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Oh my darling girl, my Greta. I cannot believe that you have left us. We have gone through so much together to keep you healthy and happy and then, in the prime of health, you decide it is time for you to go. We never got to say goodbye to you, to tell you we loved you and to wish you godspeed. But what was the very best way for you to go – suddenly, painlessly and in your sleep with your sisters around you – was perhaps the hardest for us unsuspecting humans to bear. My darling girl, I wish I could cuddle you one more time.

My sweet Greta was rescued in October 2012, one of three poorlie girls we took home from our rescue. A large, red swollen bottom meant my ever pessimistic prognosis was not good (but what do I know eh!!?). Initially Greta lived with the very poorlie Gina and the not quite so poorlie Grace Kelly in what was yet to be named Effie’s Garden. Sadly, Gina died soon after rehoming but Gracie the Pickle and Greta soon decided free range life was far too much fun to give up on and integrated with the Big Girls very quickly.

Miss Greta Garbo on rescue - already a Goodchicken

Miss Greta Garbo on rescue – already a Goodchicken

The Goodchicken name, as we know, is very sought after and one not lightly bestowed upon a chicken but Greta seemed to be born for the title. Always one to care for other girls, to clean their beaks (whether they needed it or not), to tend to poorlie sisters and to tolerate cuddles with humans, Greta was always the star. Miss Greta Goodchicken she became, a worthy recipient of Bunty’s legacy.

Miss Greta Goodchicken

Miss Greta Goodchicken

But Greta had other talents…secretly she was also a magpie. She coveted all things shiny. In particular, my earrings. She somehow managed to work out that if she came over to me all cuddly and cute I would bend down to stroke her, dangly earrings dangling aplenty. At this point she moved in for the kill. One of those oh so tantalising silver dangly earrings was whipped out by an expert beak and whisked off around the garden in a ‘really fun’ game. The time it took me to catch both her and the earring were naturally inversely proportional to the weather; sunny and warm meant a quick game, monsoonal rain or hurricane winds ensured a long and oh-so-fun game. You would think after the first time I would learn….it would seem not. Greta 3 – Idiot Human 0.

Secret magpie Greta

Secret magpie Greta

But Miss Garbo also had a thing for mobile phone cameras…or was it just the handsome gents operating them?? When Neil, keen photographer and husband of my lovely friend Jan, came to visit, Greta was entranced by his phone camera, inquisitively posing for shot after shot. As another infamous Rosewarne lady had had a bit of a thing for Neil (Effie who was oh so fickle in her affections had happily trotted across the garden to greet him – the girls can always tell a good egg) we assumed Greta was also smitten. But when lovely chicken friend Pete turned up and started to photograph the girls with his phone camera, Greta assumed the same diva-esque pose. Obviously she loved the camera. And it loved her right back!!

Gorgeous Greta Garbo Goodchicken

Gorgeous Greta Garbo Goodchicken

Greta’s other special talent was as an egg thief!! Not literally (although given the chance I am sure she would have tucked in) but as she had never laid an egg in her retirement I think her body was sending her eggy feelings. She used to wait outside the coop in the mornings until someone came out announcing the Great Arrival of their egg, before sneaking in, nestling atop the egg for a brief while and then rushing out to announce….Her Egg!!! No one else seemed perturbed by this egg plagiarism, so we congratulated her each day on her beautiful egg and everyone was happy.

That tummy though, swollen and red but still beautiful, was always present and caused us no end of problems. We, along with Uncle Jason, tried many many things to help her. She swelled up in the spring and slimmed down in the autumn but it wasn’t a fluid eggy mass, it was a solid one. Various vetty examinations didn’t reveal anything helpful, deducing it was scar tissue, and in the end a mixture of diuretics and occasional antibiotics seemed to keep any issues at bay. This year, we threw everything at getting her through another summer, mistakenly believing that once winter came we were safe for another year.

Gorgeous Greta Garbo and that big and beautiful red bottom

Gorgeous Greta Garbo and that big and beautiful red bottom

And by her fourth henniversary in October I hoped that she would be OK for a few more months at least. She was slim, spritely and racing round like a spring chicken so I, foolishly, stopped worrying about her. One Friday morning, I opened the coop, everyone trooped out and for once I didn’t do a headcount, lulled into a false sense of ‘all the hens are well’ security. When you have a poorlie girl, part of you always worries that you will find her dead in the morning. When everyone is well, you don’t have quite that same worry. So to open the nestbox and find my darling girl asleep forever was quite, quite horrifying. There had been absolutely no indication she was ill, in fact we had been commenting on how well she seemed. For her, naturally and for all of us, to go to sleep peacefully and surrounded by those we love is the best we can hope for. But for those she left behind it was heartbreaking. Selfishly, we had been denied our chance to say goodbye.

