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Little Larkspur Chicken arrived to live with us on 16th August, one of three very poorlie girls from a traumatic rescue. She was one of the lucky ones, she survived long enough to be rescued, and along with her new sisters, Lavender and Lupin, came down to Rosewarne for some special care.

She was named after my wonderful friend, Liz’s dearly departed ex-batt and I hoped that Liz and her lovely husband Mike could enjoy seeing their girl’s name live on in my Larkspur.

Initially, Larkpsur seemed the most healthy of the three girls. The only one with feathers, she set about beak cleaning her two new featherless sisters and seemed quite content with her new life, if a little quiet. She was a gentle soul, she had suffered a great deal in the cages and her new life would take a little getting used to.

Larkspur on rehoming day

Larkspur on rehoming day

However, as the two baldies started to develop and blossom, it became clear that Larkspur was not blooming with them. She was still quiet, but hunched and not eating very much. An initial veterinary examination found nothing untoward and Larkspur was given the usual baytril to help kill any potential lurking infection. She was malnourished and, I believe, traumatised from her experiences and I desperately wanted to give her something to fight for; to help her see the wonderful free life that awaited her.

She responded well at first and within a week had become the happy little chicken I hoped she would be. She ate plenty, went to bed with a full crop and a mashy beak and tucked up in the nestbox with her new best friend Lavender, whilst self-appointed top hen, Lupin, guarded the door. She took a dustbath and paced the fence impatiently in the hope of treats whenever I went into the garden. Things were going so well, that I dared to hope we had beaten whatever it was that had ailed her.

However, a few days later I noticed she had become quiet again, she was listless and not eating. So back on the meds we went in the hope that any infection just needed an extra thwack to completely knock it out. And it did, she was soon back to Healthy Larkspur, doing everything a free chicken should be doing.

When she was feeling well, Larkspur loved her mash!

When she was feeling well, Larkspur loved her mash!

To supplement her medicine, she had a range of vitamins, health foods, digestive aids and treats in a bid to give her body the boost it obviously needed. She was however, starting to slide back down into ill health again and no matter what I tried she would not respond.

Looking back there were clear signs and in my heart I knew we were not dealing with a mere infection. The medicine was just masking something very sinister lurking in her poor tired little body. I told myself when we went to visit the vet on that last day that it was just a check-up. She had been dozing in the sun all day (the Cornish weather had, for once, been mercifully kind to these girls) and she put up no resistance as I put her into the carrier.

Gina, our lovely vet, found a large tumour in Larkspur’s abdomen and the yellow colour I had told myself was because she had been eating corn, was in fact sky high bilirubin levels, indicating her liver was failing. Looking at her though Gina’s eyes, I suddenly saw how very sick she was, I had been too close, too intent on small details and not seeing the bigger picture. Her body was shutting down and her organs were failing. Sadly, there was only one option and as we awaited Gina and the medicine, Larkspur snuggled into my arms, quite content as I stroked her feathers gently. I believe she knew – she had tried so hard, I had tried so hard, but her scars from her caged life were just too deep. We could not win this battle, no matter how desperately we wanted to. Her passing was peaceful, she stayed where she was in my arms and just drifted off to sleep. The very least I could give her was a dignified death.

Little Larkspur, looking gorgeous and fighting hard

Little Larkspur, looking gorgeous and fighting hard

She was cremated with pink flowers under her wings and we watched as her spirit soared heavenwards, finally free of pain, she could now fly high with her Rosewarne sisters – I could feel Bella and Bunty Goodchicken waiting to greet her. Because she was the sweetest, gentlest of souls she has been awarded the posthumous title of Goodchicken – awarded to only the very best of girls.

Larkspur Goodchicken did not deserve to die so soon. She was a victim of a cruel system, her caged life was one of suffering, her body abused … and all for what? She had done nothing wrong, she did not deserve the life she had or the fate that awaited her. Every hen deserves to be free – free of pain and suffering, free to do just as she wishes and free from the abuses some humans inflict on them. Nothing I could do could save her from that, and I tried so hard to save this sweet, sweet girl. And Larkspur had wanted to live so much, she fought with her big, brave heart but in the end her broken little body could fight no more. I could not give her the long free range retirement that she should have been able to enjoy.

