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
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!
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