Greta's official four year henniversary shot

Greta’s official four year henniversary shot

Miss Greta Garbo was a legend in our garden, and in our lives, our longest resident (Flora although a year older, came to us after 2 years’ fee) and our very best girl, central to our flock’s happiness and well-being. Losing both her and Lavender in close succession has broken our hearts and shattered our spirits – not to mention those of poor Flora who has lost her two wingmen (or women) in the space of a month. I keep seeing her in the garden (as Margot could be her twin sister) and I still talk to her – to all of those that have left us – every day.

Greta Garbo was the last of the Goodchickens – a beautiful, free spirit that shall always fly free amongst us. You chose to leave us on your own terms, darling girl, so please take this as my goodbye to you.
Godspeed precious girl, fly high xxxx

Greta and Flora sunbathing in the so-called Humans' Garden

Greta and Flora sunbathing in the so-called Humans’ Garden

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Little Lavender (in the days before she was named a Goodchicken) came to live with us on 16th August 2014, one of three very poorlie girls. She came with her two beautiful, but equally frail sisters, Larkspur and Lupin, and all three of them caused us great concern speckled amongst the love and joy they brought us. The girls had been starved in their cages prior to slaughter, a practice sadly all too common in the hellholes masquerading as poultry farms. Consequently all three precious angels suffered with crop problems throughout their free lives – Larkspur’s time as a free girl painfully short at a few weeks, Lupin’s mercifully longer at just over a year. So for Lavender to survive over two years as a free girl was a massive victory for both her body and her spirit – she spent longer out of the cage than in it, and that gives us humans some comfort at this sad time.

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Lavender on rehoming

 

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Lavender, Larkspur and Lupin on rehoming

 

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Feathers growing back after two weeks

During Larkpsur’s illness, Lavender had already shown herself to be very much a Goodchicken, a title very soon to be bestowed upon her. She was kind and gentle and so very tender towards her ailing sister. But after Larkspur’s sad passing, Loops and Lav (as they were forever to be called), were integrated with the Big Girls. After the initial handbags at dawn, Loops and Lav developed a new lease of life. For the moment, gone were the frail, floppy-combed little souls, and in their place two gorgeous, fluffy ginger ladies, who treated every day as if it was a new adventure and viewed their new world through eyes of wonder. First out of the coop in the morning, last to bed at night, every moment had to be savoured.

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Little Pickle

 

Lavender discovered the joy of laying her egg in a nest, taking her time and languishing over her precious ‘baby’. So tender and loving was she with her egg, it brought tears to the eyes of those of us privileged enough to watch her. It was about this time, racing around with Loops, welcoming the new frizzles and helping care for the recently bereaved Lemony from Effie’s Garden that Lavender earned the title of Goodchicken. Kind, gentle and loving to all around her, Lavender was indeed a Goodchicken – an angel on this earth.

lav-1-yr-henniversary

Lavender’s Henniversary

But these golden halcyon days were soon to end as Little Lupin finally succumbed to the crop issues that had been plaguing her all her life. As Loops left us, so too did a little of Lavender’s spirit and love of life. Whilst still surrounded by her friends, she became something of a lonely girl, always OK, but never with that joie de vivre she had had when Loops was with her. Lavender often flew over the fence into the now empty Effie’s Garden and pottered about on her own and even the influx of the four hooligans that are the M Girls failed to restore her energies. She seemed content enough, hanging out with the other oldies some of the time, but both we and she knew she was pining for her departed soulmate.

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Loops and Lav – soulmates

 

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Loops and Lav immortalised by Elaine Innes

 

As with Loops and Larkspur, crop issues plagued her and she was often on metoclopramide to keep that pesky crop working. She had been implanted to stop the soft eggs as her body needed no further demands on it other than just to keep surviving. This spring, however, she started to lose weight and during a routine visit to Uncle Jason it was discovered she had lost almost half her body weight. Never a big girl, she now weighed in at a smidge over 1kg. We tried everything to get her to put on weight, even putting sunflower oil in her treats to boost her calorie intake, but she continued to lose weight.

