Tag Archives: rescue hens

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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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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Worrisome Chooks

I was already in a frazzled state of mind because Gracie is ill (not eating, very lethargic) and has taken up residence in a cardboard box under the kitchen table. Then last night Ethel went missing. Ethel is one of our rescue hens (See Ethel was Poorly for an account of her illness), she is fairly slow and stolid, quiet and unassuming, a very sweet hen. I caught sight of her several times yesterday afternoon, out in the garden foraging, and once she came into the kitchen to check on Gracie and hoover up Gracie’s unwanted food. I was not concerned about Ethel’s appetite or health.

Shortly after sunset last night, I went out to shut them up. The original hens (the big girls as I like to call them) were in their half of the house – all but Lily who was roosting in the rescue hens’ half of the house – and rescue hens Ginger and Doris were in their nestbox snuggled together. But no sign of Ethel. Ethel usually goes to bed early, and although she may end up in the wrong half of the house and get pecked for her pains, she does at least go indoors. I re-counted, shone my torch into every nook and cranny, called her name – nothing. I walked up our drive shining my torch into the raspberry and current bushes, the large shrubs and clumps of herbaceous plants that line the drive – no sign or sound of her. I was very worried, and called Paul. Together we searched our land – under bushes, in the boggy area – and our neighbour’s field shelter and garden, calling her name with increasing urgency. At one point Paul went back into the compound where the hen house sits, and whilst fumbling around in the dark slipped over and landed amongst the tall crimson clover – I felt certain if Ethel had been there she would at least have chuckled!

After 90 minutes of searching, I was about to call it a day; the sky was darkening, our torch batteries were about to give out, and we had dwindling hope that she would appear. I walked back into the compound to give it one last sweep and walked into the tall clover. I nearly trod on what looked like a small pile of brown leaves, and thank goodness I didn’t because it was Ethel, flattened against the ground, very well hidden amongst the clover! Paul had fallen only inches away from her and she had not moved or made a sound! Indeed she did not make much of a sound when I picked her up and cuddled her. She did not seem to have any injuries, and appeared oblivious to the emotional wringer she had subjected us to!

We suspected that, when she had tried to enter the hen house, Ethel had been bullied by Lily and was turned away from the door, so she had gone to find a safe place away from the sharp beaks. We evicted Lily from the rescue hens’ house (to prevent a recurrence of the attack) and installed Ethel in her own nestbox. It was time for us to seek our bed also, as it was nearly 11pm!

This morning, I let the hens out, and Ethel hopped down the steps as though nothing had happened, tucked into her breakfast and then pottered around as normal. Hens are very resilient creatures; I on the other hand am a nervous wreck!





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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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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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Rescuing Hens

When I first thought I would like to keep some hens (so many years ago now) I had considered taking in rescue hens. Knowing I was a bit soft around animals, my friend Richard said I would probably find it very distressing to see how poorly feathered and generally unsure of their surroundings they would be, and advised that I started with hens bought from a breeder. I could then take in rescue hens when I was a bit more used to hen keeping. I thought this was a sensible idea, and so we started with three black rocks in 2007. By the time we had been keeping hens for a few years, and had our ups and downs health-wise with one or two of them, I felt better able to cope with problematic chickens, and so I registered my interest with the British Hen Welfare Trust. The Yorkshire collection centre had only just stared rescuing, and so I had to wait a while, but eventually, in late September I got the call that hens would be available the following weekend. I was a bit worried that the date was only a week before our holiday and also so close to the start of the bad weather in our part of Yorkshire, but it was either take them then or wait until next Spring, and I am not reknowned for my patience once I have decided I want something!

On 2nd October 2010, a beautiful sunny and warm Saturday, we drove up to a small village near York, and there we found a shed full of ex-barn hens, rescued from an egg producer in Scotland only a couple of days before, waiting for people to collect them and give them a home.

Our six hens were selected and popped into the cardboard boxes we had brought along, filled with straw for a more comfortable ride. I didn’t really get to see them before the boxes were closed, and they did not get to see us or where we were taking them. They were very subdued, not chattering much, on the hour’s drive home, and when we arrived we carefully carried them into the old pen and opened the boxes. I can truthfully say it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. These poor scrawny little bundles of feathers looked up from their cardboard boxes with wonder and bemusement at the sky and the sun. I carefully lifted each one out of their boxes and put them on the grass, and they looked at the grass wondering what on earth it was for! They all had semi-naked necks, very naked bottoms, huge distended pale combs, and stumpy ragged tails. Almost immediately, one of the hens took an experimentary bite of a blade of grass, and soon the others followed suit. I hoped they were going to like it here!

The first night they found their way into the house but they did not perch, instead they crammed themselves into the two nestboxes; they were so thin, and could easily fit four into the larger nestbox. For several days they were reluctant to come out into the pen, and spent a lot of time just sitting in a nest box or on the floor of the henhouse. I kept a close eye on them and tried to encourage them out onto the grass whenever I could, but one was particularly reluctant and I was worried that she was not eating. The others seemed to be eating well although they were not used to the Ex-Batts Crumb I had bought for them. We were due to fly off on holiday in the early ours of Friday morning, so I had less than a week to get to know them. I tried to handle them and reassure them, but they were understandably rather wary of me, and I don’t feel I really got to know their characters in that week, certainly not enough to be able to assign names to them! Paul’s Mum and Dad were coming to house and chicken sit for us while we were away, so I wrote copious instructions about feeding and watering the hens as they had never done it before; we have wonderful neighbours who have looked after the hens in the past and provided great backup this time too.