But what I could give her was six weeks of freedom; she knew love (such love), she knew sunshine and friendship, she scratched the grass and she bathed in the dust, she foraged for worms and she pecked at corn. It is nowhere near enough, six weeks of freedom in return for two years of suffering, but I hope she knows how hard I tried for her.
Godspeed little Larkspur Goodchicken – forever in our hearts, darling girl. RIP angel, fly high little hen xxxx

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It has been four weeks since Misses Larkspur, Lupin and Lavender came to live with us. And I am pleased to report that all three are blossoming!

Lupin, (Loops to her friends) is top hen and in charge of her little flock. At first she tried to round up Gary and I at bedtime to put us safely to bed in the coop, before forgetting what she was doing and falling asleep in the run! Now, however, she has her top hen duties all sewn up and gets her girls into bed every evening before tucking herself up just inside the door, guarding her friends. She is a real sweetie, always first to the food she also helps me poo pick, usually by standing on my feet or on the poop scoop and has been very busy growing her beautiful new feathers. Obviously highly intelligent, she was the first to work out the dustbath, although she actually had her bath next to the dustbath in the wood shavings, but let’s not be too picky!

Top Hen Lupin, looking gorgeous with her new feathers

Top Hen Lupin, looking gorgeous with her new feathers

Little Lavender is a beautiful girl with a beautiful heart. She has befriended little Larkspur and takes the greatest care of her. It never fails to amaze me, that in spite of all they have endured at the hands of humans, ex-batts are so trusting and friendly. Little Lavender especially so. She comes running to me each time I am in the run and loves to eat out of my hand. She will nestle at my feet and follows me around. Her feathers are growing so well, she is going to be a stunner!

Little kind-hearted Lavender, feathers growing

Little kind-hearted Lavender, feathers growing

Larkspur, the most feathered of the girls, has had a long hard battle to get where she is today. A visit to the vets found nothing nasty lurking, she was just emaciated and traumatised. We have tried everything we can for her, anti-biotics just in case and numerous mineral supplements to give her a boost. She has finally discovered a love of food, especially corn, and at the moment anything that she is happy to eat is fine by me! She discovered the dustbath yesterday and had a gloriously long bath and today she was shouting at me impatiently for her treats. She was also chirruping when she found a tasty worm. These are all small but important steps in her rehabilitation and whilst I am watching her very closely, I am cautiously optimistic our girl will pull through.

Little Larkspur, looking gorgeous

Little Larkspur, looking gorgeous

Every day, I am still grateful that our three L girls are enjoying their free range life. With poorlies, it is often touch and go for a long time after rehoming, but they are fighting hard and I am fighting for them.

Little angels, may their free range lives be long and happy.

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On Saturday, three very special but very poorlie girls came to live with us. Many poorlies taken from a very traumatic and upsetting rehoming* had been nursed by their rescuer and three of these girls, those that were thought strong enough to make the journey to us, arrived in the afternoon and were whisked into the comfort of their new home.

Larkspur (named after my lovely friend Liz’s dear departed girl) was the most feathered hen and set about cleaning the beaks of the other two.

Lovely Larkspur

Lovely Larkspur

Lavender was almost featherless and possibly the smallest hen I have ever seen.

Little Lavender

Little Lavender

Lupin had about four more feathers than Lavender and started to eat as soon as she saw food! She has continued to eat, her crop bulging each evening before she goes to bed.

Lovely Lupin

Lovely Lupin

I had forgotten the state of the ex-caged hens and these three really were in a desperate condition. Starved before the rescue as they were due for slaughter, each one was emaciated, traumatised and suffering physically and mentally from their abuse.

Watching as they ate and ate and then stood sleeping, overcome by their situation, was heartbreaking. Seeing them tentatively test the strange, soft grass beneath their feet and gaze in wonder at the blue sky was amazing but watching as they stretched out in the sunshine for the first time reduced me to tears. As did Lavender’s egg…how could a girl so tiny possibly produce an egg? The abuse forced on these pitiful scraps all in the name of cheap food is unforgiveable. I asked her to stop laying and rest her body, but in the meantime fed the egg back to them.

48 hours on and both Lavender and Lupin are eating well, have become more vocal and active, and are generally improving greatly. It is amazing what food, fresh air and a comfy bed can do for a girl!

