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Posts Tagged ‘Caring for Ex-Batts’

My apologies for being so slow in updating the blog. Effie’s passing has left us totally devastated, with a huge Effie-shaped hole in our lives that we are struggling to come to terms with. And if I am honest it has left my chicken keeping life without its sparkle. My girl has gone and everything seems muted and grey. I still talk to her every morning, well to her little ‘Effie’ stone anyway, which is now nestling next to Miss Basket’s on our little chicken graveyard – a sight which provides a little comfort and reassurance.

But there are still nine little hens running around the garden who depend on us and are trying everything in their magical chickeny power to lift our spirits and show us how to face life without Effie.

Mathematicians out there will be thinking; “I thought they had eight hens, with no Effie, that would make seven.” Well yes … therein lies a tale!

When Eff was ill and inside the Human Coop, I had an email asking me if I would take on a little frizzle who was being picked on. I had no real intention of any more hens with such a poorlie girl to care for but as usual I couldn’t say no! When I turned up to collect the frizzle, spookily there was a second frizzle who also needed a loving home. So two new babies came home to live with us. They looked quite a sight, bald and scraggly, so I decided they needed glamorous names. As they were from the same batch of eggs as my I girls, I decided on two I names (especially as I have many fabulous M names ready for the next batch of ex-batts whenever that will be!). So Ingrid Bergman and Iris Frizzle they became. Still flighty and scared of their own shadows they are now happily settled down in Effie’s Garden and will one day be integrated with the Big Girls.

Ingrid Bergman and Iris Frizzle

Ingrid Bergman and Iris Frizzle

So much for our Humans’ Garden!

But what about Lemony I hear you cry! Last time we looked, she was in Effie’s Garden waiting for her MummyEffie to get better. Well, hens seem to have an uncanny sixth sense – clever little things – and Iona knew something was wrong, so visited her sister Lemony in Effie’s Garden on a regular basis by scrooching under the fence. When I turned up with Ingrid and Iris, I took the plunge and popped Lemony in the Big Girls’ garden. Reunited with her bantie sisters, she was far too busy and happy to notice where she was and has settled in remarkably easily. The banties sleep in their own coop still, and there is the occasional silliness, but I am amazed at how well she has settled in. So well in fact that I now feel guilty for separating the banties and leaving Lemony with Effie. But Lemony, bless her beautiful little yellow feathers, loved Effie above all else and knew that she had an important job to do in caring for her elderly friend. But now she can go back to the task of being a naughty bantie with her sisters. And strangely, or not I suppose, ever since Lemony moved in with the Big Girls, Iona has never once gone back into Effie’s Garden. She knew, bless her.

Little Lemony - officially a Big Girl now!

Little Lemony – officially a Big Girl now!

But someone else has taken it upon themselves to pop over the fence into Effie’s Garden. Miss Lavender Goodchicken has discovered she can fly onto the fence and hop into the other garden, hoover up the food, lay her egg, bang on the patio doors and then hop back again. Little madam. Actually, it is working rather well. Firstly I like seeing a little brown hen outside the patio doors (if I am not concentrating I can let myself believe it is Effie for a split second) but most importantly she has got on very well with the frizzles and it will help with their integration later in the year. Lavender is also terribly pleased with herself for performing this miraculous flying trick and you can’t help but laugh with her.

Miss Lavender Goodchicken is very proud of herself!

Miss Lavender Goodchicken is very proud of herself!

Which brings us finally, to our Henniversary Girl. On 6th October Miss Greta Garbo Goodchicken celebrated three years as a free girl. An amazing achievement for a girl who came out with such a sore, red and swollen abdomen I thought the prognosis could only be bad. But Greta is living proof how resilient and hardy exbatts really can be. After almost two years of a bare swollen bottom, miraculously the swelling subsided and her feathers grew back. Now she is sporting a magnificent pair of knickers and a black tail that shows her Colombian Black Tail heritage. She is the happiest, sweetest and kindest girl and we are so very proud of her for being the wonderful little hen that she is.

