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Archive for the ‘Beginner’s Guide to Caring for Ex-Batts’ Category

With the sad losses of both Lavender Goodchicken and Greta Goodchicken this year, our garden was left without a special Goodchicken girl. Only the very kindest, sweetest girls can be awarded the Goodchicken title; hens who have never thrown a peck in anger and who have always put their sisters’ well-being before their own. They are inspired by the original Goodchicken – Bunty. A hen whose goodness, kindness and beauty are much revered in Rosewarne legend.

So with the New Year upon us, it was decided that a new girl should be awarded the Goodchicken title and become part of the Goodchicken Sisterhood. And the title goes to …

Lemony!

Lemony was the standout choice to become a Goodchicken – in fact the award is long overdue. She performed services of love, care and attention, far, far above and beyond, when she cared for the elderly Effie. Not only did she have to give up on the opportunity of joining the Big Girls but she missed being with her two sisters who had already joined the main flock. But Lemony stayed with her beloved Effie; caring for her, preening the tail that Effie’s neck wouldn’t let her preen herself, keeping her company, tucking up with her at night and sharing Effie’s favourite pastime of coming inside to watch the washing machine go round. Even as Effie’s health was failing and she came inside on a more permanent basis, Lemony stood on duty outside the Human Coop, waiting for a brief moment with her elderly friend. That moment came in one last dustbath together, where Lemony preened Effie and they said their goodbyes. As Effie came back inside the Human Coop for the last time, so Iona bantam, who had been watching events unfold, came over the fence and escorted Lemony into the Big Girls’ Garden.

Effie and Lemony friends forever

Effie and Lemony friends forever

Lemony stands on tiptoe to preen her beloved Effie

Lemony stands on tiptoe to preen her beloved Effie

Lemony settled in very well, Iona and Inca ensuring that no one picked on her. But the Rosewarne ladies had watched Lemony caring for Effie and knew that she was a very special girl and would never dream of picking on her. In fact, Flora-Jayne decided that she loved Lemony very much – just a bit too much – and it is for enduing Flora’s amorous attentions that makes Lemony even more of a special girl. Lemony loves Flora, you see; I think it is because Flora is a big, brown chicken and in Lemony’s mind, a big brown, Effie-shaped chicken means love and friendship. Only Flora’s hormones cause them no end of problems!!

Lemony hanging out with the Big Girls

Lemony hanging out with the Big Girls

But Lemony is now and always will be a Goodchicken, a fluffy pale yellow ball of beauty and love scuttling across the garden, tiptoing over the wet grass and generally bringing a little sunshine into our world. We love her so much and she is a very well-deserved recipient of this precious title.
Welcome to the Sisterhood, Miss Lemony Goodchicken of Rosewarne

Beautiful Lemony Goodchicken

Beautiful Lemony Goodchicken

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Little Lupin Chicken and her two sisters arrived to live with us last August, three little girls who had been starved in the cage and consequently were all in a dreadful physical state. Surprisingly it was the largest hen, Larkspur, who succumbed to illness the quickest, passing away after only a few weeks of freedom, while tiny Lupin and Lavender quickly feathered up and started to grow strong and healthy.

Lovely Lupin on rehoming

Lovely Lupin on rehoming

Named after the flower, Lupin also took on the more wolf-like connotations of her name, taking it upon herself to be top hen of this little trio and sleeping by the coop door each night, guarding her new sisters. It made for a touching sight, this feisty little scrap of skin and bone, fearlessly protecting her new family. She was brave as well as beautiful, a little girl with a big heart.

She was also a very hungry girl and spent much of her day filling her crop, one of the many things life in a cage had denied her. Very soon though, Loops and Lav (as they became known!) realised that life wasn’t just about survival, it is about having fun and being happy and Lupin embraced her new life with an unadulterated joy. Each day was a marvellous new adventure.

Loops, not long after rehoming, enjoying her favourite pastime. Note her beautiful quills emerging

Loops, not long after rehoming, enjoying her favourite pastime. Note her beautiful quills emerging

Merging Loops and Lav with the big girls was so easy, neither of them were interested in being top hen and avoided any fisticuffs. Life is too short to be worrying about such things. Lupin’s joy at her new life featured in a couple of magazines in an article called Through Eyes of Wonder.

“Lupin and Lavender … now have a whole garden to explore – bugs to find, holes to dig and grass to scratch, every day bringing new and exciting exploits; they are first up in the morning and last to bed at night. Their enthusiasm for life is contagious and their happiness a delight to witness.”

Look at those beautiful feathers growing!

Look at those beautiful feathers growing!