It was my goal, in the spring, to get her to enjoy at least one more Cornish summer and we pulled out all the stops to ensure both she and her quality of life were as good as they could be. And as far as I could see Lav enjoyed everything a happy, free girl should. Pecking at treats, dustbathing, eating worms, preening and dozing in the sun and tucking up with her sisters at night. Daily we checked her, treated her and ensured she was as well as she could be.

However, in the middle of October, she had lost even more weight and started to become frailer by the day. Then one Tuesday at the end of October, she stopped eating, her feathers were dull and her head and wings drooped. She was telling me that it was time.

At Uncle Jason’s she passed away very quickly and very peacefully in my arms; her spirit had obviously decided it was time to meet her beloved Lupin once more. She was cremated with lavender under her wings and her ashes buried with her sisters, all of them scattered with lavender flowers.

There are good chickens and then there are Goodchickens. Lavender was most certainly a Goodchicken; a kind, gentle, loving girl who relished her freedom and cared for all of those around her, hen and human. To me she epitomises everything about ex-batts. Her frail body, ravaged by its past, refused to be beaten, her spirit indomitable, she fought to enjoy the free life that was her right as a hen, and one that every hen should be allowed to enjoy.  We are heartbroken to have lost her, our garden seems empty. Our only consolation is that she is now flying forever free with her beloved Lupin and Larkspur.

Sweet dreams my darling girl. Fly high little hen xxxxxxxxxx

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Beautiful Lavender Goodchicken

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Saturday 13th of August dawned bright and sunny for the Grand Arrival of our new, bespoke, plastic coop and run. The girls had excitedly packed their bags, taken down their posters in Henderlay and were busy squabbling over bunks in their new home when the eagerly anticipated new coop arrived.

We were all like children on Christmas morning, jumping around in excitement and generally getting in the way as Chris the Coop Man tried to put the coop up with much hen ‘help’!

An hour later and the coop was up and in place and the girls waved their new friend Chris the Coop Man off before beginning exacting inspections of their new palatial home. Iris T Frizzle was the first hen in the coop as, being broody, we transferred her directly from Henderlay, followed by fellow broodies little Lemony and Iona.

I must confess, the coop is magnificent. The company that Chris the Coop Man runs, Arkus Coops is based just outside of Penzance and uses recycled plastic; so at least two boxes ticked there. He adapted the coop to the girls’ and my specific requirements and even made the run to be a tad taller than I am. It is on a special high stand to avoid my bending and has reinforced metal on the run, skirts and around the back of the coop as well very secure locks all over the place. Being plastic means the girls will not have to endure red mite and the coop has plenty of space for everyone and nice low perches for special exbatt physiques.

If initial reactions are anything to go by, the girls are very impressed and have enjoyed their very first night all tucked up together. Special times and special memories. I was very impressed with the magic door opener – although I was up early just to check it!

This coop and run were crowdfunded by many, many wonderful, kind and generous people. Without them, a new coop would not have been possible and we would have had to patch Henderlay up to try and battle through another winter. Their big and generous hearts have meant a greatly improved quality of life for my girls and a comfy night’s sleep snuggled up together. Exbatts deserve the very best and now my girls can have that. We are indebted to everyone who has helped us and thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

 

The girls, Gary and I have all given great thought to how we can thank everyone and, even though the girls thought people would each like one of their special eggs (I had to explain the failings of the postal service and the vulnerability of eggs in envelopes), it was eventually agreed on that we will have a memorial page on this blog so everyone who has supported us can have a dedication and photo of the hen/hens/pet/pets in whose name the donation was given. It is a small thing but one that I hope will be appreciated and received with the love with which it is offered. I will be contacting everyone directly over the next few days, although there were three anonymous donations so if they were you, please contact me!

Thank you all again, please enjoy the first few pictures of the coop and I look forward to posting many more.

Jo xx

 

 

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I cannot believe my last blog post was in January! I am tardy at best, downright lazy at worst but, just like buses, I have so much to tell you, that you may get a second blog post within the next day or so!

Our big news is that, as of March (yes March, sorry) we have four beautiful new babies helping the Big Girls to trash Effie’s Garden. I decided I didn’t have enough ex-batts in our mixed flock of ex-batt and rescue hens, so to balance things up, I planned to pick up three more little ex-batts. They were to be my M girls and I had their names all picked out. However, on arrival, another little hen told me her name was MillyMollyMandy so she simply HAD to come home with me! Actually I had intended to take four, as even though it is a bit of a squish in the Baby Coop, it is one more life saved and that is what matters. So Margot Eggbetter, Martha Tilst-hen, Miffy and Milly came home to Effie’s Garden.

