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It has taken me over a week to try and write a tribute to darling Bella. Our hearts are broken and watching Hettie struggle each day, grieving for the only friend she has ever had, is only compounding our sadness. Bella was a very, very special girl and no words I write can truly capture the gentle spirit that was Bella, but I hope I can try to do our special girl justice with this tribute…

1st February 2011 saw the arrival of four little hens; my B girls. I had planned to collect three Amberlink girls, so naturally came home with two Amberlinks (Brigit and Bertha) and two ginger girls (Bunty Goodchicken and Bella). Of course at that point Bunty Goodchicken was just Bunty and Bella was Psychochicken. Only my second batch of girls, I was unprepared for the feisty little scrap that was to become Bella. She attacked me and Gary, she attacked the other hens, she attacked her reflection and she attacked her coop. I didn’t know what to do with her. Now of course I know I was dealing with a very frightened little hen, who had had to fight for every thing in her caged life. No-one had thought to tell her it was now all going to be OK – at that point I hadn’t learnt how to speak ‘chicken.’ So, on advice of fellow chicken keepers, I separated her whilst the other three girls went to bed. Pyschochicken was put to bed in the cat carrier. Once everyone was asleep I went to take her out of the carrier. I will never forget the look in her eyes. It was one of total resignation and defeat. She was back in a cage. That moment with Bella taught me more than any book could ever have done. The true suffering of caged hens, the depth of emotion they feel and the effects our human idiocy can have on them. From then on, I truly understood her.

Bella on rehoming day

Bella on rehoming day

My friend, Sarah, decided that to make her feel special and loved, she needed a special name and she called her Bella, meaning beautiful. So Bella she became. And over the next (almost) three years as a free range girl and top hen in our flock, beautiful she proved to be. In every way.

Diminutive in stature, Bella was always my smallest hen, but was the girl with the biggest character. Hers were the first wings I ever clipped! Three months after she came to live with us, Bella suddenly became intent on using the logpile as a launchpad for her escape efforts. Despite my attempts at containing her, one morning I looked out of the dining room window to see the little scamp running gleefully up and down the Cornish hedge. Never having clipped wings before I raced round to a work colleague, with Bella tucked tightly under my arm, to show me what to do. Bella came home suitably clipped and proceeded to lay an Egg of Protest in the greenhouse. Her escape attempts were brought on by her pre-eggy frenzy, something I have now realised many hens do just before their first egg after a lull.

Bella's first taste of fresh air

Bella’s first taste of fresh air

You see Bella was a teacher. She knew I had much to learn and consequently took it upon herself to educate me in the ways of All Things Hen. We were good friends Bella and I. Each evening as I sat chatting with the girls, she came and climbed onto my lap and told me about her day. Every time I cleaned out the coop, she came up to make sure I had done it properly, tactfully rearranging my humble human efforts. She even tolerated me cuddling her and occasionally allowed me to hold her long enough for a photograph – her beautiful face has featured in many magazines and websites promoting the plight of her ex-commercial sisters.

But I was not Bella’s only pupil. She had greater plans – she wanted to educate as many humans as possible.

She came to college with me and transformed the views of all the students she met. Previously they had thought of hens as ‘just a chicken’ and were not interested in my futile exbatt witterings. But Bella knew how to change their minds. She breezed into their classroom, preened, bwarked and looked resplendent and then stood obligingly on a piece of A4 paper to show them the space she would have had in her battery cage. She had given a face to factory farming. Suddenly these previously uncaring students understood. Bella had made them see. Then they were feeding her and stroking her as she ate corn of their hands. Bella had performed her role magnificently. To this day they still ask after her.

Sunbathing beauty

Sunbathing beauty

Spreading the word became Bella’s mission. She was one of the lucky ones and she was going to do all she could for her less fortunate sisters. She came with me and Clara to Pets at Home and met the public whilst promoting a hen rehoming for Fresh Start. She was picked up and cuddled and went around the store meeting customers, enchanting them with her beauty. People who had never even touched a hen in their lives were delighted with her, wanting to hold her and asking all sorts of questions about hens and battery farming. Children, especially, were enamoured by her. Because of her efforts, many loving homes were found for more ex-commercial hens.