Gorgeous Henniversary Girl Greta Garbo Goodchicken

Gorgeous Henniversary Girl Greta Garbo Goodchicken

So life does go on; the girls are using their magical henny healing power and are all trying their very best to mend our broken hearts and show us there is so much more for us to do. More hens to cuddle, more hens to love and ultimately more hens to rescue.

I just wish my Effie was here to help us.

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Many of you will remember that last year Effie was treated for her Earfection, the upshot of which was she had a suspected tumour or blockage causing the problem but with her being otherwise healthy (and elderly) we decided not to investigate further.

Sadly, in the past week or so Eff has been losing her sight. I think it is just in one eye but it is hard to gauge the extent. I first noticed it one morning when she was standing still and seemingly unable to move (this disorientation is something I had noticed a couple of times before). When she did start to walk, she walked into walls and the door and was totally unable to jump up the small step into the Human Coop. When I tried to tempt her with an eggy treat she was unable to peck at it, missing the mark by quite a way.

I remember a couple of years ago, beautiful Clara losing her sight, and she died very suddenly overnight. The Avian Vets thought she may have had an infection that caused the loss of sight, so I dosed Effie up with baytril and metacam just in case, although in my heart of hearts I knew it was the tumour pressing on her optical nerve. When I spoke to the Avian Vets they agreed it was the most likely scenario but as long as her quality of life was good then she would be OK.

As she was so very vulnerable outside and understandably prone to panicking, we have moved her inside permanently so she is in a familiar and safe environment. She is now sleeping in the lounge at night and can potter about the downstairs during the day. Her little Lemony bantam is still broody but as soon as she starts to come out of it I will reintegrate her with her bantie sisters before putting them all into the main flock in the Big Girls’ Garden. Effie will then have escorted walks around her garden when the weather is good.

She has adjusted very well to her loss of sight and is now able to eat more easily. We have found putting food in contrasting bowls – such as bright egg yolk in a dark bowl – is a big help, as is tapping the bowl gently to guide her. Just as if we had a small child in the house, we have removed anything she may injure herself on or trip over, such as wires, shoes etc. She is still enjoying her food, in particular any naughty treats such as egg, couscous, sweetcorn and a little cheese but I am very much of the opinion that, at this stage, anything she eats is a good thing. With our help, she is coping.

But it is breaking my heart. I am all too aware we are taking steps along Effie’s final journey with us and the care we are giving her is now very much end of life. The tumour is not going to go away and her eyesight is not going to improve. The thought of losing her is too much to bear. I want to spend every minute of every day with her as I know that there will not be many more days that she will bless my life, where I will be able to tell her just how much I love her. So every day I can hold her, stroke her feathers, breathe in her special Effie-scent and tell her just how much she means to me must be a good day. And I must hold myself and my breaking heart together for her until she tells me it is time to go.

Effie in the sun last year

Effie in the sun last year

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It has been many weeks since my last blog post. I blame work myself, getting in the way of important things such as chicken cuddling! As always, it has been busy here on the hen front so here is everybody’s latest news:

Hettie has started her annual Broody Marathon and will be broody for much of this month I expect. Being a Light Sussex cross I understand this is normal! Interestingly she will only growl at me when I take her out of the coop but will peck Gary. Maybe it is a man-thing.

Greta is well, although suffering from her usual dirty knicker issue. At this time of year I am paranoid about flies so she is having regular baths. My special egg-sitter, Greta has learnt not to try and sit on an egg that is already being nestled over by a broody bantam!

Talking of which, Inca and Iona are taking it in turns to be broody. As soon as one stops the other one starts! In her non-broody times Inca is still hellbent on world (or flock) domination and bosses the big girls about with a serious case of Little Hen Syndrome.

Iona though is the sweetest girl ever and, especially when best friend Inca is broody, comes over and asks for a cuddle. She also likes to be put to bed and sung too!

Gary cuddles Iona whilst Inca enjoys some non-broody time

Gary cuddles Iona whilst Inca enjoys some non-broody time

Flora-Jayne is well after her prolapse and subsequent implant. No more eggs have emerged and she didn’t really have a moult either so has sailed through the whole episode. Remarkable for a girl who will be celebrating three-and-a-half years of freedom next week!

