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Posts Tagged ‘Henniversary’

With the sad losses of both Lavender Goodchicken and Greta Goodchicken this year, our garden was left without a special Goodchicken girl. Only the very kindest, sweetest girls can be awarded the Goodchicken title; hens who have never thrown a peck in anger and who have always put their sisters’ well-being before their own. They are inspired by the original Goodchicken – Bunty. A hen whose goodness, kindness and beauty are much revered in Rosewarne legend.

So with the New Year upon us, it was decided that a new girl should be awarded the Goodchicken title and become part of the Goodchicken Sisterhood. And the title goes to …

Lemony!

Lemony was the standout choice to become a Goodchicken – in fact the award is long overdue. She performed services of love, care and attention, far, far above and beyond, when she cared for the elderly Effie. Not only did she have to give up on the opportunity of joining the Big Girls but she missed being with her two sisters who had already joined the main flock. But Lemony stayed with her beloved Effie; caring for her, preening the tail that Effie’s neck wouldn’t let her preen herself, keeping her company, tucking up with her at night and sharing Effie’s favourite pastime of coming inside to watch the washing machine go round. Even as Effie’s health was failing and she came inside on a more permanent basis, Lemony stood on duty outside the Human Coop, waiting for a brief moment with her elderly friend. That moment came in one last dustbath together, where Lemony preened Effie and they said their goodbyes. As Effie came back inside the Human Coop for the last time, so Iona bantam, who had been watching events unfold, came over the fence and escorted Lemony into the Big Girls’ Garden.

Effie and Lemony friends forever

Effie and Lemony friends forever

Lemony stands on tiptoe to preen her beloved Effie

Lemony stands on tiptoe to preen her beloved Effie

Lemony settled in very well, Iona and Inca ensuring that no one picked on her. But the Rosewarne ladies had watched Lemony caring for Effie and knew that she was a very special girl and would never dream of picking on her. In fact, Flora-Jayne decided that she loved Lemony very much – just a bit too much – and it is for enduing Flora’s amorous attentions that makes Lemony even more of a special girl. Lemony loves Flora, you see; I think it is because Flora is a big, brown chicken and in Lemony’s mind, a big brown, Effie-shaped chicken means love and friendship. Only Flora’s hormones cause them no end of problems!!

Lemony hanging out with the Big Girls

Lemony hanging out with the Big Girls

But Lemony is now and always will be a Goodchicken, a fluffy pale yellow ball of beauty and love scuttling across the garden, tiptoing over the wet grass and generally bringing a little sunshine into our world. We love her so much and she is a very well-deserved recipient of this precious title.
Welcome to the Sisterhood, Miss Lemony Goodchicken of Rosewarne

Beautiful Lemony Goodchicken

Beautiful Lemony Goodchicken

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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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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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On Friday 19th December, a very special event was celebrated here at Rosewarne. Miss Effie Chicken and Miss Flora-Jayne Chicken celebrated the amazingly brilliant achievement of being free range girls for three years!

This is no mean feat as ex-battery hens are bred to live for about two years, 18 months of that laying intensively. To survive a year out of the cages is good, two very good and three … well, three is a first for me!!

Effie’s story is well documented here in this blog, she came to me a terrified scrap of feathers, injured and traumatised and her rehabilitation took many months. She showed me what cages can do to a hen physically and emotionally and, more importantly, what a brave heart can overcome given love and care. She is my special girl and the three years she has blessed my life has been an absolute privilege. I adore her and am grateful for every day she spends with me.

Miss Flora-Jayne, my strawberry blonde showgirl, came to live with us about 18 months ago. She had come from the same rescue as Effie and all of my E girls, but she and her three new sisters had gone to live with two lovely ladies in Helston. However, Flora outlived all of her sisters and was a lonely girl, so she came to live with us. She recognised Eliza immediately and the two hens were mesmerised by each other. It is not so improbable, they came from the same row of cages and could easily have been in the same or neighbouring cages. It does go to prove though, that hens recognise other hens and also have excellent memories! Flora has never had a sick day in her life, she is gorgeous and happy and feathery and an absolute delight to care for!!

Showgirl Flora-Jayne!

Showgirl Flora-Jayne!

Before the Big Day, parcels and cards started to arrive for the Henniversary Girls: Numerous tasty morsels from Sarah and Ann, mealworms and personalised cards from Liz, handmade festive treats from Megan and Dawn and mealworms from Quolanta. All were addressed to the hens and invariably ended up at college reception. Luckily the receptionist is aware of the girls and only commented that they were very popular! The night before, Gem brought round a couple of dozen quails’ eggs for the girls’ breakfast, and after cooking, peeling and mashing them, I made bunting and mealworm cakes. We were ready!!

Presents, cards and bunting!

Presents, cards and bunting!

The girls adored their quails’ eggs breakfast and then excitedly headed off for a dustbath and forage. At lunch time the party began in earnest. The cakes were devoured in moments and the treats were scattered – Effie and Flora had kindly allowed their gifts to be shared. We sung Happy Henniversary and the girls posed for some photos before human friend, Jane, turned up to join in the celebrations*. It wasn’t long before the sun started to set and the exhausted party goers headed happily off to bed, crops full of tasty treats.

Effie and BFF Lemony enjoy their cake!

Effie and BFF Lemony enjoy their cake!

In all seriousness I found the day very emotional. Effie means the world to me and the fact that we have managed to get her to enjoy three years as a free range hen is truly amazing. She has overcome so many hurdles, her big, brave heart is an inspiration to me and to the many lovely people who have read about her and love her almost as much as I do.

Here is to another three wonderful years xxx

*I can only apologise to the man who was up a ladder painting my neighbour’s house and witnessed the entire thing in absolute amazement!