However, little Loops had the ghosts of her old life still haunting her. That crop that had been so empty in the cages, was weakened and caused her all sorts of problems. Occasionally it became impacted so we tried pineapple, oil and massage which seemed to work at first. Her crop episodes were sporadic and initially only mild but as time went on they became more severe and each time we feared we would lose her. However, Lupin was a fighter, she wasn’t going to give up on her wonderful new life without a fight, she still had too much fun to have.

Loops (right) and Lav enjoying special henniversary cake

Loops (right) and Lav enjoying special henniversary cake

What we did discover though was that she was a squiggler!! Hated being picked up, hated her medicine and squiggled away as soon as she was able. Poor baby. So when she had to go to see Uncle Jason for an implant to stop her soft eggs, I was very concerned about her in the cat carrier. I hate putting ex-batts in it as there is a wire door and I fear they will think they are back in the cage again. So I put Loops in the carrier on the front seat, we had the Abba CD playing and we sang along to Chiquitita, changing the words to Chicken Lupin which she seemed to find soothing.

But sadly soon after the implant, things quickly took a downward turn. The next day she was very under the weather and I hoped it was just the effect of the implant – but in my heart I knew it was her poor crop again. I do not know if it was the shock of the implant that triggered it, so naturally feel responsible for her subsequent illness. Within a couple of days she had developed sour crop and, although we tried everything we could to make her better, she continued to get worse and nothing that we tried to syringe into her was going through. She was losing weight rapidly and becoming very weak.

On her final morning, we found her with foul fluid pouring out of her beak and she was hardy able to stand. Knowing it was her last day, I put her in the sunshine under an apple tree. She turned her head to the sun and closed her eyes, I am sure she knew it was time, but wanted to enjoy one more moment of sunshine in the garden she loved so. On the way to the vets we sang along to ‘Chicken Lupin’ again in the hope it would comfort her and once there, she went to sleep almost immediately, her poor body exhausted from fighting her illness. She was peaceful in my arms but she took a while to pass over, it was almost as if she was hanging on to every last scrap of life.

Loops and Lav (left) enjoying life!

Loops and Lav (left) enjoying life!

She was cremated that evening with the first sweetpea of the summer under her wing as well as some lavender flowers. Her soulmate in life was Lavender and I felt she needed to take something of her darling friend with her on her journey.

And now our garden feels empty without the joyful energy of Lupin in it. Her friend and partner-in-crime Lavender, is very subdued and misses her sister almost as much as we do.

Rest in peace now my darling brave girl, eat to your crop’s content and never feel pain, hunger or fear again. You are safe now darling. Fly high little Loops xxxx

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Miss Dorothy-Kate was a big, gorgeous, feisty chicken with a character to match! Rescued in October 2012, she originally went to live in Helston with her sister Doreen, and her new human family, John and Sharon. Within weeks she was soon described as a ‘bit of a character’.  Quite the escapologist, Dorothy was often found exploring next door’s garden or standing on top of the Cornish hedge at the bottom of her own garden, bwarking away – almost as if she was daring the local foxes – ‘come ‘ere if you think you’re hard enough’!

I first met Dorothy near the end of 2013 when she and Doreen came to stay for a week whilst their humans went to London. Despite a dividing fence, that first morning was like World War Three. My girls were not impressed by these two newbies and Dorothy was equally furious at being fenced off when there was a whole new garden to explore.  I should have realised then what a big-spirited girl I was dealing with!

But with her big spirit, came her equally big heart. A few months later, Doreen became ill and sadly passed away leaving Dorothy alone. The sight of her forlornly cuddling up to a teddy in her coop at night was enough for John to bring her to live with the Rosewarne ladies.

Beautiful Dorothy-Kate

Beautiful Dorothy-Kate

At this point, in July 2014, she became Dorothy-Kate; she had to be a K girl and I couldn’t possibly change her name, so Dorothy-Kate she became.

After the initial two-week separation period I introduced Miss Dorothy to her new sisters – after giving my girls a stern talk on ‘being nice to the new girl’. I needn’t have worried, within five minutes Dorothy had established herself as top chicken, and that was that!!

However, very soon Dorothy-Kate (or DK to her friends) took on all the serious duties of a top hen. She rounded her girls up for bed each night, protected them during the day, and very sweetly, started to crow whenever she heard the neighbourhood cockerel start up in the morning. In what became something of a ‘crow-off’ she stood fast, her little feet planted squarely on the floor, and replied to every one of his crows with a rather impressive one of her own! It was very endearing and one of my favourite memories of her.

Dorothy-Kate, Greta and Flora-Jayne tuck into a treat!

Dorothy-Kate, Greta and Flora-Jayne tuck into a treat!

