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Little Larkspur Chicken arrived to live with us on 16th August, one of three very poorlie girls from a traumatic rescue. She was one of the lucky ones, she survived long enough to be rescued, and along with her new sisters, Lavender and Lupin, came down to Rosewarne for some special care.

She was named after my wonderful friend, Liz’s dearly departed ex-batt and I hoped that Liz and her lovely husband Mike could enjoy seeing their girl’s name live on in my Larkspur.

Initially, Larkpsur seemed the most healthy of the three girls. The only one with feathers, she set about beak cleaning her two new featherless sisters and seemed quite content with her new life, if a little quiet. She was a gentle soul, she had suffered a great deal in the cages and her new life would take a little getting used to.

Larkspur on rehoming day

Larkspur on rehoming day

However, as the two baldies started to develop and blossom, it became clear that Larkspur was not blooming with them. She was still quiet, but hunched and not eating very much. An initial veterinary examination found nothing untoward and Larkspur was given the usual baytril to help kill any potential lurking infection. She was malnourished and, I believe, traumatised from her experiences and I desperately wanted to give her something to fight for; to help her see the wonderful free life that awaited her.

She responded well at first and within a week had become the happy little chicken I hoped she would be. She ate plenty, went to bed with a full crop and a mashy beak and tucked up in the nestbox with her new best friend Lavender, whilst self-appointed top hen, Lupin, guarded the door. She took a dustbath and paced the fence impatiently in the hope of treats whenever I went into the garden. Things were going so well, that I dared to hope we had beaten whatever it was that had ailed her.

However, a few days later I noticed she had become quiet again, she was listless and not eating. So back on the meds we went in the hope that any infection just needed an extra thwack to completely knock it out. And it did, she was soon back to Healthy Larkspur, doing everything a free chicken should be doing.

When she was feeling well, Larkspur loved her mash!

When she was feeling well, Larkspur loved her mash!

To supplement her medicine, she had a range of vitamins, health foods, digestive aids and treats in a bid to give her body the boost it obviously needed. She was however, starting to slide back down into ill health again and no matter what I tried she would not respond.

Looking back there were clear signs and in my heart I knew we were not dealing with a mere infection. The medicine was just masking something very sinister lurking in her poor tired little body. I told myself when we went to visit the vet on that last day that it was just a check-up. She had been dozing in the sun all day (the Cornish weather had, for once, been mercifully kind to these girls) and she put up no resistance as I put her into the carrier.

Gina, our lovely vet, found a large tumour in Larkspur’s abdomen and the yellow colour I had told myself was because she had been eating corn, was in fact sky high bilirubin levels, indicating her liver was failing. Looking at her though Gina’s eyes, I suddenly saw how very sick she was, I had been too close, too intent on small details and not seeing the bigger picture. Her body was shutting down and her organs were failing. Sadly, there was only one option and as we awaited Gina and the medicine, Larkspur snuggled into my arms, quite content as I stroked her feathers gently. I believe she knew – she had tried so hard, I had tried so hard, but her scars from her caged life were just too deep. We could not win this battle, no matter how desperately we wanted to. Her passing was peaceful, she stayed where she was in my arms and just drifted off to sleep. The very least I could give her was a dignified death.

Little Larkspur, looking gorgeous and fighting hard

Little Larkspur, looking gorgeous and fighting hard

She was cremated with pink flowers under her wings and we watched as her spirit soared heavenwards, finally free of pain, she could now fly high with her Rosewarne sisters – I could feel Bella and Bunty Goodchicken waiting to greet her. Because she was the sweetest, gentlest of souls she has been awarded the posthumous title of Goodchicken – awarded to only the very best of girls.