Little Lavender is as gorgeous as ever and lights up the garden just by being there. She has had some soft eggs which have made her poorlie and after she laid a horrible egg and lash combo, has been given an implant. She was not impressed but after some Brave Girl Eggy was back to her usual sunny self. She will also, I believe, have some very exciting news soon … watch this space!

Lavender (front) and Lupin enjoy life!

Lavender (front) and Lupin enjoy life!

Lupin has had a few re-occurences of her crop issues but magic pineapple seems to do the trick each time. I fear that one day we will not be able to pull her through but all the time she is fighting so will we. In between episodes she is full of life and as happy as Lavender and my initial aim is to ensure she enjoys a full summer of freedom.

Little Lemony came back into lay after her prolapse and implant and I am happy to say everything stayed where it should be! She is becoming so very fond of Effie, and follows her round like a little powder puff shadow. She has just started to go broody and taking her out of the coop gives me the chance of a rare cuddle – a treat indeed!

Lemony stands on tiptoe to preen her beloved Effie

Lemony stands on tiptoe to preen her beloved Effie

And then there is Miss Effie. After her third implant, Miss Effie is moulting quite a bit but is well in herself, if slowing down a little. She is still having the odd panic attack, bless her, but a cuddle with mum usually calms her down. With Lemony broody, she is dividing her time between snoozing in her coop with Lemony and snoozing in the Human Coop (where she is as I write this). Next week she too will be celebrating three-and-a-half years as a free girl, and as always, I am quite emotional about yet another milestone my special girl has reached.

With summer coming, so too are lots of lovely family and friends to visit us and Effie. Well, when I say us, I mean Effie. She is happily granting royal audiences to her army of fans and I am looking forward to taking lots of pictures to post here!

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Miss Dorothy-Kate was a big, gorgeous, feisty chicken with a character to match! Rescued in October 2012, she originally went to live in Helston with her sister Doreen, and her new human family, John and Sharon. Within weeks she was soon described as a ‘bit of a character’.  Quite the escapologist, Dorothy was often found exploring next door’s garden or standing on top of the Cornish hedge at the bottom of her own garden, bwarking away – almost as if she was daring the local foxes – ‘come ‘ere if you think you’re hard enough’!

I first met Dorothy near the end of 2013 when she and Doreen came to stay for a week whilst their humans went to London. Despite a dividing fence, that first morning was like World War Three. My girls were not impressed by these two newbies and Dorothy was equally furious at being fenced off when there was a whole new garden to explore.  I should have realised then what a big-spirited girl I was dealing with!

But with her big spirit, came her equally big heart. A few months later, Doreen became ill and sadly passed away leaving Dorothy alone. The sight of her forlornly cuddling up to a teddy in her coop at night was enough for John to bring her to live with the Rosewarne ladies.

Beautiful Dorothy-Kate

Beautiful Dorothy-Kate

At this point, in July 2014, she became Dorothy-Kate; she had to be a K girl and I couldn’t possibly change her name, so Dorothy-Kate she became.

After the initial two-week separation period I introduced Miss Dorothy to her new sisters – after giving my girls a stern talk on ‘being nice to the new girl’. I needn’t have worried, within five minutes Dorothy had established herself as top chicken, and that was that!!

However, very soon Dorothy-Kate (or DK to her friends) took on all the serious duties of a top hen. She rounded her girls up for bed each night, protected them during the day, and very sweetly, started to crow whenever she heard the neighbourhood cockerel start up in the morning. In what became something of a ‘crow-off’ she stood fast, her little feet planted squarely on the floor, and replied to every one of his crows with a rather impressive one of her own! It was very endearing and one of my favourite memories of her.

Dorothy-Kate, Greta and Flora-Jayne tuck into a treat!

Dorothy-Kate, Greta and Flora-Jayne tuck into a treat!

DK was however battling the same issues so many ex-batts struggle with. At over two years’ free she was starting to suffer from crop problems. Often a sign something nasty is lurking elsewhere, we treated her as best we could and managed to pull her back from the brink on many occasions. Never underestimate the will to live of an ex-batt! Especially a girl as feisty as our darling Dorothy-Kate.