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Dame Effie of Rosewarne, ex-batt ambassador extraordinaire and international superstar has had an ear infection. ‘Do hens have ears?’ someone asked me. Well yes of course they do, it is just they are not very obvious. But this was a first for Effie and a first for me. No matter how much you think you know about hens, these girls will always find something to make you realise just how much you still have to learn.

I had noticed some liquid on the side of Effie’s head, not far from her eyes, which looked as though her ear was weeping. She had been quiet of late but after having two implants in close succession, that was to be expected. She had also taken to spending much time in the Human Coop, but Effie considers herself a human anyway so again it was not unusual. But put it all together and it meant a visit to Uncle Jason.

Ever the professional vet, Uncle Jason was fascinated by Effie’s ear (it was a first for him too) and excitedly took swabs to have a look at! His results showed she had a bacterial infection, so baytril was prescribed, as usual, and we went home ready to tackle the ear-fection.

Dame Effie looking gorgeous as ever

Dame Effie looking gorgeous as ever

Now Effie has many talents, most of them very good, but one particular talent she has is spitting. She can spit food, she can spit greens (‘Effie, don’t eat the sweet peas, you don’t like them…’ munch…spit) and she can projectile spit medicine very impressively indeed! So a Cunning Plan had to be devised. It came in the form of some manuka honey (nothing is ever too good for our girl) which, when dissolved in a little warm water and added in equal measures to the baytril, produced something Miss Effie actually liked. Naturally, this does not mean we didn’t have games of ‘Catch the Effie’ or ‘Find the Effie’ when it comes to medicine times but, once caught, she happily has her medicine.

However, after the first course of antibiotics finished, the weeping started again the next day. So a second course was prescribed, but again, as soon as the drugs stopped, the ear started to weep. Effie did not seem unduly unwell in herself, was eating heartily (quails egg for breakfast dahhhrling…) and was doing everything a happy, healthy girl should be doing. So a second swab was taken and this time sent to the lab for an in depth analysis.

The lab found ‘mixed growth’ in her precious ear – two nasties competing. One had been clobbered by the baytril, the other needed something else. So Synolux (erythromycin) was prescribed – two tablets twice a day.

So how to you get a hen to eat a tablet that is almost as large as her head??

Eventually we settled on crushing it, dissolving it in 2ml of water and schlurping it back into the syringe. A fiddle, especially at 7am, but miraculously it worked! And even more miraculously Effie loved the taste! She opened her little beak for more and almost seemed to enjoy it. I expect the diva in her also appreciated the bright pink colour!!

So now, with the magic pink pills finished, Effie’s ear-fection has not returned. She is back to her naughty, happy, gorgeous, beautiful, wonderful self! And we are busily making great plans for 19th December, when a certain little lady celebrates being three years’ free!!

Yes Effie, I love you too xxx

Yes Effie, I love you too xxx

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Today is a very Happy Day as the Rosewarne ladies are celebrating Miss Greta Goodchicken’s two year Henniversary!!

Two years ago, Miss Greta Chicken, arrived to live with us, one of three poorlie girls from a rescue. She had a big, bare, swollen bottom and was very waddly and worryingly heavy. After letting her settle down for a few days after the trauma of rehoming, we visited Uncle Jason who confirmed it was a mass of scar tissue from an infection in the farm. She was prescribed frusemide to reduce the fluid and within a few days she was much less waddly and far more mobile!

Greta was a very good sister to her two fellow poorlies, very sick Gina who sadly passed away soon after rehoming, and Grace Kelly, the little hen with a prolapse. Greta was beak cleaner extraordinaire and, due to the fact that a very good, gentle and loving heart was beating in her beautiful body, she was soon awarded the much-coveted title of Goodchicken; a prestigious honour awarded to only the very kindest of hens.

Birthday Girl Greta Goodchicken

Birthday Girl Greta Goodchicken

When Greta and Gracie moved into Henderlay with the Big Girls, they stayed the best of friends and were always together. When Gracie passed away very suddenly, the other girls were quick to take Greta under their wings and now she is part of a very naughty but close-knit and sweet trio who spend their days gleefully trashing my garden and terrorising the cats! Due to her bottom issues, Greta has never laid an egg since her rehoming but that doesn’t stop her going into the nest box after an egg has been laid by someone else, sitting on it for a while and then proudly proclaiming it is hers! So we all pretend we don’t know that and tell her what a clever girl she is!

From time to time she has a course of frusemide to stop the fluid building up, but otherwise she is a healthy and happy little girl; a worthy holder of the Goodchicken name. She is however, still knickerless with a larger than average bottom, but as I tell her, big bottoms are in! She is my bootylicious babe and I tell her she is beautiful every day!

Sweetest Girl Greta Goodchicken

Sweetest Girl Greta Goodchicken

She dined on quails eggs for her breakfast (what else?!) and in the evening the celebrations got into full swing with everyone enjoying her special Henniversary cakes. And now the partygoers are snuggled up in their coops, crops blissfully full of mealworm cakes, we humans will light two candles for Gina and Gracie who are not here to celebrate with us anymore.

Two years’ free is an amazing achievement for even a healthy ex-batt. For a poorlie girl with a swollen bottom, it is quite remarkable. But Greta is a Goodchicken and she deserves only Good Things.

Happy Henniversary sweetheart xx

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliza (foreground) in happily integrated with the Big Girls

Eliza (foreground) is happily integrated with the Big Girls

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

Best Friends Eliza and Flavia

Best Friends Eliza and Flavia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Eliza Chicken, sweet dreams darling xx

Miss Eliza Chicken, sweet dreams darling xx

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Grace Kelly Chicken

Miss Grace Kelly Chicken

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

Miss Greta Goodchicken

Miss Greta Goodchicken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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