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Six New Hens

It was my birthday at the beginning of May, and my husband racked his brains for ideas of what to buy me as a present. What do you give the woman who has all the electrical gadgets she can safely carry? Why, six more hens of course!
We lost our two remaining Cream Legbar hens at the end of 2014, and since I very much like the breed, we chose to increment our flock with six Legbars. It is a popular breed at the moment, as people seem to think that the blue-green eggs are fashionably desirable. I like the hens because they are busy little chooks and carry their fan-like tails with aplomb! And Charlie and Freddie, our two Legbar cockerels, needed some more ladies.

Sorrel

Sorrel

Suzie and Sage

Suzie and Sage

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off we went to Storrs Poultry, and bought their last remaining half-dozen POL hens. It was a day of high winds and torrential rain, but we managed to keep them separate with some shelter, until chicken bedtime, when we distributed them among the houses. There was some resistance, involving chasing and cornering!

The next morning, when we came to let them out of the coops, we let them select where they would prefer to live, and three decided to live with Charlie, the other three being happy with Freddie. They were accepted into their new homes with a minimum of fuss and the boys have been most attentive, finding them tasty treats, shepherding them into bed at night, and generally looking after them. They have all come into lay, most days giving us four blue eggs, one greenish blue egg and one egg so pale it is almost white.

Lovage and Lupin

Lovage and Lupin

A belated welcome to Suzie, Sorrel and Sage (all with Freddie), and Lucy, Lovage and Lupin (with Charlie).

Lucy

Lucy

 

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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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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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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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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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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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Operation Flock-Merge

Since last October, we have had two flocks of hens, the main flock consisting of the Black Rocks, Bluebelles, Warrens (joined by Mabel the tail-biter at Christmas) in the large house and run, and the rescue flock in the small house and run. With chicks rapidly growing, we knew we would have to merge the flocks so that we could free up the smaller house for the growers. I was not very happy about this, as Gracie Ginger Ether and Doris formed a nice gentle group, with few arguments and no pecking order; I was doubtful that they would be happy in with the main flock which had a strict hierarchical structure.

Pecking order in a flock of hens is no laughing matter. Betty established herself as chief hen when she was about 18 months old, Hetty defers to her and occasionally gets pecked but mostly keeps the two Bluebelles in order. Bluebelle Polly is the guardian of the coop at dusk, patrolling the perch and pecking at a lowlier hen who deigns to hop up onto it; Bluebelle Molly keeps the Warrens, Dolly and Lily, in order. Lily was bottom of the pecking order for a long time, and was cowed and subdued around the other hens, but when we introduced Mabel at Christmas, Lily suddenly had someone to peck, and she has grown in confidence. Mabel is a wiley bird, though. She is submissive and deferential around the larger older hens, but is not completely browbeaten by Lily; and whenever the two flocks were let out to roam, Mabel gravitated towards her old flock because she knew that they were still her inferiors. I never quite understood why, when we removed Mabel, the smaller flock did not then produce a new leader; perhaps they were all so relieved at Mabel’s departure that they decided that they did not need one! But why do they not stand up to her now?

The two flocks have known each other and mixed without too much trouble for months. They are let out together each afternoon but they tend to each have their favourite spots in the garden so can largely keep out of each others way. If they meet over a handful of seeds, the smaller flock will defer to the larger to avoid trouble, although Ginger has been getting a little bolder lately. I worry that once they are all in the same house and pen that there will not be enough places they can get away from the “big” girls and will end up huddled unhappily in a corner. The house is more than big enough for all eleven hens, in fact it could house 20 although we might have to add another nest box and perch for them to be completely comfortable. Continue reading

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