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Archive for the ‘Health and Ailments’ Category

The loss of our darling, glamour girl Flavia has been a particularly difficult one for us; it was very sudden and very shocking and we are still struggling to come to terms with it.

The 16th March 2012 was a Friday and at about 5.30pm we received a phone call from our vets, a hen had been abandoned there. She had been attacked by the family dog, had been patched up by the vets, but as she had been given baytril, her owners to longer wanted her as they could not sell her eggs (due to the baytril withdrawal period).Would we have her?

Stupid question, when have we ever said no to a hen??

En route to the vets, I was thinking of F names for her and going along the old fashioned ladies names route, had chosen Freda. On seeing her, cradled in the nurse’s arms, I knew a Freda she was not. She was a Black Rock, exotic and glamorous, with a collar of shiny golden feathers. On the way home I asked her what she would like to be called and Flavia was the name that sprang to mind. I am a fan of Strictly and Flavia was one of my favourite dancers…petite and glamorous…no other name would do.

As an emergency new girl, Flavia’s initial home with us was a cat basket in the greenhouse; safe but not particularly homely. She spent her first few days exploring the human’s garden (in the days before a certain Miss Effie Chicken occupied it) getting used to her new life. We thought we would integrate her slowly but Flav had other ideas. One morning, about five days into her life with us, Gary accidentally left the gate between the two gardens open and Flavia just sauntered through, cool as you like. And that was that.

Gorgeous Girl Flavia

Gorgeous Girl Flavia

Flavia was our first non-exbatt, and my girls, all shades of auburn and ginger, could not quite understand what she was. I think they thought she was a large blackbird and consequently they ignored her. There was none of the handbags at dawn silliness we usually get with integrations, Flav was content to be bottom hen and the others just let her be.

Except Eliza…

Newly integrated to the main flock, Eliza was bottom hen and she was keen to let this new usurper know that she, Eliza, would not be bottom hen any more. Luckily, Flavia was not a fighter and was not interested in Eliza’s domination strategies, and happily settled into bottom hen mode. Strangely though, the two hens quickly became firm friends and Eliza would often chirrup that she had found a tasty treat for Flavia. They spent many happy hours together as a twosome, foraging the garden for bugs and worms.

Despite their dreadful past life, I have found that exbatts tend to be inquisitive, trusting and friendly towards humans and are almost always happy to be cuddled. Flavia though, maybe because of her breed or because of her sad history, was not fond of human contact. She got terribly distressed if we tried to pick her up, so we had as little hands on contact with her as we could. Much as my arms ached to cuddle this gorgeous girl, we respected her wishes to be left alone.

When new girl Hettie arrived, also a non-exbatt, Flavia showed great kindness and compassion in welcoming a fellow outsider to the flock. A kind girl as well as a beautiful one, she showed that her beauty was more than skin deep. At night times the two girls snuggled up together in the big nest box in Henderlay, with Eliza perching protectively above them. A happy little threesome, they formed a secure sub-flock of the main Big Girls flock.

With Hettie being part Light Sussex and therefore prone to broodiness, she spent much of June and July this year in the nestbox, and the trio became a duo for much of the summer. So with the sad passing of top hen Eliza in late June, Flavia felt her loss very badly. She became a little off colour and out of sorts but regular (and upsetting for her) checks proved nothing to be amiss; other than what would seem to be a broken heart.

Best Friends Flavia and Eliza

Best Friends Flavia and Eliza

However, on 18th July, Miss Flavia Chicken passed away very suddenly. Her death was traumatic for us all, but I believe a girl as private as Flavia deserves dignity and so I will not go into details. Her death broke my heart and my spirit and will haunt me forever. Suffice to say though that she went to sleep peacefully in my arms and that is maybe all we can hope for.

She was cremated with sweet peas under her wing and her ashes were buried with sweetpeas, a beautiful flower for a beautiful girl.