DK was however battling the same issues so many ex-batts struggle with. At over two years’ free she was starting to suffer from crop problems. Often a sign something nasty is lurking elsewhere, we treated her as best we could and managed to pull her back from the brink on many occasions. Never underestimate the will to live of an ex-batt! Especially a girl as feisty as our darling Dorothy-Kate.

In February this year, Dorothy and Flora-Jayne became ex-batt ambassadors extraordinaire. They took part as show hens in a short course on Keeping Pet Chickens and were, understandably, the stars of the show! They behaved like the true professionals they were and charmed their audience, who all went home eager to have their own ex-batts.  A little hen can ask for no greater legacy than to know that because of her, some of her caged sisters will be rescued and given a new life. I was so terribly proud of them.

Dorothy reads the paper backstage

Dorothy reads the paper backstage

Unfortunately, a few weeks later, Dorothy became ill again, her crop not emptying and her abdomen swelling at an alarming rate. I tried everything I knew to help her but to no avail; sadly I had run out of tricks. She was in pain and was getting worse by the day so, for a girl whose dignity was so important to her, I knew it was time. I asked John to come round to say goodbye to her before we visited Aunty Gina, who agreed that a girl as special as Dorothy needed to die in peace and with dignity. At two-and-a-half years’ free, she had spent longer out of the cage than in it. It is little comfort at times like these, but as she passed away peacefully in my arms, I hope her memories were of sunshine, worms, friends and sunbathing – all the things a little chicken should always be able to enjoy.

John wanted to take Dorothy home to bury her with her sister Doreen, so I wrapped her little body up snugly and placed some forget-me-nots under her wing. It was exceptionally hard to hand her precious body over – normally I see them through to the very end – but Dorothy had only ever been staying with us and she needed to be with her other sister. If I trusted anyone to care for her, it would be John and Sharon – they have good, kind souls. She is now buried next to her beloved Doreen with camellias on her grave. She also has, however, a stone here at Rosewarne, and will always be a part of our flock.

She was a big, brave and beautiful girl; a top hen and a show hen and all of us here, human and chicken, will miss her. Sleep tight darling Dorothy-Kate, fly high sweetheart xxxx

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Two of my beautiful girls have recently made me extremely proud. Even more proud than I usually am in fact! Misses Flora-Jayne and Dorothy-Kate Chickens took part in a course I was running, entitled Keeping Pet Chickens. It was billed as a hands-on course, so some show hens were needed.

Flora-Jayne was an obvious candidate; all frilly knickers and fluffy personality, I knew she would shine. But as the course numbers grew, so too did the need for a second show girl. Dorothy-Kate was the candidate that initially sprang to mind – bolshie and no nonsense, she would not be intimidated by a room full of people. So we were all sorted – or so we thought ….

About ten days before the course, Dorothy-Kate became unwell. Investigations showed an impacted crop which we treated with a combination of vegetable oil, massage and magic pineapple*. As DK started to get better, there was the growing concern that she would not be well enough to attend the course. So auditions for an understudy were planned. However, initial trials of picking up and cuddling proved … a bit rubbish. Lavender would be picked up for a nanosecond before squiggling free and Lupin was not much better. Both still young and new to our family I feared they would find the ordeal too overwhelming. Hettie hates to be touched at all and Greta Garbo, despite her splendid new knickers, is still a little back heavy and not a standard example of hen shape for new henkeepers. Effie was not happy to share the limelight with Flora (she does like to be the star dahhrling), Lemony is convinced I am trying to kill her if I so much as look at her, Inca screams blue murder and, despite her love of cuddles with her mum, Iona doesn’t like ‘strangers’.

Quite the dilemma!

However, Dorothy-Kate is a tough cookie and a week of treatment later and with some metroclopramide for crop stasis from Uncle Jason just to be on the safe side, she had made a full recovery. Back to her normal stroppy self, I knew she would tolerate being a show hen – although she didn’t take kindly to being told she would have to have her vent and knickers checked. Can a girl never have any dignity!!

Dorothy reads the paper backstage

Dorothy gets the hump when the attention is on Flora Dorothy reads the paper backstage and then gets the hump when Flora gets all the attention!

So one worry rectified, another still faced me. As a child I had a dreadful stutter, and as any stutterer will tell you, it never goes away, you just tend to manage it. Stressful situations – say, talking for six hours in front of a group of strangers – tend to magnify any hesitations.

Flora-Jayne has her wings clipped

Flora-Jayne has her wings clipped

However, knowing my subject and being passionate about spreading the message that hens are amazing, was enough to give me the confidence to overcome my nerves. That and some herbal happy pills!!