Initially very timid, they stayed in their coop for the first day, anxiously peering out at the sky, but by Day 2, had ventured into their little garden that was securely fenced off from the prying, inquisitive eyes of the Big Girls. Margot, just like her namesake, tried to scratch and fell over but Miffy and Martha quickly got the hang of it. Only little Milly hung back, scared of this big world, but soon joined her sisters in their new adventures and discoveries.

Lavender is not one to let a small thing like a fence get in the way of meeting new hens and very quickly hopped over to say hello. She was a great ambassador for the Big Girls and merely scratched and pecked the ground alongside the M Girls without any fuss. Iona too, self-appointed head bantie, flew over to see what was going on, and all six just mooched around contentedly together.

So placid and uninterested in the pecking order were the M Girls that within days their coop had been moved into the Big Girls’ Garden and everyone was getting along just swimmingly. Even bossy boots Inca managed to leave the new girls alone!

Each little M girl has her own distinct and special personality: Margot is intelligent and inquisitive, confident and funny, walking into the Human Coop as if she has been doing for years and will even happily have a cuddle.

Margot EggbetterMiffy is the adventurous tomboy with the Pocahontas tail, a clever girl she is always first to figure things out but always last to bed – only recently after four months free did she finally put herself to bed – each day is just too much fun to end.

Miffy

Martha is top hen of the M girls, a folky sort of girl just like her namesake, and quiet yet firm in her manner, but recently I have seen a cheekier side to her character, following Chief Mischief Maker Margot over the fence and into the forbidden wonderland of the Humans’ Garden.

Martha Tilst-hen

And finally little Milly, still timid but always beautiful, she loves me very much as she has discovered she can eat food out of my hand and no one will chase her away. She is growing in confidence though and is a real sweetheart, I always have a soft spot for the bottom hen.

MillyMollyMandy

The M Girls are a delight – young, healthy and happy girls; watching them enjoy their new life brings that much needed spark back into my own. Every day brings a new adventure for them and a reason to smile for me!

We do have other exciting news but I don’t want to steal the M Girls’ thunder so will post about it tomorrow. Suffice to say people are amazing!!

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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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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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Effie’s bantam babies are now almost fully grown and Effie has become quite used to them on the other side of the fence. There has been no fighting and, even occasionally, the odd pecky kiss and beak clean so I was hopeful a beak to beak meet may not go too badly. It was time, darling Effie needs some friends…

Sunday 22nd September was booked in as The Big Day. It was the equinox, which felt like a good omen, both Gary and I were at home to supervise and, perhaps most importantly, the humans were going to the pub for lunch and a stiff nerve settler beforehand.

On Friday evening the bantams’ wings had been clipped as they had been shooting around their run like little feathery jets and, after the Colin incident, I didn’t want them to fly over the fence into the Big Girls’ Garden.

Sunday morning saw their run adapted with a little gate so they could come and go and we could lock them back in afterwards.

Bantams explore Effie's Garden

Bantams explore Effie’s Garden

Pub lunch was eaten, we were ready and I felt sick with nerves!! After seeing Effie fight beak and claw with Gracie, Bella, Eliza etc and saw her hounding a terrified Hettie, I dreaded a battle with the bantams.

But I am delighted to report that it all went rather well.

Effie walked straight into the run, and had a dustbath in the bantams’ flowerpot/dustbath whilst the babies watched. Inca tried to clean Effie’s tail feathers and Effie gave her a ‘look.’ Inca scuttled off. Effie then explored the babies’ run and coop before giving Inca and India lemon Drop a gentle (for Effie) yet stern peck to ascertain her Big Sister/Top Hen role.

Effie meets her bantams

Effie meets her bantams

After that she wandered off whilst the bantams braved life outside of their run and explored Effie’s Garden. Effie came over a couple of times and the babies scurried back into their run. Which I was very pleased with as firstly Effie knows she has no competition for her Top Hen position, secondly that the babies all stick together and lastly that they go straight back to their run if they are frightened.

The babies followed Effie around for a while keeping a safe distance and eventually trundled back to their run and went to sleep, exhausted after their adventures.

All in all a very successful first meet. I will keep letting them out for a supervised hour or two each day and lengthening their time together.

I am finally cautiously optimistic that my darling Effie will at last have some friends again. Much as she loves cuddling down with Malcolm her cuddly duck each evening, the night she tucks up surrounded by her three bantam babies will be the night I know my most precious girl has found love again.

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