Bella had many, many wonderful characteristics; she was clever and funny, dignified and brave, but most of all she was a kind and fair top hen. She ruled her flock with a firm but gentle wing. No hen was allowed to be left out or picked on. She kept neighbourhood thugs Eliza and Grace Kelly in check. When Flavia arrived, dumped at the vets after being attacked, it was Bella who welcomed her into the flock. When Flavia was afraid to go to bed as Eliza lurked menacingly by the coop door, it was Bella who would escort her safely into the coop every night. When terrified little Hettie arrived, Bella understood her fears and immediately extended the wing of friendship to her. Bella had recently lost her beloved Bunty Goodchicken and Clara in close succession and this new friendship helped both hens heal their emotional scars. Every evening Hettie went to bed early to get her favourite nestbox and every evening Gracie Thug came in and turfed her out. So every evening Bella offered Hettie the prime Top Hen nestbox and slept by her side. A true leader, she knew she had to care for the weakest in the flock.

Bella celebrating her two year Henniversary

Bella celebrating her two year Henniversary

Apart from two soft egg incidents (cured by a warm bath and a very lovely cuddle) Bella had never had an ill day in her free range life. She breezed through her first moult and was the picture of good health. However, about a month ago, at the start of October, Bella started to slow down. She was having a small moult and struggling to regrow her new feathers. I found her looking a little unwell at times, occasionally her comb was slightly tinged with blue. Fearing her intensive laying life was finally catching up with her and suspecting a tumour, and with Uncle Jason’s advice, we treated her as best we could and each time she rallied. But both Bella and I knew her days were now numbered.

Bella took her Top Hen responsibilities very seriously and I know she struggled with the thought of leaving her girls, so she fought her illness with all the stoicism of a true Maggie Smithesque grande dame…….Bella was always a proud and dignified girl and I knew without her having to tell me that she would not want to be seen to be weak in front of her girls. She needed not to suffer and she needed to have her dignity to the end. Sometimes words are not needed between friends, they understand implicitly what is needed, and one bleak morning, she told me that she had had enough. It was time. Her best friend Hettie had been by her side the whole time she had been ill and on Bella’s last day Hettie stayed with her all day, never venturing from her guardian angel’s side. Darling Bella knew it was time but I don’t think poor Hettie understood.

After a very weak Bella had seen her girls safely to bed for the final time, we visited Uncle Jason. Bella and I sat together in a quiet room, she was cradled in my arms and, as she passed on, I told her that I loved her, that she was a good chicken and I promised her that I would look after her girls, especially Hettie, and that she could now rest in peace. Once I had told her this, she passed very quickly and peacefully. Her final gift to me was one of her moulting feathers that fluttered away from her beautiful, precious body. A treasure.

Bella needed dignity in death and I hope I was able to give her that; the last wish of my most special girl.

She was cremated on Saturday, a golden marigold for my golden girl tucked under her wing for her final journey. Her spirit is now flying forever free at the Rainbow Bridge with her beloved Bunty Goodchicken and Clara by her side, as my darling Bella takes gentle charge of her heavenly flock.

My darling Bella with her beautiful heart-shaped pupil

My darling Bella with her beautiful heart-shaped pupil

Us mere mortals left behind will uphold our final promise to her. Hettie will be cared for, loved and protected and Bella’s flock will slowly adjust to the loss of their beloved leader. For a while they will have a human Top Hen who will muddle through until a new gentle chicken leader emerges. She will however have very big claws to fill – in fact she probably never will. There will only ever be one Bella Top Chicken.

After almost three years as a free girl, our hens and our hearts are mourning the loss of Bella. Nothing will ever be the same again.

RIP my darling, beautiful, brave, big-hearted, generous Bella. Fly high my precious Top Hen xxx

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I have struggled to find the words to write this little tribute to this special little lady. It has all been so very sad, especially after reading back over my previous blog post.

Little Izzy chicken came to us all the way from Somerset. We had been looking for a friend for Effie and this little fluffy white angel seemed perfect. She had a bad leg, but nothing that some painkillers and arnica rubs wouldn’t sort out…or so we believed.