However, it is Larkspur that is causing me the most concern. She is not eating and spends most of her time hunched over and dozing. We have syringed food into her – a ‘tasty’ concoction of egg, live yoghurt, honey, mash and spinach – and encouraged her to eat some of Lavender’s egg. She has had a bath and despite being a tiny bit fluidy in the abdomen area, has nothing else that is obviously wrong with her. I do not know if she is depressed, has cage fatigue or has something more sinister underlying. When I have exhausted my knowledge I will take her to the vets but I do not want to stress her out unduly unless I have to. But I am worried and I wish her godspeed each evening, just in case. If I was religious I would pray for her to pull through, but I am not, so I am hoping her desire to live is greater than anything else and that two days in the sunshine are enough to make her realise her life is worth living and that she is now loved and safe. Fight hard little girl xxxx

Larkspur and Lavender feeling the sun on their feathers for the first time

Larkspur and Lavender feeling the sun on their feathers for the first time

And my thoughts on the farmer that caused this suffering (contains strong language):

*The farmer had starved the hens as they were going to slaughter – disgustingly, something not that uncommon – and the hens that died were left in the cages with the live hens. So my dear friend took as many poorlies as she could out of the cages. Of the hens she did manage to save, some were so emaciated they had to be put to sleep, some were so ill with egg peritonitis and other diseases they had suffered with in the cages (undetected and untreated) they also had to be put to sleep, some had lost their will to live and gave up, and a few, just a small percentage of those poorlies saved from that hellhole, have made it so far. All this despite as much care, love and medical assistance as it is possible to give.
In no society, for any reason and most certainly not in the name of farming, is this abhorrent abuse acceptable. Hens are sentient creatures that have a wide range of emotions – including love, pain and fear. I am angry, I am so bloody angry that some human…many humans…think they can abuse animals in this way, make money from it and think they are above the law. Well, they aren’t. Some farmers may think they are untouchable, that the NFU’s hold over Defra and this sorry excuse for a government means they are exempt from any sort of retribution but there are other laws – laws of karma and of the universe and somehow, somewhere these bastards will get their comeuppance. This abuse will stop and I for one will not rest until it does.

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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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Today has been a day of celebration, presents, party and cake! Misses Effie, Eliza and Flora-Jayne chickens all celebrated two years as free range girls!

My E girls arrived in the last big rehoming of barren caged hens. In December 2011, farmers throughout the UK were clearing out their barren cages to comply with the Jan 2012 cage ban. I brought home four poorlies who spent Christmas in the ICU (coalhole). Little Evie enjoyed a few months as a free girl until her beautiful heart finally gave out and our beloved Miss Basket passed away this summer, after eighteen months free ranging with her soulmate, Effie.

Effie

Effie

Eliza weighed almost nothing and her legs were so weak she could not stand up. However, a few days of rest and good food and she was up and about and causing enough mayhem to be allowed to go outside in the hospital coop with Evie. Food became a very Big Thing for Eliza and even now she can be very protective of her food. Understandably, considering she must have been starving in those cages. Very soon into her freedom, she discovered greens and her favourite pastime in the world is to munch on some tasty greens. When she finds other tasty morsels in her daily forages, she makes such a fuss chirping about them that by the time she has finished, someone, usually Flavia, has stolen the morsel from under her beak! She settled in with the Big Girls very quickly and swiftly rose to the rank of Bella’s lady-in-waiting. When we sadly lost Bella, I was a little concerned about Eliza’s ability to be Top Hen but she has risen to the challenge admirably and is now a very good Top Girl. After two years free, she has finally started to lay (?!) and can be found chirruping away contentedly in the bush by the pond (her secret laying place) laying her morning egg.

Eliza enjoys some post cake cauliflower!

Eliza enjoys some post cake cauliflower!

Flora-Jayne came to live with us only a few weeks ago. She was the last remaining ex-batt of a little flock and needed company. Amazingly, she came from the same rehoming as Effie and Eliza, and it was immediately obvious that she and Eliza remembered each other. Consequently her integration has been very easy! She still sleeps in her own coop (with Effie’s Malcolm) as Gracie Thug is still a bit territorial. However during the day, she free ranges with her new sisters. She is also a very clever girl and got the measure of me very quickly. Every morning I open her coop before the Big Girls’ and she runs after me to the greenhouse where she has a treat of mealworms in peace!

Flora-Jayne enjoys her cake

Flora-Jayne enjoys her cake

And then there is my darling Effie; the little hen with the broken body and the broken spirit who slowly learnt what it was to love and to be loved. As she slowly discovered her new free range life she found a friend, she found a family, she found she had a big brave heart and she found she could lead the life a little hen deserves to live. She has changed my life. Sometimes you connect with a creature, be they human or chicken, as though you were destined to be together. Effie and I are such a pair. She is my special girl and I am her special human. We understand each other, support each other and love each other. When her beloved Miss Basket died, I knew exactly how to mend Effie’s broken heart. And now she runs around her garden with her three bantam babies, who adore their Big Sister Effie, she tucks herself protectively over them at night, she watches over them by day and she shares her treats with them. Effie is a happy girl once more. On the night she arrived to live with me, I did not expect her to last the night, and now, two years later, I still cherish every day with her. She is the most precious of souls, she has changed lives, she has showed the world the traumas hens suffer in cages and she is the most perfect ambassador for her commercial sisters. I do not have the words to describe how much I love this beautiful girl.