RIP darling Flavia, our glamour girl forever dancing at the Rainbow Bridge xx

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It was the saddest day on Monday, when after more than two and a half years a free girl, Miss Eliza Chicken went to sleep in my arms. A brave girl to the end, she had been valiantly fighting crop stasis for a few weeks but eventually it proved too much for her tired body.

Darling Eliza, or Miss Eliza Elizabeth* Chicken to give her her full name, came to live with us as a poorlie girl from the last rescue out of barren cages before the January 2012 cage ban. Weighing almost nothing she was also unable to walk, so she was tucked up in the ICU (coal hole) with Evie, Miss Basket and a certain Effie Chicken. A few days of tlc, leg massages and as much food as her little tummy wanted saw a magical transformation in Eliza, so much so that a few days after Christmas, she was living outside in the hospital coop with Evie.

New friends Eliza (head in flowerpot) and Evie explore their new world

New friends Eliza (head in flowerpot) and Evie explore their new world

Eliza and Evie quickly became good friends and spent many happy hours exploring their half of the garden; discovering grass, sunshine, bugs and dustbaths – all those things every hen should enjoy. However, Evie had been a very unwell girl and her days as a free girl were numbered and two months later, after Evie’s untimely death, Eliza was moved into the Big Girls’ garden so she could be integrated as soon as possible.

It was at this point that Eliza discovered greens. For obvious reasons, Liza loved food, but most of all she loved greens. Still in her own coop at night, Eliza loved nothing more than to devour some greens away from the attentions of the other hens, chirruping madly, merrily munching her way through her suppertime treats.

Eliza (foreground) in happily integrated with the Big Girls

Eliza (foreground) is happily integrated with the Big Girls

Once integrated, Eliza was briefly bottom hen until Flavia arrived and Eliza was very quick to let Flavia know that she was no longer bottom hen! However, the two girls quickly became close friends, a friendship that lasted for the rest of Eliza’s life. Whenever Eliza found a tasty treat, she spent so long chirruping to Flavia about it that by the time she had finished chirruping, Flav had come over and stolen the treat from straight under Liza’s beak!

Best Friends Eliza and Flavia

Best Friends Eliza and Flavia

Within a year, and after the sad loss of some of her sisters and with the arrival of the G girls and Hettie, Eliza had risen through the ranks to become Bella’s lady-in-waiting and performed her tasks admirably, unless of course, there was food involved and then Eliza did not like to share!

With the sad passing of Top Hen Bella Chicken, Eliza suddenly found herself as top hen. Initially she struggled with her new role and forgot about making sure everyone was in bed at night or intervening in any squabbles. At best, she was a bit laissez faire, at worst a bit rubbish! But then Eliza found her true strength in her role as Top Hen; Gracie Lou was taken very ill suddenly one evening and sadly died in the night. Eliza sat with her until the coop was opened and even then she was pulling at Gracie’s feathers to try to wake her up. It was enough to make a grown man (Gary) cry. She took the loss of one of her girls very badly and was in mourning for days but eventually came out of it and took to her Top Hen tasks with renewed aplomb. Poignantly this tale features in the edition of Your Chickens magazine that is due out any day.

My favourite memory of Eliza was last summer when, until recently, she had been a reliable layer. Suddenly the eggs stopped and as Eliza showed no signs of any ailments, I put it down to her having far too much fun in the Cornish sun to bother with something as mundane as egg laying. Then one morning, she hurtled out of the coop, a hen on a very important mission. Minutes later I was surprised to see the bush by the wildlife pond wobbling and making strange noises. On investigation, I found Eliza happily laying an egg in a beautifully made nest that was holding a clutch of about ten eggs! She had obviously discovered that laying eggs al fresco was much more fun than in a stuffy old nest box! But she was so happy, doing just what a hen should be doing and it is a memory I will hold of her forever.

Eliza loved her food, especially her 2 Year Henniversary cakes!

Eliza loved her food, especially her 2 Year Henniversary cakes!

