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We love our chickens here at Rosewarne. And if a garden full of gorgeous girls is not enough, our house is filling up with chickens too!

No, not more poorlie girls in the ICU (yet), these are not real chickens but chickenalia. Basically if it has a chicken on it, I want it!

My obsession started soon after the arrival of the three A girls (almost two years to the day) when Gary went to an artist’s fair in Falmouth and very kindly brought me a beautiful Barbara Karn print of three chickens. It looked just like my three angels and after having a frame custom made is now in pride of place in the hall. It is also my avatar on facebook, twitter and this blog! Unfortunately my three A girls did not make it to the luxury quarters of Henderlay (darling Audrey, the last of the three passed away the night before they moved in) so a copy of the print is on the Hen-der-lay sign; meaning all of my girls have lived there.

The Hen-der-lay sign featuring Misses Aurora, Agatha and Audrey Chicken

Next came the ‘Beware of the Ex-Batts’ plaque which is currently on the garden gate. I am also hankering after a ‘Free Range Ladies Live Here’ sign for the gate to their garden!

Then came the fleece and t-shirt with chickens on. Closely followed by the coasters, calendar, car sticker, apron, Cath Kitson tea towels, mug, ‘Keep Calm and Keep Chickens’ sign and numerous chickeny knick knacks. I have saved all the chicken-themed Christmas and birthday cards and covered my drab 1970s-nightmare beige kitchen cabinets in them.

Gary has even asked our lovely, talented friend Helen to make me a feather-inspired silver bracelet for Christmas

Most recently I have bought some lovely chicken cards made by my friend Christina’s very clever mum – they are just beautiful.

As I was sitting in the garden (between showers, thunderstorms and hurricanes) chatting to the girls about all my chickenalia, they were admiring Gregory (Peck) the cockerel on my mug of tea. Now Effie wants to launch her own range of Effinalia – Effie mugs, Effie pictures, Effie coasters etc and Bunty Goodchicken has decided the world needs a book of the story of her life…

Effie has plans for her own range of Effinalia!

But back in the sane world I now have a chance to spread the chicken love…my friend Janie at Hedgecombers writes a wonderful blog and also draws the most beautiful hen pictures and cards   She has very kindly asked if I would do a competition to give away one of her beautiful prints!

Ida and her Atkins Diet!

So for your chance to win this fabulous chicken print of Ida and her Atkins Diet please comment on this blog or on my facebook or twitter pages and I will draw a name at random on Friday 29th June. This special day is Clara and CocoChanel’s one year henniversary so a celebratory day all round!

Good luck, I just wish I could enter!!

And if you have five minutes, please watch this little Chicken Song by Finding Violet It is sad but not graphic, but have a tissue handy xx

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Today the garden, tomorrow the world…

It is fair to say little Effie Chicken is a stealer of hearts. Mine was a goner the moment I first saw her – with her sad little neck, bruised and battered little body and eyes pleading with me to love her and take her home. But Gary is not such an easy nut to crack. It would seem though …that Effie has stolen his heart too.

Although Effie and Eleanor (aka Miss Basket*) are confined to a run, it is a big run with perches and scratching materials, a dustbath, a snuggly new coop, a shelter and lots of sky. It does however lack one thing. Grass. It’s all gone. Eaten. We try and compensate for this by hanging greens up for them every day but, with the arrival of the much anticipated Berlin-wall-style-fence dividing the human garden from the chicken’s garden it is very much a case of the grass is greener. Effie and Miss Basket perform all sorts of neck contortions to try and reach the grass on the other side.

The green green grass…

Our fence is a thing of brilliance. We had to endure weeks of negotiations with the girls as to how much garden we and they were to have. Egg and cuddle strikes were eventually threatened so we relented from our original offer of half and half and changed to one third for us and two thirds for them. It took me months of nagging…sorry persuading, Gary to build the fence, which was followed by weeks of swearing, huffing, cursing and frantic trips to B&Q as it was actually constructed. It was worth it though – made out of recycled pallets, it is magnificent. And it does the job. Our third of the garden is now lush and green with raised beds with veggies growing in, there is no poo to squelch between your toes and the cats, previously bullied by the hens, can finally lounge around in the sunshine and their cat food is at last safe. The hens’ two thirds is trashed, full of poo and mud and they love it!!