Sometimes when you are caring for a girl, you become so intent on looking for every minor improvement and trying so hard to save her, that you fail to see the bigger picture. When she arrived Izzy could walk, albeit with a limp. By the time she told me it was time for her to go, she could not even right herself in a sitting position. We had been nursing her so closely – taking her out of the coop in the morning, hand feeding her, syringing in water and medicines, massaging her leg, bathing her dirty knickers, settling her for the day, moving her around each hour so she didn’t sit in the sun, tucking her up for bed – that I do not think we realised how ill she had become. However, these are things I would have happily continued doing if she was going to get well but little Izzy was deteriorating and her quality of life was minimal.

Izzy rests in the shade under her apple tree and Gamesmaker umbrella

Izzy rests in the shade under her apple tree and Gamesmaker umbrella

Uncle Jason agreed with me and also with my concerns that she was possibly suffering from Mareks. We decided she should be able to go to sleep with dignity and she drifted off peacefully in my arms. She was cremated that day with sweet peas tucked under her wings and her ashes are now with those of the big girls. I asked Bunty Goodchicken and Clara to look after her, they are kind girls and will see she is cared for.

We only had three weeks with Izzy, not enough time at all, we never had the chance to really get to know her. However my overriding memories of her are this beautiful powder puff of a hen, sweet and gentle. When we picked her up, she clung furiously to our fingers with her good foot. Clinging onto us just as she was clinging onto life.

But now she is free to run and jump and fly without any pain or suffering.

RIP precious darling Izzy, fly high little hen xx

Miss Izzy Hen

Miss Izzy Hen

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When Miss Clara Chicken arrived to live with us, she was unable to walk. Along with her Amberlink sisters, Constance and CocoChanel, Clara had spent over two years in a cage and her legs were so weak, she couldn’t even stand up. Of the three girls, Clara’s case was the worst and even when Constance and Coco were managing to hop about, poor Clara could only sit and watch.

Every morning and evening we lifted her in and out of the coop and bathed her legs daily and rubbed them with arnica gel. Named after Clara, the little crippled girl in Heidi, our Clara’s legs finally became strong enough so that she could walk. She never lost her limp completely though but when she ran she looked as though she was skipping.

Fisrt steps...

First steps…

Clara and her sisters

Clara and her sisters

She did however still enjoy being picked up out of the coop in the mornings and sat there with her wings outstretched almost as if to say ‘Pick me up Mum.’ And so she became my Cuddling Girl. A big, blonde, downy-feathered cuddling girl, Miss Clara loved to be sung to as well. We had a song, Clara and I, adapted slightly from My Favourite Things:

Raindrops on roses and feathers on chickens
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with string, Clara is one of my favourite things.
Chickens in white feathers with blue satin sashes
Doorbells and sleighbells and Clara with eyelashes
Clara that flies with the moon on her wings, Clara is one of my favourite things.

We used to walk around the garden, Clara nestling in my arms, the two of us singing and bwarking away respectively. She always recognised Her Song, even if I was singing it to myself, and she would come up and join in with her beautiful bwarks.

Beautiful feathers

Beautiful feathers

Uncle Jason was quite enchanted with her on her only ever visit to the vets. She was chirpy and cuddly and chatted away to him as he checked her over. It was all going so well until he looked in her mouth and she burped in his face. Such a lady!!

She was a very happy chicken, was Miss Clara. So she was the perfect candidate to come with top girl Bella Chicken and I to a display at Pets at Home advertising our Fresh Start for Hens rehoming. She loved the attention!! She was happily picked up and went around the store in my arms bwarking contentedly at shoppers. She was stroked by so many people, all of whom were delighted with her and many of whom had never touched a chicken before. She was the perfect advert for how wonderful hens are and because of her hard work, many more little hens were saved from slaughter and given loving new homes.

Mud bath girl!

Mud bath girl!

However, her moult in January totally transformed her relaxed happy character. Her re-emerging feathers caused her such pain she screamed if anyone came near her, she couldn’t even preen herself and she would not be picked up. No amount of Raindrop on Roses would calm her and she took to her bed for a fortnight and had her meals in the coop. Two weeks later as she came back out of the coop, she looked resplendent in her new white feathers, and sported a Light Sussex-esque collar of darker feathers. She was still not herself though, skittish and seemingly off-kilter. Something was most definitely wrong. We discovered that she was blind in one eye and had great trouble judging distances and locating small objects. Whether this was a slow degeneration or something triggered by the moult we had no idea.