Larkspur Goodchicken did not deserve to die so soon. She was a victim of a cruel system, her caged life was one of suffering, her body abused … and all for what? She had done nothing wrong, she did not deserve the life she had or the fate that awaited her. Every hen deserves to be free – free of pain and suffering, free to do just as she wishes and free from the abuses some humans inflict on them. Nothing I could do could save her from that, and I tried so hard to save this sweet, sweet girl. And Larkspur had wanted to live so much, she fought with her big, brave heart but in the end her broken little body could fight no more. I could not give her the long free range retirement that she should have been able to enjoy.

But what I could give her was six weeks of freedom; she knew love (such love), she knew sunshine and friendship, she scratched the grass and she bathed in the dust, she foraged for worms and she pecked at corn. It is nowhere near enough, six weeks of freedom in return for two years of suffering, but I hope she knows how hard I tried for her.
Godspeed little Larkspur Goodchicken – forever in our hearts, darling girl. RIP angel, fly high little hen xxxx

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It has been four weeks since Misses Larkspur, Lupin and Lavender came to live with us. And I am pleased to report that all three are blossoming!

Lupin, (Loops to her friends) is top hen and in charge of her little flock. At first she tried to round up Gary and I at bedtime to put us safely to bed in the coop, before forgetting what she was doing and falling asleep in the run! Now, however, she has her top hen duties all sewn up and gets her girls into bed every evening before tucking herself up just inside the door, guarding her friends. She is a real sweetie, always first to the food she also helps me poo pick, usually by standing on my feet or on the poop scoop and has been very busy growing her beautiful new feathers. Obviously highly intelligent, she was the first to work out the dustbath, although she actually had her bath next to the dustbath in the wood shavings, but let’s not be too picky!

Top Hen Lupin, looking gorgeous with her new feathers

Top Hen Lupin, looking gorgeous with her new feathers

Little Lavender is a beautiful girl with a beautiful heart. She has befriended little Larkspur and takes the greatest care of her. It never fails to amaze me, that in spite of all they have endured at the hands of humans, ex-batts are so trusting and friendly. Little Lavender especially so. She comes running to me each time I am in the run and loves to eat out of my hand. She will nestle at my feet and follows me around. Her feathers are growing so well, she is going to be a stunner!

Little kind-hearted Lavender, feathers growing

Little kind-hearted Lavender, feathers growing

Larkspur, the most feathered of the girls, has had a long hard battle to get where she is today. A visit to the vets found nothing nasty lurking, she was just emaciated and traumatised. We have tried everything we can for her, anti-biotics just in case and numerous mineral supplements to give her a boost. She has finally discovered a love of food, especially corn, and at the moment anything that she is happy to eat is fine by me! She discovered the dustbath yesterday and had a gloriously long bath and today she was shouting at me impatiently for her treats. She was also chirruping when she found a tasty worm. These are all small but important steps in her rehabilitation and whilst I am watching her very closely, I am cautiously optimistic our girl will pull through.

Little Larkspur, looking gorgeous

Little Larkspur, looking gorgeous

Every day, I am still grateful that our three L girls are enjoying their free range life. With poorlies, it is often touch and go for a long time after rehoming, but they are fighting hard and I am fighting for them.

Little angels, may their free range lives be long and happy.

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On Saturday, three very special but very poorlie girls came to live with us. Many poorlies taken from a very traumatic and upsetting rehoming* had been nursed by their rescuer and three of these girls, those that were thought strong enough to make the journey to us, arrived in the afternoon and were whisked into the comfort of their new home.

Larkspur (named after my lovely friend Liz’s dear departed girl) was the most feathered hen and set about cleaning the beaks of the other two.

Lovely Larkspur

Lovely Larkspur

Lavender was almost featherless and possibly the smallest hen I have ever seen.

Little Lavender

Little Lavender

Lupin had about four more feathers than Lavender and started to eat as soon as she saw food! She has continued to eat, her crop bulging each evening before she goes to bed.

Lovely Lupin

Lovely Lupin

I had forgotten the state of the ex-caged hens and these three really were in a desperate condition. Starved before the rescue as they were due for slaughter, each one was emaciated, traumatised and suffering physically and mentally from their abuse.