In February this year, Dorothy and Flora-Jayne became ex-batt ambassadors extraordinaire. They took part as show hens in a short course on Keeping Pet Chickens and were, understandably, the stars of the show! They behaved like the true professionals they were and charmed their audience, who all went home eager to have their own ex-batts.  A little hen can ask for no greater legacy than to know that because of her, some of her caged sisters will be rescued and given a new life. I was so terribly proud of them.

Dorothy reads the paper backstage

Dorothy reads the paper backstage

Unfortunately, a few weeks later, Dorothy became ill again, her crop not emptying and her abdomen swelling at an alarming rate. I tried everything I knew to help her but to no avail; sadly I had run out of tricks. She was in pain and was getting worse by the day so, for a girl whose dignity was so important to her, I knew it was time. I asked John to come round to say goodbye to her before we visited Aunty Gina, who agreed that a girl as special as Dorothy needed to die in peace and with dignity. At two-and-a-half years’ free, she had spent longer out of the cage than in it. It is little comfort at times like these, but as she passed away peacefully in my arms, I hope her memories were of sunshine, worms, friends and sunbathing – all the things a little chicken should always be able to enjoy.

John wanted to take Dorothy home to bury her with her sister Doreen, so I wrapped her little body up snugly and placed some forget-me-nots under her wing. It was exceptionally hard to hand her precious body over – normally I see them through to the very end – but Dorothy had only ever been staying with us and she needed to be with her other sister. If I trusted anyone to care for her, it would be John and Sharon – they have good, kind souls. She is now buried next to her beloved Doreen with camellias on her grave. She also has, however, a stone here at Rosewarne, and will always be a part of our flock.

She was a big, brave and beautiful girl; a top hen and a show hen and all of us here, human and chicken, will miss her. Sleep tight darling Dorothy-Kate, fly high sweetheart xxxx

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Don’t get me wrong, I love spring. With the longer days I get to see more of my hens (only interrupted by annoying bouts of work) and the girls enjoy the sun’s returning warmth. But there is a less sunny side to spring – the toll it can take on the girls. One dark spring weekend a few years back, we lost three girls in as many days – the demands of nature proving too much for their moult-weakened bodies. Since then I have greeted spring with a mixture of joy and trepidation and gird the girls’ feathery loins as best I can beforehand, getting them into peak physical fitness before spring arrives.

This spring of course has been no different and we have had the usual round of illnesses and dramas. Both Lupin and Dorothy-Kate have suffered from impacted crops. For Lupin, her crop is obviously her weak area – starved in the cage, she understandably ate until it was almost bursting on rehoming – but a few days of pineapple, oil and massages sees her back to her normal cheeky self.

Dorothy’s was a far more serious affair. An older and pretty bolshie ex-batt she is not one to succumb to something as mundane as illness without it being something rather nasty. Indeed, there was a time I thought we were going to lose her. But Dorothy, true to feisty form, rallied and pulled through. She had been having pineapple, oil and massages twice a day for a week but her crop was still not emptying. We asked Uncle Jason for some metroclopramide and bingo! The crop cleared and has been working perfectly ever since. I must admit to really being amazed, I thought we would lose her and had even asked her dad what he wanted regarding her funeral arrangements. Oh me of little faith! Never underestimate the fighting spirit of an ex-batt!

Lemony all recovered from her prolapse and operation

Lemony feeling so much better!!

Our other poorlie area has been prolapses. Lemony bantam had always struggled to lay her eggs, taking most of the morning, so I suppose it was no surprise that she eventually suffered from a prolapse. Uncle Jason kindly performed emergency Saturday morning surgery on her, giving her little vent a purse string suture and gave her the suprelorin implant. After an anxious few days of Prolapse Watch she was back in the loving wings of Effie, untroubled by any more eggs.

Just like children, hens will be ill at the most awkward of times. Moments before we left for a long day in Devon, I discovered Flora had a prolapse. It was impossible to leave her unsupervised so Gary kindly stayed with her whilst Caroline and I headed up to Exeter to see Tom and Amanda. Consequently crowned the Prolapse King of Cornwall, Gary successfully treated her so by the time I checked her the next morning, everything was just where it should be. Unlike the spare bedroom she had been staying in – poo-covered chaos!! But she was booked in to see Uncle Jason on the Monday morning for an implant to avoid any more poppings out.