Miss Basket

Miss Basket

A few weeks into our new system and Effie clearly wasn’t happy with her muddy, grassless run. So one day when I wasn’t around, Miss Effie turned her fragile charms onto Gary, batting her beautiful eyelashes at him and bemoaning the lack of grass. I am sure much divaesque dramatics and holding of wings to a fevered brow took place as when I returned Gary had CUT A HOLE in the new fence so Effie and Miss Basket could come through into a fenced off area of the human’s garden. They obviously had him sussed as the weak link.

Raised bed heaven

Raised bed heaven

Their new pop hole is like the entrance to the Secret Garden or the gateway to Narnia. There is plenty of delicious sweet grass and the added bonus of an unused raised bed which not only provides a plentiful supply of worms but also the space for a magnificent communal dust bath. Suffice to say, the girls love it!!!

Chickens – 1, Humans – 0

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

* Miss Basket is Eleanor’s nickname. She came to us in December with a blackened, infected foot that she had no control over. Unable to walk, she spent her first two weeks of recuperation in the pink laundry basket in the ICU, gently bwarking her thanks as I tucked her up in a blanket at night so she didn’t get cold. She got the nickname Chicken in a Basket, which for a household of vegetarian chicken lovers didn’t seem appropriate so, Miss Basket she became.

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Our darling Effie has had a busy few days; some of the most eventful of her little life. With her journeys outside becoming longer and more successful and with Bunty Goodchicken declared fit and well enough to rejoin her sisters in Henderlay, last weekend Effie and Eleanor packed their little suitcases and moved outside into the Coop Previously Known as The Hermitage*.

It is a lovely set up for them. In with their sisters in the chicken half of the garden, in the safety of their own run but with plenty of room to do all the things that free range girls should be able do. The Coop Previously Known as The Hermitage has a small lockable run attached but some chicken wire reclaimed from the farm skip fashioned a luxury 5m by 3m run for my two special girls. Their run incorporates some of the big chicken’s woodland scratch area and is furnished with a table for a sun and rain shelter (again from the handy skip) and a dustbath. Some logs provide them with endless fun and games and there is even some grass struggling to emerge through the mud.

At first all things went well. Effie toddled off without so much as a backward glance at me (sniff) and stood on her favourite log happily surveying her new world. Eleanor decided to re-establish herself as top chicken with a few grumpy pecks and the Big Girls had a few handbags at dawn fisticuffs through the chicken wire but it was nothing my brave little girl couldn’t take in her stride.

It's a big world out there brave girl

But by Wednesday I noticed she was sleepy and somewhat ‘depressed,’ although it is hard to tell if she is hunched as her poor little neck gives her a permanently hunched appearance. Anyway I brought her inside where she fell asleep in my arms all afternoon, waking only to climb up onto my shoulder, nestle in my hair and go back to sleep again. Lovely as an afternoon of cuddling was, I was very worried about her so off to the vets we went. Like me, the vet could find nothing wrong with my baby but prescribed a course of Baytril just to be on the safe side.

Effie then spent the next two days and nights in Tom’s empty bedroom where I could keep a very close eye on her. She was quite content – lots of treats to tempt her depleted appetite, a soft blankey to nest down in and a friend in the form of a cuddly toy dog, which I thought was about hen sized. One evening, she brought tears to my eyes. She had put herself to bed in her blankey and had snuggled up next to her toy dog. So heartbreakingly sweet.

Love you Effie

The next morning she had laid two soft shelled eggs which may well have been the problem. But her illness could have been anything. The stress of the move; a chill from suddenly being exposed to the damp weather; an infection or my favourite theory…missing me.

On Saturday morning she was deemed well enough to go back outside with Eleanor who, despite an initial grumpy peck, was pleased to see her old friend return. They have spent the weekend happily co-habiting and snuggling up together in the nest box at night. I have upped the limestone flour in their food and put a little Zolcal D calcium supplement in their morning porridge. Today I was rewarded with a perfect egg courtesy of little Effie.

Hopefully my darling girl will now be able to fully enjoy her new free range life, if any hen deserves it, my brave little Effie does.

*The Coop Previously Known as The Hermitage needs a new name that befits it’s two very special new residents.

