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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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Flora Day occurs on or around May 8th in Helston, Cornwall and celebrates the coming of spring with dancing, partying and an abundance of lily of the valley. However, here in Rosewarne, our Flora Day was celebrated today, 27th October, with the greatest storm since 1987 brewing in the skies, the dark winter evenings closing ominously in and rain, the like of which I have never seen before, blowing up the Red River Valley in menacing sheets of blackening doom.

But, in spite of all this autumnal ferocity, our Flora Day was alight with sun, happiness and joy (and an egg!).

Miss Flora Hen is an ex-batt who, until recently, has lived a very happy post-cage life in Marazion with her three sisters and two loving owners. However, her sisters have sadly all died and Flora was left alone. Her owners needed a new home for her so she could have hen company again and become part of another flock. There was a spare coop in our garden and it didn’t take long for Gary to get my (not so) subtle hints and suggest she come to live with us. So today Miss Flora arrived!!

Miss Flora-Jayne, a ray of sunshine!

Miss Flora-Jayne, a ray of sunshine!

After speaking to her, understandably upset, owners, we discovered Flora was part of the same rehoming as Evie, Eliza, Effie and her beloved Miss Basket. This means I may well have taken her out of her cage and it gives me a special affinity with this very pretty little hen.

She is now living in the Big Girls’ Garden, in her own coop and run, for a couple of weeks before introductions begin and I am amazed that Eliza ‘Give ‘em All Hell’ Chicken has merely come up to the wire fence and pecked at the grass that Flora is pecking at before wandering off. I know chickens recognise up to 80 other girls and I wonder if my most combative of girls actually already knows who this new hen is. Hens never fail to amaze me with their intelligence, empathy and compassion and I feel that my two remaining E-girls will recognise a fellow ‘survivor’ from their farm and offer her the wing of friendship.

Don't I know you? Flora-Jayne meets Eliza...

Don’t I know you?
Flora-Jayne meets Eliza…

But what of her name?? Flora?? Her name needs to begin with a J as fits my little system but a girl of two years free cannot have her name changed!! So we decided Flora-Jayne she would be! And it definitely suits her.

So far she had flown onto her coop roof, announced very loudly (and repeatedly) to the world that she is here, had her wing clipped amongst great protestations, shared a fence-limboing tuft of grass with Eliza (they do know each other I am sure of it!!) and laid an egg!!

Not bad for a first day!

If you are inspired by Flora-Jayne’s story, and you live in Cornwall and feel you can offer a loving home to some ex-commercial hens, I have a rehoming on 14th December in Camborne. Please visit the website to reserve your hens at www.freshstartforhens.co.uk or if you are tempted but unsure PLEASE email me for advice and information on cornwallgreenbean@tiscali.co.uk.

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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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The sun has got his hat on and all the hens in my garden are happy! Long, warm days spent foraging, dust bathing and dozing in the glorious Cornish sunshine are just what my special girls love most.

Young Hettie Hen is now a fully fledged ex-batt sister – well almost. She still sleeps with teddy in her own coop and has shown no inclination to sleep with the big girls. But that will come when she is ready. In the daytime, though, she pootles about with her big sisters who now accept her as part of their little flock. Her best friend is Bella Chicken and even though Bella is top hen, she gently cleans Hettie’s beak, lets Hettie share her food and lets her snooze next to her in the sunshine.

Hettie hanging out with her sisters!

Hettie hanging out with her sisters!

Greta Garbo has a new trick. She waits until I am kneeling down talking to the girls, then sidles up and swiftly pulls my beautiful badger earring out of my ear and runs off with it!! Little minx!

Miss Basket is still not 100% after her implant – she spends much of the day sleeping and is not eating very much. I think she is suffering from the heat as she is much perkier first and last thing, when it is cooler. She has been for a check-up with Uncle Jason and all is as well as can be expected. She has however, decided that Effie’s daily egg, which was up until now too precious to be eaten, is now fair game and tucks into it when my back is turned. Six days out of seven I just find the shell in the nest box and a nonchalant Miss Basket dozing in the garden, her crop full of egg! Still, she needs it more than I do.

Effie, in spite of the indignity of having her egg eaten, is happily tending to her beloved friend. She sits with her in the daytime, preening her gently and at night time snuggles on top of her in a two hen pyramid. They love each other very much indeed. For two little hens who had never known what it was to have a friend, to suddenly be sharing your days in the sun with your soulmate must be the stuff of dreams. So deep is their friendship, I do worry that one will not cope should anything happen to the other. I do have a plan, but Old Grumpy needs to be convinced…watch this space.

"Love you Effie." " Love you too, Miss Basket" xxx

“Love you Effie.” ” Love you too, Miss Basket.” xxx

And finally I am thrilled to say that the book is selling very well!! We have repeatedly been number one on the kindle and paperback bird charts and have five star reviews across the board! The more copies we sell, the more money we raise for hen rehoming charities. The book also featured in Your Chickens this month, as did Effie’s bi-monthly column telling of her rise to international superstardom!!

But all joking aside, the book, the column, this blog all have one purpose and that is to spread the word about the wonder that is ex-batts.

And there is more exciting news…but I will tell you next time!

Jo xx

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Saturday evening saw the grand launch of Uncooped, an online exhibition curated by the National Museum of Animals in Society in Los Angeles.

As well as celebrating the beautiful creatures that are chickens, the exhibition highlights the plight of the millions of commercial hens across the world and features pictures and stories of people’s pet hens – showing just what wonderful characters chickens are!

We found out about it when my very talented artist friend, Lesley Ann Cooper, was approached by the museum’s curator for paintings and stories. She sent them some of her beautiful ex-batt portraits and then very kindly put them in touch with me for some stories.

Naturally one of two of my girls were very keen to ‘crack the American market’, most notably a certain Miss Effie Chicken. Graciously she let Miss Basket appear in her photograph and story and the two girls now think of themselves as international celebrities. No doubt we will soon have demands for a red carpet, champagne breakfasts and mealworm fountains…

California Dreamin'...

California Dreamin’…

All joking aside I am enormously proud of my girls for being chosen to appear in the exhibition and I am also enormously proud of the lovely Lesley, whose wonderful artwork makes quite a few appearances.

And poignantly a certain Miss Bunty Goodchicken also features in the exhibition. Her story was written as she was slowly losing her fight against the scars her caged life had left on her body. As we still mourn the loss of this most precious of hens, it is reassuring to know that her story is being told in another country; so that more people will read of her brave battle to enjoy a free range life and be inspired by the little hen who blessed our lives for two years.

Miss Bunty Goodchicken, BHAW

Miss Bunty Goodchicken, BHAW

Uncooped

To see Effie, Miss Basket and Bunty Goodchicken go to Get To Know, then Portrait Gallery. Bunty is on line 2 and California Girls Effie and Miss Basket are on line 13.

To see Lesley Anne’s artwork click on Advocacy , then Chicken Advocates and scroll down to Battery Hen Rehoming Organisations.

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