Flora-Jayne back to looking amazing!

Flora-Jayne back to looking amazing!

And then there is my Effie. Over the years Eff has had three implants as she has been plagued by soft eggs but I had hoped that now, at over five years old, egg laying was behind her. But after a few days of her jumping onto things, nestling in corners and a definite reddening of her comb, sure enough a pained Effie produced a softie. Two days later the same thing happened so, you guessed it, straight to Uncle Jason for an implant. She is now back to being egg free and naughty!

At £100 a shot for three implants, plus one operation and numerous meds it has certainly not been cheap but, what has proved to be a financially disastrous spring for us humans, has also proved to – so far (I cannot tempt fate) – be a successful one healthwise for the girls. And after all they are the ones that are important!

Spring Chicken Effie!

Spring Chicken Effie

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Two of my beautiful girls have recently made me extremely proud. Even more proud than I usually am in fact! Misses Flora-Jayne and Dorothy-Kate Chickens took part in a course I was running, entitled Keeping Pet Chickens. It was billed as a hands-on course, so some show hens were needed.

Flora-Jayne was an obvious candidate; all frilly knickers and fluffy personality, I knew she would shine. But as the course numbers grew, so too did the need for a second show girl. Dorothy-Kate was the candidate that initially sprang to mind – bolshie and no nonsense, she would not be intimidated by a room full of people. So we were all sorted – or so we thought ….

About ten days before the course, Dorothy-Kate became unwell. Investigations showed an impacted crop which we treated with a combination of vegetable oil, massage and magic pineapple*. As DK started to get better, there was the growing concern that she would not be well enough to attend the course. So auditions for an understudy were planned. However, initial trials of picking up and cuddling proved … a bit rubbish. Lavender would be picked up for a nanosecond before squiggling free and Lupin was not much better. Both still young and new to our family I feared they would find the ordeal too overwhelming. Hettie hates to be touched at all and Greta Garbo, despite her splendid new knickers, is still a little back heavy and not a standard example of hen shape for new henkeepers. Effie was not happy to share the limelight with Flora (she does like to be the star dahhrling), Lemony is convinced I am trying to kill her if I so much as look at her, Inca screams blue murder and, despite her love of cuddles with her mum, Iona doesn’t like ‘strangers’.

Quite the dilemma!

However, Dorothy-Kate is a tough cookie and a week of treatment later and with some metroclopramide for crop stasis from Uncle Jason just to be on the safe side, she had made a full recovery. Back to her normal stroppy self, I knew she would tolerate being a show hen – although she didn’t take kindly to being told she would have to have her vent and knickers checked. Can a girl never have any dignity!!

Dorothy reads the paper backstage

Dorothy gets the hump when the attention is on Flora Dorothy reads the paper backstage and then gets the hump when Flora gets all the attention!

So one worry rectified, another still faced me. As a child I had a dreadful stutter, and as any stutterer will tell you, it never goes away, you just tend to manage it. Stressful situations – say, talking for six hours in front of a group of strangers – tend to magnify any hesitations.

Flora-Jayne has her wings clipped

Flora-Jayne has her wings clipped

However, knowing my subject and being passionate about spreading the message that hens are amazing, was enough to give me the confidence to overcome my nerves. That and some herbal happy pills!!

At the end of the course, talking chicken keeping books!

Talking chicken books at the end of the course

I am thrilled to say the day was a success – the attendees loved the course, all feedback was totally positive and lovely Chris who organised the course for me said it was excellent. Obviously my witterings were merely a support act for the day’s stars – who arrived during the lunchbreak amidst a fanfare of oohs and ahhhs – and behaved like the professionals they are. Real ladies throughout – even during the now infamous knicker and vent check. Flora even allowed her wing to be clipped without so much as a squawk. Secretly I think they loved the attention!!