Watching as they ate and ate and then stood sleeping, overcome by their situation, was heartbreaking. Seeing them tentatively test the strange, soft grass beneath their feet and gaze in wonder at the blue sky was amazing but watching as they stretched out in the sunshine for the first time reduced me to tears. As did Lavender’s egg…how could a girl so tiny possibly produce an egg? The abuse forced on these pitiful scraps all in the name of cheap food is unforgiveable. I asked her to stop laying and rest her body, but in the meantime fed the egg back to them.

48 hours on and both Lavender and Lupin are eating well, have become more vocal and active, and are generally improving greatly. It is amazing what food, fresh air and a comfy bed can do for a girl!

However, it is Larkspur that is causing me the most concern. She is not eating and spends most of her time hunched over and dozing. We have syringed food into her – a ‘tasty’ concoction of egg, live yoghurt, honey, mash and spinach – and encouraged her to eat some of Lavender’s egg. She has had a bath and despite being a tiny bit fluidy in the abdomen area, has nothing else that is obviously wrong with her. I do not know if she is depressed, has cage fatigue or has something more sinister underlying. When I have exhausted my knowledge I will take her to the vets but I do not want to stress her out unduly unless I have to. But I am worried and I wish her godspeed each evening, just in case. If I was religious I would pray for her to pull through, but I am not, so I am hoping her desire to live is greater than anything else and that two days in the sunshine are enough to make her realise her life is worth living and that she is now loved and safe. Fight hard little girl xxxx

Larkspur and Lavender feeling the sun on their feathers for the first time

Larkspur and Lavender feeling the sun on their feathers for the first time

And my thoughts on the farmer that caused this suffering (contains strong language):

*The farmer had starved the hens as they were going to slaughter – disgustingly, something not that uncommon – and the hens that died were left in the cages with the live hens. So my dear friend took as many poorlies as she could out of the cages. Of the hens she did manage to save, some were so emaciated they had to be put to sleep, some were so ill with egg peritonitis and other diseases they had suffered with in the cages (undetected and untreated) they also had to be put to sleep, some had lost their will to live and gave up, and a few, just a small percentage of those poorlies saved from that hellhole, have made it so far. All this despite as much care, love and medical assistance as it is possible to give.
In no society, for any reason and most certainly not in the name of farming, is this abhorrent abuse acceptable. Hens are sentient creatures that have a wide range of emotions – including love, pain and fear. I am angry, I am so bloody angry that some human…many humans…think they can abuse animals in this way, make money from it and think they are above the law. Well, they aren’t. Some farmers may think they are untouchable, that the NFU’s hold over Defra and this sorry excuse for a government means they are exempt from any sort of retribution but there are other laws – laws of karma and of the universe and somehow, somewhere these bastards will get their comeuppance. This abuse will stop and I for one will not rest until it does.

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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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Little Effie has been a Very Brave Girl recently. Since she came back into lay after her moult, she has been laying softies. Initially they did not prove to be too much of a problem for her, although a worry for me, and Effie and her babies always happily tucked into any softies that appeared.

We upped her calcium and the shells started to appear slightly more shell-like, although still not hard enough to stop me fussing. And then last week, the problems really started; the yolk and white were emerging bit by bit but the shells were not. I removed one softie shell from her vent but the next day discovered a rather wiffy bit of soft shell just inside her vent.

So off to Uncle Jason we went!! Luckily, we already had an appointment booked for Clooney cat’s check-up and, spookily, Clooney was all too happy to give up her vet visit so that Effie could go instead.

After discussing her situation with Uncle Jason, we agreed an implant was the best solution for her. Initially I was loathed to give the implant again as she had been so unwell and depressed the first time she had it, but it was definitely the lesser of two evils.