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Bunty Goodchicken had been a bit ‘off’ for a day or two, with nothing obviously wrong, but by Tuesday she looked very unhappy, hunched and straining. On closer inspection I discovered a small prolapse. After washing it and pushing it back in, it refused to stay put, so as I was at the edge of my chicken knowledge and feeling somewhat panicked, we whisked her off to the vet. The vet tried to put it back in but by the time we had got home, it had popped out again. So I spent much of the evening (Valentine’s Day – so romantic) with my finger holding in her prolapse. We put her to bed in the broom cupboard (warm, safe and dark) tucked up in lots of towels. I hate illness and ever since Tom was so ill I struggle to cope with it. Bunty is a very special chicken, the sweetest of girls and I wanted to do everything I could to make her better again.

Beautiful Bunty Goodchicken before her prolapse dramas

All night, when not awake fretting, I dreamt of prolapses and dreaded finding her in a worse state in the morning. But after an early morning check-up and although it had got bigger, it was not as bad as in my nightmares. She was immediately taken back to the vet where she had a purse string suture put into her vent under anaesthetic to hold in the prolapse and a superlorin implant to stop her laying and hopefully stop the problem re-occurring. She also had an X-ray to ensure there were no imminent eggs. The suture allows poo to pass out of her vent but will not let an egg pass so it is a balancing act between leaving it as long as possible to stop the prolapse re-appearing and not leaving it in too long so it stops eggs being laid. The implant takes a day or two to kick in but after that should hopefully stop her laying for about three months.

I spent all day at work worrying myself into a tiz about her being alone and frightened and operated on, but she arrived home quite perky and nonplussed by the whole thing. She had to be isolated to stop interested friends pecking anything that may emerge – the main danger of a prolapse is that being red, it will attract pecks and lead to a fatal bleed. Being a friendly, sociable wee girlie, she didn’t take kindly to her enforced isolation and wasn’t quite herself for a couple of days although the combination of the implant and the anaesthetic probably didn’t help.

How could you resist that beautiful face?

She had to visit the vet every day to make sure there wasn’t an egg forming and a decision had to be made as to whether the suture would come out. After three days, and a rather grumpy Bunty at having yet another internal examination, her stitches were removed. So far…after 9 hours…quite a few poos and much checking of her ‘area’, it has not returned. She is sleeping alone again tonight, just in case, but if all is well in the morning I will let her back in with her sisters and keep a very close eye on her.

My darling brave girl deserves the very best, I hope we have done enough to save her, she is the most precious of chickens.

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A frosty sparkling dawn heralded the one year henniversary of Bella, Brigit, Bertha and Bunty Goodchicken. One year ago today they were rescued from their cage and came to live with us. We already had three ex-batts at the time – Audrey, Aurora and Agatha – but the new B girls spent much of last February living apart from their big sisters in our greenhouse as it was a particularly cold spell. Come the end of the month, their much anticipated first meeting didn’t go too well and by the time they had merged (of sorts) Aurora had sadly passed away. Less than a month later we lost darling Agatha as well, leaving just Audrey to live contentedly with the B girls.

When I think how we struggled through all sorts of illnesses to get Audrey to her one year henniversary, the B girls have come through their first free ranging year in wonderful health.

Luncheon is served!

Their Big Day started with being sung to, followed by a warm porridge and sultana breakfast and built to the main event of a corn on the cob luncheon party in the sunshine. Naturally they shared their treats with the Cs, the Ds and the Es and a good time was had by all!

The Hen Party in full swing!

My Birthday Girls
Bella

On her first night Bella was a nightmare. She attacked me, Gary, Caroline and the other three girls. In desperation she was put in a cat box to go to bed. Later that evening, when we went to put her in the coop I saw the look of resignation in her eyes and suddenly I understood her. She must have thought she was back in a cage, poor girl. I think these feisty girls who attack everyone are just scared, having had to fight to survive in the cage.

Bella 1st February 2011

And next morning my Bella (named by my lovely friend Sarah who thought she deserved a pretty name) proved me right and was an angel; peace reigned in the greenhouse. She was instantly top chicken and has remained so, even when meeting the imperious Audrey. She is fair and kind to her girls and when new girls have come into my ever expanding flock she has told them who is boss gently but firmly and rules over her little empire with an iron claw in a velvet glove. She is also extremely intelligent – the first girl who discovered she could fly onto the Cornish hedge and consequently the first girl whose wing I clipped. She is the only girl clever enough to have worked out how to get over the fences into the veg beds, thus affording herself all the spoils. She is also coming into college with me next week to help give a lesson on intensive farming, free range living and ethical shopping. She will be a star and I am very proud of her. She is the picture of health, lays almost every day and is just gorgeous, I love her.