Effie enjoys her cake

Effie enjoys her cake

Today started with a special breakfast for the special girls; each girl having their favourite treat with their mash – Effie had an egg, Eliza had cauliflower leaves and Flora-Jayne had mealworms. At lunchtime (the humans sneaked home from work for an hour) everybody had mealworm cakes with live yoghurt and sweetcorn topping, posed for photographs and we all sung a rousing chorus of “Happy Henniversary to you…” As befits her superstar status, Effie also had post from her admirers. She had a parcel from her lovely friend Megan which contained mealworms and treats and a card from her good friend Liz which also contained an award; the Effie Cross, awarded ‘for pluck.’ It is given for outstanding bravery and valour. Effie is its inaugural recipient and will wear it with pride.

Effie reads her card from Liz and learns she has been awarded the Effie Cross

Effie reads her card from Liz and learns she has been awarded the Effie Cross

As we are approaching the shortest day, an early night was in order and after the excitement of the day, nobody complained. Flora-Jayne tucked up with Malcolm, Liza is perched over her girls inside Henderlay and Effie is tucked up over her precious bantam babies.

Sweet dreams special girls xxxx

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Friday 13th proved to be a very lucky day for some commercial hens who would otherwise have been destined for slaughter. The lovely people of Cornwall (and Devon too!) decided that saving a life (or three) this Christmas was the best way to celebrate the sentiments of the season and had offered homes to these little hens.

A wet and windy Cornish Friday night saw 267 little girls whisked from the farm to the warmth and comfort of the stables at Rosewarne.

The next day, bright and early, the first rehomers arrived and by lunchtime all the girls had been waved off to their new homes, the stables were cleaned and we were collapsing with a well-earned cuppa and piece of cake!

Chicken catcher supreme Carole chooses her three...sorry...four new girls!

Chicken catcher supreme Carole chooses her three…sorry…four new girls!

We have a wonderful team – Gary, Paula and Tim without whom none of this would happen, John who helps us in the farm and Carole, Dave, Marie, Angie and Pete who were wonderful chicken catchers all morning. The staff at Rosewarne help enormously with the day – it is almost exactly two years since we first rehomed from there (I know that because a certain special little lady will be celebrating her two year Henniversary this week) and we have rehomed over 1,000 hens. That is over 1,000 lives saved – and whilst 1,000 is a very small drop in a very large ocean – it is a start and I feel we are doing something, albeit a tiny something, to help some of these beautiful creatures.

I deliberated long and hard about whether to add this following bit but decided that I owed it to the hens:

But the rehoming was not all good news.

For the first time ever, we lost hens during the rehoming. One girl, died in the crates before she even got to the stables and three more died overnight. We think a fox scratching about outside the stable made the girls panic and these three died in the ensuing ruckus – when we arrived the girls were all in a very agitated state.

We are devastated by the losses. To lose girls before they even experience the freedom we worked so hard to achieve for them, is totally heartbreaking. I cannot describe the sense of failure I personally feel by their deaths. I was organising the rehoming, I was responsible for getting the girls safely from farm to stable to rehomers and I failed to do that. Somewhere along the way I did something wrong and these four innocent souls paid the price. Those girls will never be free girls and they will never know human kindness and it is weighing very heavily on my heart and on my conscience.

They were cremated just as our own girls are, and their ashes will be buried alongside their new sisters. They were given names – Freedom, Liberty, Care and Compassion – and poignantly the flower tucked under each of their wings was a rose called Compassion. Giving them dignity in death was the one thing we could do for them. In the words of the lovely Liz, they were finally given the recognition of their individuality that they deserved.

These girls need remembering so that they have not died in vain. If you can, please light candles for them tonight as their precious souls fly skyward, free forever.

RIP four little angels…from the very bottom of my heart, I am so sorry xxxx

Dedicated with love to special hens  Freedom, Liberty, Care and Compassion. May your spirits fly free always xxxx

Dedicated with love to special hens Freedom, Liberty, Care and Compassion. May your spirits fly free always xxxx

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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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