At the end of the course, talking chicken keeping books!

Talking chicken books at the end of the course

I am thrilled to say the day was a success – the attendees loved the course, all feedback was totally positive and lovely Chris who organised the course for me said it was excellent. Obviously my witterings were merely a support act for the day’s stars – who arrived during the lunchbreak amidst a fanfare of oohs and ahhhs – and behaved like the professionals they are. Real ladies throughout – even during the now infamous knicker and vent check. Flora even allowed her wing to be clipped without so much as a squawk. Secretly I think they loved the attention!!

Roll on the next course … which incidentally is 27th May (the Wednesday of half term!)

https://www.ruralbusinessschool.org.uk/events/keeping-pet-chickens

And a very big thank you to Jane Gray for her amazing help and hen wrestling duties. Jane does beautiful, upcycled artwork to raise awareness of chickens http://janegrayartist.co.uk/

* Pineapple is AMAZING for impacted crops! It has to be fresh pineapple, not juice or the chopped up stuff in plastic pots but a real knobbly pineapple. It has an enzyme, bromelain, that breaks down nasty clumps that block crops. Sieve or juice it and syringe in about 2ml at a time. Dorothy-Kate had 2ml syringed in night and day for a week, along with her oil and crop massage. This is the fourth time I have tried using this on impacted crops and so far have a 100% success record. It truly is amazing, please try it next time one of your girls has an impacted crop.

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Little Effie has been a Very Brave Girl recently. Since she came back into lay after her moult, she has been laying softies. Initially they did not prove to be too much of a problem for her, although a worry for me, and Effie and her babies always happily tucked into any softies that appeared.

We upped her calcium and the shells started to appear slightly more shell-like, although still not hard enough to stop me fussing. And then last week, the problems really started; the yolk and white were emerging bit by bit but the shells were not. I removed one softie shell from her vent but the next day discovered a rather wiffy bit of soft shell just inside her vent.

So off to Uncle Jason we went!! Luckily, we already had an appointment booked for Clooney cat’s check-up and, spookily, Clooney was all too happy to give up her vet visit so that Effie could go instead.

After discussing her situation with Uncle Jason, we agreed an implant was the best solution for her. Initially I was loathed to give the implant again as she had been so unwell and depressed the first time she had it, but it was definitely the lesser of two evils.

Effie was so very brave when faced with the Very Big Needle that Uncle Jason was brandishing around, it was me that felt quite ill. But Effie, stoic as ever, merely let out a little squeak, then wriggled free once the injection was over.

She was however, more than happy to partake of a Wounded Soldier’s breakfast of scrambled egg when she got home. She then took herself off into the garden to tell her babies about how brave she was after her major surgery and then recuperated with a dustbath followed by a sunbathe.

Brave Girl Effie, recuperating from her implant with a sunbathe

Brave Girl Effie, recuperating from her implant

Three days later I am still watching her like a hawk. There have been no eggs and she has shown no signs of illness or depression at all. I think her babies are keeping her too busy!

I am however, very aware of the dangers that soft eggs and stuck shells can bring and whilst the implant is not a miracle cure, it will give her a chance to recover from the demands of egg laying. Even though Effie will no longer have any memory of her wretched life in the cage, it is desperate to think that its effects are still taking their toll on her beautiful body.

Breaking News! It would appear Effie is not the only exbatt to have had an implant this week. We have just heard that Miss Fajita Chicken of Cheshire has also been a very Brave Girl at the vets today. Well done Fajita xx

For more information on suprelorin implants for hens click here and scroll down almost to the bottom of the page.

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All hens are precious, exbatts are even more precious and Effie is the most precious one of all. But she will not live forever, which is why, at almost two and a half years free, every sniffle and snuffle is closely monitored and fussed over at great length.

So far Effie had sailed through her moult, she had ignored the indignities of bare, featherless patches and was now sporting her Chanelesque New Look…and fabulous she looks too dahhrling.

Effie resplendent in her new feathers

Effie resplendent in her new feathers

But last weekend, she started to have an upset tummy. Without embarrassing her any more than necessary, things were a bit…eruptive and watery. All necessary measures were taken and despite a certain, solidifying of things, Effie started to appear rather unwell. Whilst still eating well (she does love her food) she became lethargic, hunched and generally not herself. Even having workmen interrupting her peaceful garden did nothing to raise her interest.

Investigations found nothing untoward, so a general antibiotic was administered, and I must admit, I was so worried about her, I sat with her that evening and gave her The Talk. I told her everything I needed to – about how much I loved her, how blessed my life was through knowing her, how special she was and how she had changed the lives of so many chickens – just in case.

