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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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