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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.

Bettys first day

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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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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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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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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Croad Langshans

Last year, you may recall, I hatched some Croad Langshans from eggs bought from Bev Nelson. I love them to bits, but we have had a few problems with them.

Luke the Magnificent

First problem, too many cockerels. I know it is a lottery when you hatch chicks yourself, that you end up with cockerels instead of hens. Of the seven eggs we started with we got one black and one white cockerel, and one black and one white hen. The two Croad cockerels got on very well together – they are a very gentle breed, after all – but the Cream Legbar Cockerel, Luke, saw them both as a threat to his ladies and chased them at every opportunity. Every morning, when I opened the hen-houses, Luke spent the first 10 or 15 minutes chasing the two Croads (Angel and Jarvis) around the chicken compound. Croads have a remarkable turn of speed and with their powerful legs were easily able to outrun Luke, but he did it anyway! Jarvis, the black Croad cockerel, was the worst offender at trying to jump the Legbar ladies, and in the end I asked Bev if she knew of a good home for Jarvis. She liked his picture – apparently he looks just like his Dad! – so she was able to take him back to be a stud; I bet he is loving that! Thinking that, if we gave Angel some more hens of his own breed, he might ignore the Legbar ladies, I bought two POL pullets from Bev – both black. We named them Rosie and Tamsin (the latter after our new niece born in January 2012).

Rosie enjoying the sunshine

Jarvis went on 28th January, and for a while, everything seemed a lot calmer. Unfortunately, it didn’t last as long as I had hoped, and the morning chase continued, albeit not quite so hectic as when Jarvis had been around. An uneasy truce was brokered between the cockerels, and things went on as before. Luke was extra vigilant when Angel was around, and would not let Angel come between himself and his ladies. He even tried to chase Angel off when Angel took a fancy to one of the hybrid hens. We couldn’t go on like this, but just when we had decided we had to do something, things got infinitely worse.

In early March we decided to re-seed part of the chicken compound that was looking particularly bare. We scattered the seed, and fenced off the strip of land with 4-foot high chicken wire with netting over the top. The next day we were working in the garden when we heard a kerfuffle from the hens, and found that both Luke and Angel were trapped inside the fenced-off area, and Angel was covered in blood. We freed them both and then examined Angel more closely. There were superficial cuts to his magnificent comb, the source of most of the blood covering his neck, and his left eye was swollen and closed, and oozing icky goo. One of the things I love about Croad cockerels is that they are calm and very easy to handle. We can just pick Angel up, and cuddle him for any length of time, and he doesn’t get at all agitated. If anything he seems to like the attention. So we were able to pick him up and clean his comb and eye, but the eye did not look good. I took him to the vet the next day, and she said that it looked like he had punctured his eyeball. To this day we still do not know how the two cockerels got into the fenced-off area – there was no sign of damage and both were two big to get under the fence. Nevertheless, they did get under, and Angel was permanently injured as a result. We were really upset that, just by fencing off a small bit of the compound, we had caused harm to one of our chooks.

Angel before his eye injury

There followed weeks and weeks of trips to the vet, seeing a specialist nearly every week, stitches being applied and then removed, antibiotics and washing his eye, and finally an operation to remove the eye-ball itself when it didn’t shrivel up as expected. Angel became a bit of a favourite at the surgery, everyone was surprised at how placid he was, and when he was recovering from the operation he kept everyone entertained with his crowing. The stitches have been removed now, and he is back to his normal self. He has a little difficulty when there is an obstacle on his left side, and he has been known to bump into things, but most of the time he does just fine.

But we realised that he could not continue to co-exist with Luke, and Angel was only going to get injured again if we left them together. And so we took the difficult decision to sell Luke and his three ladies (we didn’t want to split them up as they were a nice happy little unit). The little boy next door bought them from us, as he wanted to try his hand at breeding and showing, so we said farewell to Luke, Amy, Blossom and Baby. Before they went, I put some of their eggs into the incubator, and hatched five chicks – but that’s a tale for another day.