She went to bed tucked up under a fluffy bantam blanket – her babies covering their mum in love and protection. I sat up late into the night, boosted by the love and support of my wonderful chicken friends – Liz, Jan, Quolanta, Helen and Trish. Only a mad chicken lady would understand the trauma I was going through.

But as I did a last late night check on her I saw above her coop, shining high in the night’s sky, the moon, Jupiter and Venus. It was almost as if the whole universe was looking after my girl.

But it was to be a long night…

Early next morning, darling Gary, who had been kept awake all night by my fretting, kindly got up first to open the coop to see how she was.

First out and hungry!!!

Hey gorgeous Effie!  (she is not foaming at the beak, that is the remains of the bribe I had to give her to pose for a photo!)

Hey gorgeous Effie!
(she is not foaming at the beak, that is the remains of the bribe I had to give her to pose for a photo!)

Whatever it was had been overcome and Effie was back to her normal, naughty, fun, brilliant and thoroughly gorgeous self!! She wolfed down copious amounts of mash and spent the day shouting at the builders through her fence – they were putting in patio doors, with Effie’s unsupervised foremanship I expected to come home to a customised chicken flap in the new doors!

A few days later, she is still fit as a fiddle and I cannot begin to describe how happy I am that she is well again. I love her so much, the very thought of losing her is more than I can bear. Every day with her is a gift and I am thankful for every sunrise that we share together. She has blessed my life and has left her little footprints on my heart.

Effie has asked that this blog be dedicated to the memory of two of her friends – very special hens who passed away recently.
Kiev, the beautiful and dignified exbatt, head hen and all round legendary chicken who went to sleep last week, leaving her beautiful owner, Quolanta, heartbroken.
And little Rosemary bantam, who died very suddenly on Saturday. Her owners, our good friends Ann and Sarah Louise, are devastated at the loss of their little girl.
RIP Kiev and Rosemary xxx

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Flora Day occurs on or around May 8th in Helston, Cornwall and celebrates the coming of spring with dancing, partying and an abundance of lily of the valley. However, here in Rosewarne, our Flora Day was celebrated today, 27th October, with the greatest storm since 1987 brewing in the skies, the dark winter evenings closing ominously in and rain, the like of which I have never seen before, blowing up the Red River Valley in menacing sheets of blackening doom.

But, in spite of all this autumnal ferocity, our Flora Day was alight with sun, happiness and joy (and an egg!).

Miss Flora Hen is an ex-batt who, until recently, has lived a very happy post-cage life in Marazion with her three sisters and two loving owners. However, her sisters have sadly all died and Flora was left alone. Her owners needed a new home for her so she could have hen company again and become part of another flock. There was a spare coop in our garden and it didn’t take long for Gary to get my (not so) subtle hints and suggest she come to live with us. So today Miss Flora arrived!!

Miss Flora-Jayne, a ray of sunshine!

Miss Flora-Jayne, a ray of sunshine!

After speaking to her, understandably upset, owners, we discovered Flora was part of the same rehoming as Evie, Eliza, Effie and her beloved Miss Basket. This means I may well have taken her out of her cage and it gives me a special affinity with this very pretty little hen.

She is now living in the Big Girls’ Garden, in her own coop and run, for a couple of weeks before introductions begin and I am amazed that Eliza ‘Give ‘em All Hell’ Chicken has merely come up to the wire fence and pecked at the grass that Flora is pecking at before wandering off. I know chickens recognise up to 80 other girls and I wonder if my most combative of girls actually already knows who this new hen is. Hens never fail to amaze me with their intelligence, empathy and compassion and I feel that my two remaining E-girls will recognise a fellow ‘survivor’ from their farm and offer her the wing of friendship.

Don't I know you? Flora-Jayne meets Eliza...

Don’t I know you?
Flora-Jayne meets Eliza…

But what of her name?? Flora?? Her name needs to begin with a J as fits my little system but a girl of two years free cannot have her name changed!! So we decided Flora-Jayne she would be! And it definitely suits her.

So far she had flown onto her coop roof, announced very loudly (and repeatedly) to the world that she is here, had her wing clipped amongst great protestations, shared a fence-limboing tuft of grass with Eliza (they do know each other I am sure of it!!) and laid an egg!!

Not bad for a first day!

If you are inspired by Flora-Jayne’s story, and you live in Cornwall and feel you can offer a loving home to some ex-commercial hens, I have a rehoming on 14th December in Camborne. Please visit the website to reserve your hens at www.freshstartforhens.co.uk or if you are tempted but unsure PLEASE email me for advice and information on cornwallgreenbean@tiscali.co.uk.

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