ginger came over to sit with you or stand close by that afternoon.

We did this each day, putting you on your cushion in the sun or shade, where your feathers were ruffled by the breeze and the sun shone on your beautiful feather markings. Each day, when I got up and went down to the kitchen I expected to find that you had died during the night, but each day you were still breathing and responded to my voice when I came into the room saying “It’s OK Ethel, it’s just me!”. Each day, Gracie came to sit or stand next to you, keeping you company. I spent more and more time sitting with to you, talking to you, stroking your neck and tickling your wattles. I hope it gave you comfort. By Wednesday evening you were showing signs that your heart was affected, your flopped over comb had turned purple and your breathing was laboured. I could not put off the decision any longer. That Thursday was a lovely sunny cloudless day. I gently washed your bottom and put you onto a fresh towel on top of your cushion and carried you to the car for your last journey. I sat next to you stroking you and talking to you all the while Paul drove us to the vet. Cat was very gentle, and I was able to hold your head and stroke your neck as she injected the anaesthetic which put you to rest. I hope that those final moments were not painful but a blessed release.

We took you home and dug your grave next to Letty’s, under the hawthorn trees. One final cuddle, and then we placed you on a bed of straw and covered you with earth and a ring of stones. I planted a pot marigold amongst the stones. The other hens watched, a little subdued.

I don’t want to remember you as you were that last week of your life, but as the gentle happy hen you had been before. I miss your voice, a soft trill almost like a cat purring; I miss you coming over to me and cocking your head to one side in the hope of getting a treat. I miss your gentleness, the way you and Gracie walked around the garden together, dustbathed together, shared a nestbox at night together. She misses you too; she comes to find you each afternoon, and searches the garage and the hall looking for you. Ginger now keeps her company at night.

I am sorry that you didn’t live to celebrate your heniversary, a year’s freedom from being a barn-hen. The first 72 weeks of your life were hellish; I hope that the 40 weeks you spent with us – eating grass, dustbathing, and feeling the sun on your back – more than made up for it.

Goodbye Ethel, sweetest of sweet hens.



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Worrisome Chooks

I was already in a frazzled state of mind because Gracie is ill (not eating, very lethargic) and has taken up residence in a cardboard box under the kitchen table. Then last night Ethel went missing. Ethel is one of our rescue hens (See Ethel was Poorly for an account of her illness), she is fairly slow and stolid, quiet and unassuming, a very sweet hen. I caught sight of her several times yesterday afternoon, out in the garden foraging, and once she came into the kitchen to check on Gracie and hoover up Gracie’s unwanted food. I was not concerned about Ethel’s appetite or health.

Shortly after sunset last night, I went out to shut them up. The original hens (the big girls as I like to call them) were in their half of the house – all but Lily who was roosting in the rescue hens’ half of the house – and rescue hens Ginger and Doris were in their nestbox snuggled together. But no sign of Ethel. Ethel usually goes to bed early, and although she may end up in the wrong half of the house and get pecked for her pains, she does at least go indoors. I re-counted, shone my torch into every nook and cranny, called her name – nothing. I walked up our drive shining my torch into the raspberry and current bushes, the large shrubs and clumps of herbaceous plants that line the drive – no sign or sound of her. I was very worried, and called Paul. Together we searched our land – under bushes, in the boggy area – and our neighbour’s field shelter and garden, calling her name with increasing urgency. At one point Paul went back into the compound where the hen house sits, and whilst fumbling around in the dark slipped over and landed amongst the tall crimson clover – I felt certain if Ethel had been there she would at least have chuckled!

After 90 minutes of searching, I was about to call it a day; the sky was darkening, our torch batteries were about to give out, and we had dwindling hope that she would appear. I walked back into the compound to give it one last sweep and walked into the tall clover. I nearly trod on what looked like a small pile of brown leaves, and thank goodness I didn’t because it was Ethel, flattened against the ground, very well hidden amongst the clover! Paul had fallen only inches away from her and she had not moved or made a sound! Indeed she did not make much of a sound when I picked her up and cuddled her. She did not seem to have any injuries, and appeared oblivious to the emotional wringer she had subjected us to!

We suspected that, when she had tried to enter the hen house, Ethel had been bullied by Lily and was turned away from the door, so she had gone to find a safe place away from the sharp beaks. We evicted Lily from the rescue hens’ house (to prevent a recurrence of the attack) and installed Ethel in her own nestbox. It was time for us to seek our bed also, as it was nearly 11pm!

This morning, I let the hens out, and Ethel hopped down the steps as though nothing had happened, tucked into her breakfast and then pottered around as normal. Hens are very resilient creatures; I on the other hand am a nervous wreck!





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Ethel was Poorly

Just to warn you, this is not a sad tale of loss, but one with a very happy ending. I am posting it in the hope that it will help others who have a poorly hen, and want to help her get better. Second warning: it contains pictures of chicken poo. Sorry!

I first noticed Ethel was not herself one Wednesday morning in February; I had gone to let the hens out before going off to work, and Ethel was very reluctant to leave the house. I tried to entice her with some of her favourite sunflower seeds, but she showed no interest, and just stood in a hunched manner looking depressed, with her comb completely flopped over onto one side almost covering her eye. I was late for work, so had to hope that she would regain her appetite during the day. She was in the nestbox huddled up to Gracie that evening when I returned, so I left her as she seemed comfortable. The next morning she was the same, but this time she refused to leave the house. Again, I had to leave for work, there was no one I could leave her with, so I had to hope that she would still be there when I got home. Thankfully, she was huddled in the nest box again, so I extricated her and took her into the warmth of the kitchen, where I fashioned a cardboard box into a nestbox for her. I tried to get her to eat and drink, but she took only a little water and went to sleep. I was due to work from home the next day, so I was able to look after her, but she showed no sign of wanting to eat or drink. When she suddenly produced what looked like lightly whisked egg from her rear end, onto the kitchen floor, I became very alarmed and consulted Twitter trying to seek the cause. I was referred to a fascinating page full of pictures of chicken poo – what it should look like, and what it should not. Chicken poo is a very valuable tool in diagnosing the health or otherwise of your hen, and it is well worth becoming familiar with their droppings. Ethel’s continued to be runny-egg like, with small lumps of bright green semi-digested grass. I gave her a gentle examination of her stomach and vent areas; she did not have any lumps around her rear, I had a quick feel up her vent but could not detect a stuck egg. Her crop was completely empty and her stomach felt pretty flat too, so she had not eaten in some days, poor girl. Continue reading


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Lily Joins the Flock

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. Lily shortly after her arrival

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 seconLily after her moultd 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!

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