A few weeks ago, Eliza started to lose weight and become generally listless. We discovered it was a crop issue but after treating her for sour crop, her crop was still not emptying. We worked with Uncle Jason to treat crop stasis and tried everything in our power to make her well again. She had live yoghurt and garlic, yummy light treats to tempt her, honey in her water to boost her sugar levels and a whole host of meds. Jason and I agreed that there was probably something underlying that was causing the problem but by this time she was possibly too weak to undergo treatment. One afternoon, she took a turn for the worse and I booked an appointment at the vets for the next day for her to be pts. We put her to bed and she settled in the coop door watching the sun set. We thought it would be her last, but Eliza had other ideas and the next morning she had rallied again. All the time she was fighting we knew we had to fight for her. So we saw Jason again and increased the meds.

However, I could not ignore the fact she was getting lighter and lighter. Food was so important to her, for a hen deprived of food during her life in the farm, she had been so very happy to fill her crop every day that she was a free girl. She had come to me a starving hen and I could not let her leave me a starving hen. The next time she took a turn for the worse, I decided that she could suffer no longer. It is the hardest decision we have to make but I must believe I did the right thing and could not bear to watch her waste away. It is an act of love and the final act of kindness I could give her. It didn’t make it any easier though. She went to sleep in my arms being told she was a good girl and that she was loved and very, very special.

Miss Eliza Chicken, sweet dreams darling xx

Miss Eliza Chicken, sweet dreams darling xx

She was cremated with a sweetpea under her wing and an arum lily (from the plant neighbouring the infamous quivering egg bush) placed on top of her flowery shroud . Her ashes were laid to rest with those of her sisters and scattered with more sweetpeas.

Fly high darling Eliza Elizabeth, top hen and special girl. May you enjoy filling your crop every day at the Rainbow Bridge. Rip darling girl xx

* Elizabeth is a very special name for me. It was my beloved grandmother’s name, a gracious, witty and wonderfully irreverent lady, and consequently my darling daughter’s middle name. I also have a very beautiful and special friend called Liz. A fitting name for my special hen.

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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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Grace Kelly Chicken came to live with us as a poorlie hen from the rehoming, she had a prolapse and needed some special love and attention. This scrawny little chicken with featherless patches seemed to love the bath she was given and afterwards happily dozed in my arms, wrapped up in a towel. Poor little scrap, this was the first act of kindness she had ever received. Gracie’s coop mates were the very ill Gina and the swollen-tummied Greta Garbo and a happy little flock of poorlie girls they made. Gracie was always the big character of the three; the cleverest, the naughtiest and by far the loudest! But it was Gracie’s cries that woke us up early one morning to let us know Gina was dying, and enabled us to hold her as she passed away.

As her feathers started to emerge, Gracie lived up to her namesake and became a stunningly beautiful girl – her feathers a rich auburn with a single black tail feather nestled amongst the others, a quirky nod to her ancestry! Gracie and Greta integrated with the main flock relatively easily, and settled in as bottom hens, although Gracie had other plans! The next day she flew back into her old garden to cause mayhem and had a subsequent wing clip! However, this did not stop her discovering she could fly onto the table where all the seeds and worms were kept and merrily munch her way through as many as she could. But Gracie, who by now was nicknamed Gracie Lou, also found she could kick the pots of goodies off the table and onto the greenhouse floor, enabling her sisters to enjoy her ill-gotten gains! Gracie was always a generous girl!!

Soon after rehoming, Gracie inspects her new knickers!

Soon after rehoming, Gracie inspects her new knickers!

With the arrival of Hettie and Flora-Jayne, Gracie was very keen to establish the fact she was no longer bottom hen. A little too keen at times and spent some of the merging free ranging time in the Naughty Coop thinking about her actions. Things soon settled down, although Gracie was always first into the coop at night to get the best place in the nestbox and nothing, but nothing, would make her budge, so there was often a four headed mass of feathers piled into one nestbox and three nestboxes left empty!!