Clara - One Year Henniversary Party Girl!

Clara – One Year Henniversary Party Girl!

We managed to adapt things to make her life easier: she had breakfast in bed (a throwback from her moult days) of egg and mash and was then lifted out of the coop and into the greenhouse where the food bowls were always in the same place. When she was in our arms we sang Her Song to comfort her and reassure her all was well – it must be frightening to be lifted up and not know where you are. The ramp and any edges/steps she had to negotiate were painted white so she could see them and she was fed out of our hands four times a day. She managed to get around the garden very well and we were hopeful we could manage her problem. We were very aware that we had come full circle with her care – again putting her in and out of the coop; our girl needed us once more.

Magnificent girl (slightly blurry sorry)

Magnificent girl (slightly blurry sorry)

At the same time Miss Bunty Goodchicken was ailing and Bunty and Clara, close friends for many months, stayed side-by-side providing support and company for each other.

However one night, without warning and after twenty-one months of freedom, darling Clara went to sleep with her sisters and never woke up. I do not know if I had missed something but I had found nothing wrong with her beautiful body except her blindness. She had come through the moult although it may have taken too much out of her. Or maybe it was the sad passing of her soulmate Bunty Goodchicken three days before. Maybe her life without Bunty was just going to be too hard. Our only comfort is that she went quickly in her sleep, without suffering and was cuddled up with her sisters.

It doesn’t make it any easier though. And I have tried to sing Raindrops on Roses to cheer myself up but it is not the same. I miss her bwarks, I miss her cuddles but most of all I miss my Clara. The garden is a much darker place without her beautiful blonde feathers brightening it up.

RIP darling Clara Chicken, find your beloved Bunty and fly high together my special girls.

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Forgive me it has been a while. The shorter days do not seem to give me enough time to do all the things I want to do. My girls always take priority – I have even been known to sneak home from work during the dark midwinter afternoons to put them to bed!!

So then, a brief update on all my beautiful girls and a wonderful new ex-batt health initiative.

G girls

Gina, Greta and Grace Kelly are settling in well. Little Gina, who almost died after the rehoming, is still a very weak girl but I can find no reason for it other than growing her feathers. She has been dosed up and spoilt with protein-rich foods and supplemented food and drink so I hope I have given her every chance to make a full recovery.

Gina

Greta’s swollen abdomen is responding well to her frusemide, which she has ground up on a piece of scrambled egg. She has grown all her feathers back except for her knickers, which in spite of looking pretty wanton makes it easy to monitor the state of her abdomen.

Grace Kelly is a changed girl from the terrified prolapsed hen we brought home. Her prolapse is cured and her feathers have grown back, along with her confidence. She is great friends with Greta and the two of them patrol the human’s garden (currently theirs), concocting new ways to get into the human's coop (currently not theirs) and devour the cat food (also not theirs.)

Big Girls

It has been moulting season for the big girls. Bella and Eliza have come through their moults with flying colours and are now resplendent in their new feathers complete with showgirl tail feathers!! Bunty Goodchicken has just started her moult and is looking a little bedraggled but still just as beautiful. There is a positive side to her moult though, she is no longer laying internally so has had her medicine reduced. Clara has got over a nasty cold thanks to tylan and is back to being my cuddling and singing girl. Do you know she knows the words to her song, Raindrops on Roses, and will sing along even if I am not cuddling her. My special girl Flavia is the only hen (out of 10) I have who is laying eggs and carries on with her eggy duties without a word of complaint, bless her.

Flavia

Operation Merge is slow going with the combination of moults and illness but this weekend as Gary and I spent time pootling in the garden, Grace and Greta had a wander into the Big Girls Garden with very little incident. A few weekends of gentle introductions and once Gina is back to full health will see Operation Merge go full steam ahead!!