The second problem we have had with our Croads affected our white Croad hen, Daisy. She is the sweetest hen, very easy-going and easy to handle. But she injured her right leg, damaging the tendon at the hock, when she was only a few months old. We don’t know how it happened, we just noticed one day that she was limping and favouring that leg. The vet x-rayed it but was not hopeful that anything could be done, and recommended that she be put down. It seemed wrong to kill an otherwise perfectly happy healthy hen. She was able to walk and had become very adept at using her wing to steady herself if she was not sure of her footing. She ate and drank well, and enjoyed the company

Daisy & Isabella enjoy a chat on a sunny day

of her sister Isabella and brothers Jarvis and Angel. So we left her to enjoy her life, and she seemed to thrive. In November, we went on holiday, and when we returned we found that she had managed to injure her other leg, and that consequently she had trouble balancing, although she still used her wings to steady herself. Clearly she could not be left with the others, partly because she could no longer get up and down the steps to the hen-house, but mostly because she would be picked on by the other hens and flattened by Angel if he got the chance.

Daisy’s House

So we took her into the house for the winter, and built her a special little house-cum-nestbox, with a shallow ramp to get in and out, and a floor covered in a non-slip mat. When the weather warmed up we put her outside in a little pen with shelter from rain, and I carried her in and out every day. Her siblings came and sat with her, having conversations through the chicken-wire; they were obviously pleased to see her again. Once the Spring arrived, we set up a larger covered pen for her within the main compound, on some nice grass, with shading and some wind protection, and her little house fitted nicely within the pen. She spends the day sitting next to the wire of her pen, with her siblings sitting on the other side, chatting companionably. Since she can’t scratch and dust-bathe, I give her a bath in warm water and baby shampoo every so often, and then blow her dry with the hair dryer. She loves that, and will sit on my lap for ages, completely blissed out!

She is a plucky little hen, and has taken her disability in her stride. She even manages to lay an egg every two or three days.

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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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Croad Langshans: hatching update

I fell in love with the idea of having some Croad Langshans having read @mumsmuddyducks tweets about the breed. They are gentle giants, with feathered legs and a sweet disposition, or so I have heard. Twitter and the internet came up with a recommended breeder, Bev’s Rare Breed Poultry near Knutsford Cheshire, and so as soon as the Cream Legbars were hatched and the incubator was free, I arranged with Bev to collect some eggs. She gave me three black and four white Croad hatching eggs, sired by Monty (her black champion cockerel) and Harvey (her white cockerel). The incubator was cleaned and disinfected, the eggs were set, and so the waiting began. Continue reading

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Ginger’s Tale

I was born in an enormous warm box with hundreds of other chicks, so I never saw my mummy. When only a few hours old we were shoved hither and thither, put on a moving belt, jostled together, picked up, put down; I didn’t know if I was coming or going! Thankfully it didn’t last for long, and we were soon put into a big brooding area, but there were thousands of us so we didn’t have much space and lots of fights broke out, pecking of feathers and general nastiness. If one of my companions happened to die, we had to suffer the body lying there festering before a human removed it. Humans were around a fair bit, injecting us with drugs, making sure there was food and water. I can’t complain, they did feed us well since they wanted us to grow up as soon as possible, but it was hard living in such confinement with so many other birds. When I was just 7 days old, they chopped off the end of my beak, supposedly so I would not peck other birds, but it didn’t really stop me, I was just like everyone else, looking out for number one. I don’t really want to dwell on that time, it was not a pleasant experience.

Until I was 16 weeks old, I was kept in what was called a growing pen; again we did not have a lot of room each, about 20 of us lived in a square metre of floor space. Imagine 20 small hens standing on something less than the average family dining table, and you will get an idea of how much space we had. More fighting, more feather pulling, it was never a dull moment. We were moved about quite a bit so we did not get to form attachments to any one flock. Eventually, we were moved into a large airy barn, rather nicer than the wire-caged factories we had been kept in. It seemed large at first, but then I realised that there were thousands of hens, all looking strangely like me, on the floor of the barn and perched on the many perches. I never learned to count, so I don’t know how many of us girls were in that barn, but suffice it to say that the floor was a brown heaving mass as far as the eye could see. It was not possible to move about very easily, there were so many hens. There was soft litter on the floor, but this was soon covered in poo, and was so clogged that you couldn’t really dustbathe in it. Continue reading

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