But Gracie’s favourite thing in the whole world was a bath. Her prolapse had left her with a slightly messy bottom at times so baths were a regular occurrence, much to Gracie’s delight. Naturally she hated being caught as she was convinced we were trying to kill her, but once scooped up into our arms, she thoroughly enjoyed the attention. She liked me to sing to her, Mika’s Grace Kelly of course, and chirruped along as I attended to her messy feathers. Afterwards she stood on the draining board and fanned out her rear end awaiting the warm wafty delights of the hairdryer, dozing contentedly as I dried her feathers. Given the chance she would have stood like that for hours; she even posed for a photoshoot for Your Chickens in her bath!

Gracie having her beloved bath and blow dry

Gracie having her beloved bath and blow dry

During the early spring, Gracie started to have the odd ‘quiet’ day. She rallied within hours each time and we could find nothing obviously wrong. She was eating well and was as loud and mischievous as always. On her last day, she bundled out of the coop first thing in the morning and spent the day happily eating corn, chasing magpies and digging for bugs. At bedtime though, I found her under the bush, unable to walk. Something was obviously very wrong and she had The Look, so we dosed her up and tucked her into the nestbox in her favourite spot with her sisters.

Beautiful Grace Kelly Chicken

Beautiful Grace Kelly Chicken

Gracie went to sleep that evening and did not wake up. In the morning, the other girls were all tucked around her and top hen Liza would not leave her sister, even pulling at her feathers to try and wake her up. Gracie was a feisty and dignified girl and she was allowed a peaceful, dignified death, safe in the loving wings of her sisters. I still do not know what it was, I suspect a tumour, but it was mercifully quick and Gracie did not suffer. It is little comfort for us humans though, or for her sisters, who were very shocked at her sudden death and struggled to understand it. Liza especially took Gracie’s death very badly, it was her first loss as a top hen, and the night after Gracie had died, Liza was still looking for her to put her to bed.

Grace Kelly was cremated that evening, a beautiful scented narcissi tucked under her wing so she smelt lovely as she headed to the Rainbow Bridge, where Bella would be waiting for her. After we buried her ashes, we sprinkled forget-me-nots on her grave – the blue similar to one of the human Grace Kelly’s dresses in To Catch a Thief. I think Gracie would have liked that.

RIP darling, beautiful Grace Kelly. Fly high little hen xxxx

Miss Grace Kelly Chicken sunbathes

Miss Grace Kelly Chicken sunbathes

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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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“Oh the north wind does blow, and we shall have…feathers.”

Just as Miss Effie Chicken – ex-batt, big sister extraordinaire and international chicken celebrity – was settling down to the quiet life with her bantam babies, Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, decided that the wettest, windiest winter ever to blow through Cornwall was the perfect time for Effie to moult.

Effie had been sporting this season’s latest look of sparse neck feathers and a bare crop for a few weeks but one day, a particularly strong gust of wind resulted in a flurry of feathers flying off our precious girl and every subsequent gust blew away a handful more. A few days later and little Effie was looking rather bedraggled and semi-naked.

Well, what’s a girl to do?! It is no way for a superstar diva to look at all!

Cornwall’s most precious chicken deserves only the very best treatment, so all the stops have been pulled out to bring Effie through her moult – she has been having sardines every other day to increase her protein levels and help her grow her new feathers, she has been having Total Moult solution in her water, she has spent the wettest and windiest days inside the human’s coop, warming herself by the fire and she has had extra soft bedding in her coop at night, with a blanket tucked over the roof to stop the wind ruffling those oh so beautiful feathers! And, of course, she has been having extra loves and gentle strokes!!

And sure enough, her new quills have emerged and her gorgeous new feathers are at the delicate paintbrush stage. Like the brave girl that she is, she has barely complained and, in fact, has remained very happy and upbeat throughout the whole ordeal. Her bantam babies have given her a new lease of life and filled her little heart with so much happiness that nothing as mundane as a moult will prevent her from enjoying every single day with them.

In all seriousness, at over two years free and with the truly horrible weather we are currently enduring, I am well aware of the dangers a moult could inflict on Effie’s beautiful little body. I promised Effie I will bring her safely through her moult and I will make the same promise to all the kind hearted people who have been following her story over these past two years and who love her almost as much as we do.

