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A Sad Goodbye, 2016

This year has been one of settling down again, of getting our home into shape and enjoying the long warm summer. It has also been a year of sadness in the flock with a number of bouts of egg peritonitis and an unexplained death.

Goldilocks was the first to cause us concern this year. She was the last of our three Fenton Rose hens. Goldilocks had begun to look peaky at the end of January, with distinct signs of peritonitis. I took her to the vet for treatment and Emma gave her booster injections but it was already too late, I suspect. She died on 3rd of February, lying in the sunshine in the conservatory; she was 4 years old.

Goldilocks

Goldilocks

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Goldilocks comforting Charlie when he had a bad chest infection

Ruby, one of our Rhode Island Red hens, had been struggling with a saggy crop for some time and we thought we were handling it reasonably well, but it got worse and instead of soft and squidgy became hard and impacted. I had exhausted all of the information and advice on various poultry forums, so I took her to the vets. Emma was about to go on maternity leave, so she couldn’t perform the necessary operation, but she consulted her colleagues and one said he had seen it done and would have a go. I should have stopped right there and taken Ruby somewhere else, but I stupidly trusted them and poor sweet Ruby died under anaesthetic, on 8th March; she was just over 2 years old.

Both Maisie, the Whitestar, and Dora the Black Rock (and Betty’s right-hand hen) have suffered with peritonitis; Maisie suffered it twice. The first time it happened, after several days of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, I took Maisie to the vets for something more radical. The two vets at our usual vets practice who had had a real feel for hens-as-pets have both seemingly left, either on maternity leave or for good; the remaining vets seem to be its-only-a-hen-cull-it types and I lost all patience with them when they refused to treat Maisie and would offer only euthanasia. I took her home, gave her double doses of the antibiotics/anti-inflammatories, and supported that with Nutridrops and Bach’s Rescue Remedy to try to get her to eat and drink. It took a week, but she and I got her through it, her poo returned to normal, and she was anxious to return to the flock – hens really do not like being on their own and ache for company. I spent a lot of time with Maisie,  sitting with her to keep her company, chatting with her, and encouraging her to eat by providing lots of tasty morsels with high nutritional content. She perked up, started to eat gradually, and eventually joined the flock on their afternoon ramble around the garden. Once her poo looked normal and she was eating and drinking without constant encouragement I felt safe in letting her off the drugs and letting her stay outside. I know that, once she has had one bout of peritonitis she is likely to continue having problems, but instead of a euthanized hen, we have a happy healthy girl, so I don’t regret taking the time and energy getting her whole again.

Maisie in her temporary accommodation in the conservatory, already looking better!

No sooner had Maisie recovered than Dora showed signs of the same thing – hunched, off her food, mucky backend and yellow poo with green bits in. So indoors she came, to be cosseted and drugged as Maisie had been. Dora recovered very quickly and was back outside with the flock inside a week.

Dora, back to health

Dora, back to health

In the early autumn, Maisie succumbed a second time to peritonitis, but we caught it early, started her on the regime, and as soon as her poo was normal again, she went back outside. She laid a couple of eggs, then decided to have a late moult! She currently looks rather odd without her tail and with a shrunken comb, but on the other hand her coat is a gleaming white and she is running around fit and well.

Angel snoozing on my lap in the sunshine; the wind is whipping his tail around!

Angel had big feathery feet that occasionally needed washing

The fifth birthday party in May 2016; cake, naturally

The summer was long, hot and dry at times, and very calm. The flock went about its business, roaming the field each afternoon, snoozing in the shade on hot sunny days, visiting the conservatory to hoover up crumbs dropped by careless humans! It was an idyllic time, and I loved lounging outside in the sunshine with hens around me and Angel the cockerel dozing on my lap. Summer slid into autumn and the warmth and sunshine did not abate; we picked fabulous crops of raspberries and blackcurrants, and examined our apples weekly for signs that they were ready to pick. In early October, the apple crop was ready, we had a crusher and a cider press on standby and waiting to turn it into our first cider brewing. On Saturday 15th October, it was a lovely sunny mild afternoon, so after chicken-house-cleaning, we set to and crushed and pressed our crop from five apple trees and set up 6 demijohns full of golden juice! Most of the hens wandered off when they realised there was no food to be had, but Angel hung around, watching us, clucking occasionally, trying to get into the laundry room to find treats, and eventually settling down to a nice snooze in a patch of sunshine in the garage. He was his usual self, both on Saturday and on Sunday when the sunny afternoon was as warm as a summers day. On Sunday, as he did every evening, when the flock began to wend its way to bed, Angel waited at the gate to the compound for his humans to come to pick him up and give him a cuddle then escort him personally to bed, where he had a few sunflower seeds as a treat and some corn, then retired to the nestbox to snuggle up with Rosie and Tamsin, his two Croad ladies. Sunday 16th October was no different; Angel stood patiently while Paul bent to pick him up, cuddled him and walked over to the Croad house, and put him on the ladder and gave him his treats, then said good night and closed the door. We finished locking the rest of the houses up and were about to leave the compound when we heard a commotion in the Croad house and although the stomping noises were not unusual Rosie’s terrified screams were. We rushed over to find Angel in the nestbox in the throes of a heart attack so massive that, to be honest, he was probably already dead. We tried compression and mouth to beak resuscitation but to no avail and he died in our arms. He was five and a half years old.

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Angel’s favourite pastime, being cuddled by his daddy

We had hatched Angel, his brother Jarvis and two sisters Daisy and Isabella over two days, 28-29th May 2011 (see Hatching Update and many subsequent posts). They were the sweetest chicks, with little feathery feet from the moment they left the egg; Angel was buff coloured initially, eventually growing to a pure snowy white; for a couple of days when he was small he held one of his wings straight up from his back, so the name Angel was was coined and stuck. In March 2012 Angel had injured his eye, and the left eyeball was eventually removed, but he recovered well and showed great resilience in overcoming his disability. He was the sweetest and gentlest of giants; he never once pecked me, never attacked a human, was reasonably considerate to his hens, and was in general very easy going, allowing us to cuddle him whenever we liked (which was often!) He went about his business muttering his little song, had a deep resonant crow that took a lot of effort, stretching his neck up and to the right and finding his voice from deep in his ample chest. Since he died, I miss his crowing and his constant chatter. The hens and even the other two cockerels have been quieter than usual; Rosie and Tamsin took a long time to recover from the trauma of being with him when he died. We shall never forget him, he was an important part of our lives and the heart of our flock for over 5 years, and could never be replaced.

R.I.P

Goldilocks, Fenton Rose, born spring 2012, bought 8th July 2012, died 3rd February 2016

Ruby, Rhode Island Red, born winter 2013, bought 7th March 2014, died 8th March 2016

Angel, Croad Langshan, born 29th May 2011, died 16th October 2016

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Comings and Goings in 2014

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.

Daisy & Isabella enjoy the sunshine

Daisy & Isabella enjoy the sunshine

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.

Polly strides out, her tail held proudly aloft

Polly strides out, her tail held proudly aloft

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

Katie, looking a bit scruffy around the neck

Katie, looking a bit scruffy around the neck

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.

Tulip (in front) and Primrose

Tulip (in front) and Primrose

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.

Hetty Spring 2014

Hetty Spring 2014

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.

In memoriam
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

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