We arrived home around 4am the following Saturday and fell straight into bed, so we did not know that one of the rescue hens had died that morning until we got up around midday. Our kind neighbour had come to let the chickens out that morning, not knowing we were in fact home but fast asleep, and had found her dead in the nestbox. By the time we were up and realised what had happened, our neighbour had already disposed of her body, so I never got to say goodbye to the poor little hen nor know exactly what killed her, but I suspect the sudden change of circumstances, unfamiliar food and surroundings, and stress had caused her to stop eating and fade away. I like to think that she had at least one day in the sunshine before she died.

The remaining five hens were eating well and very alert and active. When we let them out of the pen to roam they were understandably reluctant to go too far from the pen gate, and frequently shot back inside, especially if one of the established hens came near. Ginger, however, had a little fire in her, and one day marched straight up to Lily and picked a fight! She also had a go at Betty, the chief chicken, which was pretty brave since Betty was more than twice her size! Their characters gradually revealed themselves as they became more confident.  Ginger is a feisty little one, still scrawny and with a persistently untidy tail and red raw bottom; she was a slightly different shade of brown from the others, burnt umber more than burnt sienna, and always the first to rush over to me if she thought I might be carrying a treat! She had and still has a large distended comb, although it is not now as big as the day we brought her home, and is much pinker; she is bright and active, always jumping up onto something; she is so far the only rescue hen to get the hang of going up (and down) the 9 steep steps to our upper garden, she jumps up onto our garden table if there is the hint that there may be food to be had, and has even jumped up onto our kitchen table and the much higher work surface. She is indomitable, and will try anything, it seems!

Mabel was always going to be the boss of this flock; she was a pale goldy brown and as her feathers developed her back took on pale pencilling on some of the feathers. She has a rather patrician-looking beak, with the flopped-over comb coming right down onto the beak. She would peck at the newly emerging feathers of the other hens, and not surprisingly she feathered up the fastest. In fact by Christmas she was almost completely covered, unlike the others who still looked very scruffy; and since she was still pulling out their feathers and generally harassing them, we decided that we had to separate her from them, to give them a chance to improve too. So Mabel was transferred to the big girl’s house. She was not happy to begin with, as Lily became her Nemesis, chasing her away from the food, and preventing her from going to bed at night. She adapted to the steps up to the pophole remarkably quickly, taking them two at a time. She was last to go to bed each evening, waiting until the others had settled and she could make a dash to the nest box. She often had to share a nest box with one of the other hens, as occasionally the Bluebelles preferred nesting to perching, and one night in the depths of the cold snap, I found her snuggled in one box with both Bluebelles! She continued to thrive, did not let Lily and Dolly get her down, and was always first at my feet in the morning for a handful of sunflower seed treats. She has perfected the standing jump, probably learned from Dolly who was also very good at leaping two feet in the air up to my hand to encourage me to part with more seeds. Mabel, though, would actually grab a portion of my finger or thumb and hang onto it as she descended back to earth! When the two flocks meet free-ranging in the afternoons, she still chases Ginger or Doris and makes a grab for a feather, but she is gradually learning not to do this. She does hang out with her “old” flock members more than with the big girls, even though she has now spent longer living in the big house than with the other rescue hens.

Doris‘s comb has strunk enormously since her first days with us. She has a sweet nature, but seems to be quite happy in her own company, trotting off on her own to investigate the boggy parts of the field for insects and grubs. She has an endearing skew-wiff beek, with the lower part extending a long way past the upper part. She does have some difficulty picking up individual seeds because of this, but she seems to thrive so I don’t think it can be much of a problem to her. She is always the last to go to bed, wanting to extend her time outside as long as possible, and who can blame her!

Gracie‘s comb has also shrunk back to a normal size and she has turned into a lovely hen, slow and gentle. She also has thrived and has become quite a large hen, larger than the others by a long way, but never barging the others out of the way to get to food. She seems to have a caring nature, and when Ethel was very poorly, Gracie would stay with Ethel as she wandered slowly around the garden, and did not let her be on her own or get separated. She also takes the pecks of others in her stride, keeps out of the way of the older girls, and generally shows a passive face to the world. She is also the only one of the four remaining in the old house to try out the perch as a place to sleep, and when the weather was warm has taken to perching at night on her own; perhaps due to her size and the nestbox feeling a bit claustrophobic and warm, she finds the airy perch more comfortable. Gracie has not laid any eggs to my knowledge, although I suspect that she has laid the “lash” we found in the nestbox one day. It looked and felt like a rubber egg, and when cut open seemed to contain lots of smaller eggs.

Ethel was for a long time a real worry to us. She was always a bit slow of movement, hanging back when the more boisterous Ginger and Doris were gobbling seed from my hand. In early February 2011 she became very ill, but I will write at length about this another time. She is another of the hens that did not shrink their comb once they had been released, and it is now a bright red colour slightly flopped over to one side. She is still slow moving and generally placid, and spends a lot of time walking alongside Gracie as they free-range around the garden. She has plumped up a lot since she was ill. She has not laid any eggs, and probably never will now, but that is OK she deserves a happy retirement from the daily grind!

So those are our five rescue hens: Ginger, Mabel, Doris, Gracie and Ethel. The last picture here is of Gracie having a dust bath in the herb border; it looks like she is enjoying it!Gracie dustbathing in the herb border


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