Bella 1st February 2012

Bertha
Bertha and Brigit are both Amberlinks – white girls who are supposedly more placid and therefore better suited to living in a cage (no creature least of all my beautiful girls, is ‘better suited’ to live in a cage). Anyway, whilst my C girls (also Amberlinks) are indeed placid angels, Bertha and Brigit are possibly the most endearingly cantankerous, cranky pair of chickens I have ever come across. The Victor Meldrews of the hen world.

Bertha 1st February 2011

Bertha is very beautiful and she lays the most wonderful eggs every day. She also is a great help when I am hanging out the washing; as I hang things up, she drags the rest of the contents of the laundry basket across the garden for me, usually through the mud and copious amounts of chicken poo. She does however not like to share. When CocoChanel wanted to use the nest box next to Bertha, Bertha decided the way to say no was to pin Coco down and attack her eye. She consequently spent some time in the Naughty Coop thinking about her actions, and took to it so much she decided to sleep there every night. So now, whilst she free ranges all day with her sisters, she waits until everyone else has gone to bed and then puts herself to bed in her own coop – now renamed The Hermitage.

Bertha 1st February 2012

Brigit
Brigit (my other white Victor Meldrew hen) is named after my dear friend Brigit and also after the goddess whose day is celebrated on February 1st, Imbolc. She was the frailest of the four and became bottom hen quite quickly.

Brigit 1st February 2011

She did however try to assert her dominance over the new hens when they arrived later in the year and became quite a monster towards the limpy Clara. So Brigit too, spent some time in the Naughty Coop, composing a note of apology to Clara. Since her featherless beginnings she has now developed the most beautiful white feathers, with the fluffiest, frilliest knickers – she looks stunning. Always individual, Brigit is the one who will not go to bed when I want her to, she goes to bed when she is good and ready and not a moment before! Brigit had always had a snick (sneeze) but in October she suddenly became very ill. Her comb was blue and her breathing rattling. The vet gave her some antibiotics and advised she have steam inhalations twice a day. She spent the next few days tucked up in a towel in the laundry basket, transported from room to room, wherever I happened to be. Gary did draw the line at her sharing our room at night so she spent her nights in the spare room – I wish I had kept the baby monitor! She enjoyed the inhalations and the attention and even snuggled up on my lap and went to sleep in the evenings. Three days later, she was back to her usual naughty self and has been the picture of health ever since.

Brigit 1st February 2012

Bunty Goodchicken
The Goodchicken name is a very special title and only given to the most perfect of girls, who never throws a peck in anger (we shall put the past few days handbags at dawn behaviour down to pre-henniversary excitement) and whose kindness and general all round gentleness is a shining example to her sisters.

Bunty Goodchicken 1st February 2011

Bunty Goodchicken is indeed, a good chicken. She is good and sweet and kind and, due to her close friendship with top girl Bella, has never had to fight for her place in the pecking order. She has formed another close friendship with CocoChanel and the two girls sleep together at night with the two ‘babies’ – Dolly and Daisy – tucked up between them. She preens the little ones before bed and generally mothers them. There is no way to describe Bunty Goodchicken other than adorable.

Bunty Goodchicken 1st February 2012

So my darling girls, thank you for sharing your lives with me, I am blessed. And thank you so much for a wonderful year, may you enjoy many many more.

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Today has been, officially, A Very Good Day for my special girl Effie, for three reasons:

She was brave. Both girls had a little taste of porridge a la sultana and poultry spice for breakfast this morning and Effie, who usually lets Eleanor eat first was so enraptured by her first taste of sultana that she stole the one Eleanor was toying with and ran off with it! Brave indeed!

I can see you Effie!

She was mischievous. Effie and Eleanor have finally found the bowls of cat food in the other half of the utility room from their ICU. Once found, never forgotten! Every opportunity found them escaping round to the rather depleted bowls of cat food and each time they had to be physically prised away. Like children, once hens start to be a little naughty, it is a sign they are getting better so I am thrilled – the cats not so much!

I am busy, go away!

She enjoyed her second dustbath. After Sunday’s first ever dustbath I had been waiting to see when she would have another. Sure enough at lunchtime today I found her in her plant pot, merrily flicking dust around her ICU. Eleanor looked on in amazement, hopefully it won’t be too long before she has a try as well – her foot is much improved and she is much more mobile than she was.