Roll on the next course … which incidentally is 27th May (the Wednesday of half term!)

https://www.ruralbusinessschool.org.uk/events/keeping-pet-chickens

And a very big thank you to Jane Gray for her amazing help and hen wrestling duties. Jane does beautiful, upcycled artwork to raise awareness of chickens http://janegrayartist.co.uk/

* Pineapple is AMAZING for impacted crops! It has to be fresh pineapple, not juice or the chopped up stuff in plastic pots but a real knobbly pineapple. It has an enzyme, bromelain, that breaks down nasty clumps that block crops. Sieve or juice it and syringe in about 2ml at a time. Dorothy-Kate had 2ml syringed in night and day for a week, along with her oil and crop massage. This is the fourth time I have tried using this on impacted crops and so far have a 100% success record. It truly is amazing, please try it next time one of your girls has an impacted crop.

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My chickens have changed my life in so many wonderful ways! They have made me laugh, they have filled my life with joy, they have saved me from the brink of despair and highlighting their plight has given my life a real meaning. At last I can make a difference, albeit a tiny one, in the lives of some of the beautiful creatures we share this planet with.

Another, and completely unexpected, way was to let me finally realise my dream of becoming a writer. Writing to me is the best, and sometimes only, way I can express myself. As a lifelong stutterer I have never been able to say the things I wanted to. Anyone who stutters knows you become a self-editing machine and sometimes it is easier just to say nothing at all.

But by writing I finally have a loud, clear, eloquent voice that people listen to. Ever since I was a little girl I have wanted to write a book; I used to write long, rambly (rather rubbish I am afraid) stories, and send them to publishers. Unsurprisingly I never got a reply! As an adult I continued to try and write novels but eventually realised that I had the imagination of a peanut.

‘Write about what you know,’ they say, but until my girls came along I didn’t really ‘know’ that much about anything! I had, however, been lucky enough to spend some time writing for and editing a newsletter for my friend Brigit’s wonderful charity, The Big Green Idea, which gave me that first little confidence boost. The thrill of having someone read and comment on what you have written is indescribable! I was ‘speaking’ and someone was actually listening!

Then my first three A girls arrived and suddenly everything just slotted into place! My girls became my life; changing their lives became my mission. Audrey, Agatha and Aurora taught me so much about hen keeping and I was a willing (although possibly not too competent) pupil. Working in a library I had access to numerous wonderful books on hen keeping and I soaked up all that information. Suddenly, writing about them was as easy as loving and caring for them; it combined my two great passions and it felt completely natural, almost as if it was meant to be.

I was lucky enough to start writing for poultrykeeper.com and then branched out into magazines. Miss Bunty Goodchicken being a Smallholder covergirl is one of the proudest moments of my life. She looked magnificent!

As I learnt more and more about ex-batts, people started to contact me for advice and help with their hens. It struck me that, with all the plethora of hen keeping books available, there was not one on ex-batts. And they are special girls who deserve their own special book. Whilst their needs are similar to ‘normal’ chickens, they can sometimes require a little extra care and attention.

The book cover featuring Miss Audrey Chicken!

The book cover featuring Miss Audrey Chicken!

Publishers, however, were not interested in the book so, bravely or foolishly, I went ahead and published it myself. It seemed more important to get the book ‘out there’ to help new ex-batt owners than it did to continue to plead with publishers.

The book covers all the basics of ex-batt keeping and I have woven tales and pictures of my girls throughout the book. I hope my love for them comes across in these stories, and prospective or new ex-batt owners understand what precious girls they have in their care. A picture of every girl I have cared for appears in the book, it seemed very important that they all had their stories told; they are all individual and special girls after all.

Back cover featuring Miss Bunty Goodchicken!

Back cover featuring Miss Bunty Goodchicken!

My hope is that, firstly, the book encourages more people to rehome some ex-batts and save a few more girls from slaughter and, secondly, that it helps new ex-batt keepers have the confidence to give their girls the best care possible and experience the joy that is ex-batt keeping! Each copy sold will raise money for the smaller hen rehoming charities and even if just one more little ex-batt is rehomed or helped then it has done its job.

Jo xxx

PS Effie says she is happy to sign any copies – with her special muddy footprint!

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