Effie is surrounded by love, and the strength of that love, combined with the best care we can possibly give her, will ensure that by the spring, Miss Effie Chicken, that most beloved of girls, will be basking in the spring sunshine, feeling its warmth on her resplendent new feathers.

Effie in the springtime!

Effie in the springtime!

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Sunday saw much celebration in the garden of the Rosewarne ex-batts. Greta Garbo and Grace Kelly, two gorgeous girls from our first ever rescue as Cornwall Fresh Start for Hens, celebrated one year as free girls!!

From that rescue I took home the three poorlie girls. Gracie with a prolapse, Greta with a very swollen and red abdomen and the very ill little Gina.

Gracie had the first of many baths – she loves them and especially the post-bath blow dry – to help clean up her prolapse and after a few days of treatment, the prolapse disappeared never to be seen again. Gracie has turned out to be the naughtiest, most vocal little hen I have ever met!! Who was first to fly up onto the bench with all the treats on? Gracie. Who discovered she could knock them over so her sisters could have them? Gracie. Who managed to fly over the fence into Effie’s garden and attack my precious baby? Gracie. Who is still to extend the wing of friendship to Hettie and kicks her out of the nest box every night? Gracie. But who sings beautiful songs to her mum every morning? Gracie. Who chirrups throughout her baths and blow dries? Gracie. And whose distressed alarm call alerted us to the dying Gina? Little Gracie. Grace Kelly is a character and true to her namesake, a really gorgeous and glamorous diva.

Miss Grace Kelly Chicken

Miss Grace Kelly Chicken

Greta’s swollen bottom was originally thought to be Egg Peritonitis but after Uncle Jason the vet had examined her, it was deemed to be a mass of scar tissue from a previous infection. Much better news! Her big beautiful bottom has spent a year being red and featherless and only now, after a year of freedom, have the first feathery tufts begun to appear around the edges. Greta has never laid an egg, and nor would I want her to, but she does love to sit in the nestbox after someone else has laid one and then rush out to declare her brilliance at laying an egg!! She is the sweetest, happiest chicken and an excellent beak cleaner, and it is this sunny, gentle character that has earned her the much coveted Goodchicken surname. It is a title only ever bestowed on the most special of hens and Greta knows she is a very special girl.

Miss Greta Goodchicken

Miss Greta Goodchicken

Little Gina was in the ICU for a few days before joining her two sisters for a week or so of fresh air and sunshine. But her little body was too weak to cope. Gracie woke us one morning with her cries of distress and I am eternally grateful to her for that as it enabled us to bring Gina inside and cuddle her as she passed away. However, her spirit was felt today and we spent a few moments at her grave telling her we loved her.

Gracie then ventured inside for a bath and knicker blow dry whilst Greta had extra cuddles as she awaited the main event.

left to right Flavia, Greta, Gracie, Liza and Bella

left to right Flavia, Greta, Gracie, Liza and Bella

Once Miss Kelly emerged in a fluffy and feathery shower of happiness, mealworm and corn cakes topped with live yoghurt and sweetcorn (grown on our allotment) were served, accompanied by much very bad singing on my part. Then followed a photoshoot before the girls collapsed, exhausted and full, under the bushes for a post-party preen and snooze.

Gracie, Bella Top-Hen and Greta tuck into a cake

Gracie, Bella Top-Hen and Greta tuck into a cake

(In Effie’s Garden, Effie had two cakes and allowed her babies to share one between the three of them. It was their first party and they behaved im-peckibly!)

Today was a double celebration – Gracie and Greta enjoying one year as free range girls and also the anniversary of our first rehoming.

If you are inspired to have some ex-batt hens, I can assure you it will be the best thing you have ever done. If you need some help and advice please visit my new website www.henhugger.co.uk or email me on henhugger@talktalk.net.

And if you are in Cornwall, there will be a rehoming of ex-commercial hens on 14th December. What better way to embrace the festive season than to save a life?

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