These are only tiny steps in Effie’s journey to become a free range girl and probably the sort of developments only an anxious mother would notice. But steps they are and a cause for celebration. Well done darling girl xx

Post dust bath rest!

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Effie’s tale is an extraordinary one and her plight and rehabilitation to become a fully fledged free range girl has sparked quite a lot of interest from kind and gentle souls so I thought I would provide updates on her progress in the blog.

Effie’s Story

Beautiful Effie

As you know Effie, the little chicken with the broken neck, was rescued from the battery farm in December. She was a tragic and heartbreaking sight and symbolised all that is so very wrong and cruel about intensive farming. How did this happen? How did it go unnoticed? Well with six hens crammed in a tiny cage, who’s going to notice one injured, terrified soul cowering at the back?

Naturally she came home with me and for a while stayed in the ICU with three other hens – Limpy Eliza, Eleanor (Chicken in a Basket) and Tom’s hen Evie. The ICU is a converted coal hole in our utility room, luckily cleaned out beforehand as it was due to become a larder when the kitchen was revamped. Lack of funds and now a surplus of chickens has put pay to that for a while! Whilst all the girls needed special care and love, Effie was my main focus of concern. I didn’t know if she would survive with an injury like that or indeed for how long. Every day she is alive and happy is a success. She doesn’t seem to be in any pain and moves around freely, eating and drinking well.

Eating and drinking well

Two of the girls improved quickly, and once Evie started to pick on Effie and Limpy Eliza’s limp became less noticeable, these two graduated to the hospital coop and run outside, and Effie was left with Eleanor. Despite Eleanor’s penchant for Effie’s delicious quills, they get along well. Eleanor not being overly mobile, pootles around the room and Effie who is still terrified of everything and everyone can get out of Eleanor’s way. They are comfortable coop companions as opposed to friends I think and sleep in separate parts of the room each night. But for Effie this is possibly the first hen she has ever shared space with a hen that hasn’t terrorised and attacked her.

Long Road to Recovery

Effie is recovering physically from her time in the cage but emotionally and mentally she is still a wreck. However, in spite of everything she has been through she trusts both Gary and I and will climb onto our laps quite happily – when the mood takes and certainly not this afternoon when she had a camera pointed at her!! Each day she and Eleanor will come out for an explore of the rest of the utility room and kitchen. At first Effie hovered by the kitchen door scared by her new world, now she walks in boldly all the way through to the dining room and tries to fly onto the work surfaces. She has even seen off a cat – admittedly it was Tilly, our most dopey and lazy cat but…still a cat!

The Big Wide World

Hey Effie!

Jaunts into the Big Wide World (garden) are not going so well. Keen for her to see the sky we put her in the Hermitage (Bertha’s solo sleeping quarters) coop and run for an hour last weekend. However, this didn’t go well for Effie, she was too scared and panicked. So this week we have been trying to take her just outside the back door for a little walk in the late afternoons when the big girls are in their coop. We have had mixed results, the first day she was very interested in the grass but ever since has scuttled straight back into the safety of the house. Yesterday we had to clean their ICU out so popped them in the hospital coop and run (Evie and Limpy Liza were enjoying a little dustbathing time in the greenhouse) for half an hour. After an initial peck of the corn on the ground, Effie ran into the nest box and hid, shaking. Poor angel. Once back in her little world she was fine – pecking greens and scratching the new bedding.

So we will be taking very small steps with her. I am so keen for her to be outside and enjoying all the things a girl should be enjoying – sunbathing, worm hunting, bug chasing, garden digging, making friends to share her days with, snuggling up together at nights and generally enjoying life. I don’t know how long she will have with us, each day I fear finding her gone, each time I pick her up I am afraid I will hurt her, each time she flaps her wings I worry. I have no idea how long she has lived with this injury but I want for her to have experienced a full free range life before she does leave us.

Dustbath!

Hey, what are you doing with that camera?

But despite these setbacks we are getting there. The plant pot of dust in the corner of the ICU has, until today, gone ignored. Suddenly this morning, as if by magic Effie decided, after a timid peck and scratch of the dirt, that the one thing she had to do was bathe in it! Do chickens smile? I think Effie did. Her whole little life until December had been misery, pain and fear. Now I hope she starts to realise that she deserves so much more – as much love, kindness, freedom, sunshine and dustbathing as any girl could possibly want!

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