Effie and Miss Basket

The naughtiest girls in Cornwall are doing just great!! Our nightly game of Benny Hill Chase, or Bedtime as I prefer to call it, sees me outwitted each time by a girl with a broken neck and a girl with only one good leg. As their Narnia Garden has been extended to include all four raised beds, Effie and Miss Basket are far too busy to bother with anything as mundane as going to bed. Miss Basket has stopped egg laying now, not that we notice – she ate them anyway!! And Effie is still struggling to complete a full set of tail feathers. On reflection, I think the fact they are still encased in their quills is due to the fact that her little neck will not allow her to reach them and preen them. A poignant reminder of how special my girl is.

Go to bed? Us? Catch us first mum!

And finally…

I had an email the other day from a vet who, knowing how special ex-batts are and how their early lives impact on their free range lives, is compiling as much information and data as possible in order to provide more help for these very special girls. If you can, please visit his facebook page and add your information to help him help our girls.

Thank you xx

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Some days are special days! Today is one such day. A Henniversary, a birthday, two new babies and a competition winner!

Henniversary

Firstly Misses Clara and CocoChanel chickens are celebrating their one year Henniversary. When these two beautiful blonde angels came to live with me, along with their beautiful sister Miss Constance Chicken, they had spent two years in a cage. None of them could walk or even stand up. A few weeks of gentle care, of lifting them in and out of the coop each day, of arnica rubs and of soft grass to test out those tender legs resulted in these three beautiful girls finally finding their feet, literally. Only Clara, the most severe case, has the remains of a limp, and only then when she runs. But she looks like she is skipping!

Gorgeous Henniversary Girl Clara enjoying her celebration corn on the cob

Clara has always been my cuddling girl. Named after Clara, the crippled girl in Heidi, she loves nothing more than a cuddle and a song. We sing:

Raindrops on roses and feathers on chickens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens.
Brown paper packages tied up with string, Clara is one of my favourite things.
Chickens in white feathers with blue satin sashes, snowflakes that fall on my nose and eyelashes.
Chickens that fly with the moon on their wings, Clara is one of my favourite things.

She endured a severe moult in January, potentially so serious for ex-batts with their already weakened bodies. But she got through it and is now resplendent in her glorious white plumage!

Miss CocoChanel Chicken was named because of her feathery markings – a ring of brown specks around her neck resembling pearls – glamorous just like her namesake! When her little legs had recovered she suddenly decided that escaping was the order of the day. She spent many days in the hedge separating our garden from our neighbours and I consequently spent many days climbing into the bramble-infested hedge calling her name and trying to retrieve her. It was at this point I briefly regretted her exotic name. Recently Coco has been battling a mystery illness and two weeks ago I doubted she would make this special day. But my darling Coco is a fighter and has been out there this evening pecking her celebratory corn on the cob with the other girls!

Darling CocoChanel tucking into her Henniversary corn on the cob

But amidst our celebrations we are remembering their sister Miss Constance Chicken who passed away in May, watching her sisters from the Rainbow Bridge xxx

Birthday Boy

Pumpkin kittin is two years old today!! Our big ball of fluff came to us in 2010 with his sister, Nutmeg. Both were semi-feral and terrified of humans. It took us weeks to gain their trust and even longer before we were allowed to stroke them. Last year, Nutmeg reverted to her roots and took up with the gang of feral cats on the farm. Floozie. Despite numerous attempts to lure her home, she lives quite happily on the farm. Cats after all choose their owners, she knows where we are if she needs us. Pumpkin, despite being broken hearted at first, decided the comforts of the sofa were too irresistible and has become quite the lap cat!! Happy 2nd birthday darling boy xx

Kittin in a basket!!

Kittins!

I go to a party, there are kittins there who need homes. What are the chances of me coming away without a kittin? Nil.
So…welcome to the family beautiful Maisie and Max kittins. Just the cutest, cuddliest pair of kittins I have ever seen. Currently trashing my furniture, stinking out my lounge and terrorising my big cats. But more importantly stealing our hearts. Thank goodness I have much of the summer off so I can enjoy them!

Max and Maisie our newest family members!!

Competition Winner!

Today was the big draw to win the beautiful Hedgecomber print of Ada and her Atkins diet! And I am pleased to announce the winner is….drum roll….

Amanda Heaney!

Congratulations Amanda, I will be contacting you soon for your address. Well done it is a beautiful print.

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