Effie was so very brave when faced with the Very Big Needle that Uncle Jason was brandishing around, it was me that felt quite ill. But Effie, stoic as ever, merely let out a little squeak, then wriggled free once the injection was over.

She was however, more than happy to partake of a Wounded Soldier’s breakfast of scrambled egg when she got home. She then took herself off into the garden to tell her babies about how brave she was after her major surgery and then recuperated with a dustbath followed by a sunbathe.

Brave Girl Effie, recuperating from her implant with a sunbathe

Brave Girl Effie, recuperating from her implant

Three days later I am still watching her like a hawk. There have been no eggs and she has shown no signs of illness or depression at all. I think her babies are keeping her too busy!

I am however, very aware of the dangers that soft eggs and stuck shells can bring and whilst the implant is not a miracle cure, it will give her a chance to recover from the demands of egg laying. Even though Effie will no longer have any memory of her wretched life in the cage, it is desperate to think that its effects are still taking their toll on her beautiful body.

Breaking News! It would appear Effie is not the only exbatt to have had an implant this week. We have just heard that Miss Fajita Chicken of Cheshire has also been a very Brave Girl at the vets today. Well done Fajita xx

For more information on suprelorin implants for hens click here and scroll down almost to the bottom of the page.

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All hens are precious, exbatts are even more precious and Effie is the most precious one of all. But she will not live forever, which is why, at almost two and a half years free, every sniffle and snuffle is closely monitored and fussed over at great length.

So far Effie had sailed through her moult, she had ignored the indignities of bare, featherless patches and was now sporting her Chanelesque New Look…and fabulous she looks too dahhrling.

Effie resplendent in her new feathers

Effie resplendent in her new feathers

But last weekend, she started to have an upset tummy. Without embarrassing her any more than necessary, things were a bit…eruptive and watery. All necessary measures were taken and despite a certain, solidifying of things, Effie started to appear rather unwell. Whilst still eating well (she does love her food) she became lethargic, hunched and generally not herself. Even having workmen interrupting her peaceful garden did nothing to raise her interest.

Investigations found nothing untoward, so a general antibiotic was administered, and I must admit, I was so worried about her, I sat with her that evening and gave her The Talk. I told her everything I needed to – about how much I loved her, how blessed my life was through knowing her, how special she was and how she had changed the lives of so many chickens – just in case.

She went to bed tucked up under a fluffy bantam blanket – her babies covering their mum in love and protection. I sat up late into the night, boosted by the love and support of my wonderful chicken friends – Liz, Jan, Quolanta, Helen and Trish. Only a mad chicken lady would understand the trauma I was going through.

But as I did a last late night check on her I saw above her coop, shining high in the night’s sky, the moon, Jupiter and Venus. It was almost as if the whole universe was looking after my girl.

But it was to be a long night…

Early next morning, darling Gary, who had been kept awake all night by my fretting, kindly got up first to open the coop to see how she was.

First out and hungry!!!

Hey gorgeous Effie!  (she is not foaming at the beak, that is the remains of the bribe I had to give her to pose for a photo!)

Hey gorgeous Effie!
(she is not foaming at the beak, that is the remains of the bribe I had to give her to pose for a photo!)

Whatever it was had been overcome and Effie was back to her normal, naughty, fun, brilliant and thoroughly gorgeous self!! She wolfed down copious amounts of mash and spent the day shouting at the builders through her fence – they were putting in patio doors, with Effie’s unsupervised foremanship I expected to come home to a customised chicken flap in the new doors!

A few days later, she is still fit as a fiddle and I cannot begin to describe how happy I am that she is well again. I love her so much, the very thought of losing her is more than I can bear. Every day with her is a gift and I am thankful for every sunrise that we share together. She has blessed my life and has left her little footprints on my heart.

Effie has asked that this blog be dedicated to the memory of two of her friends – very special hens who passed away recently.
Kiev, the beautiful and dignified exbatt, head hen and all round legendary chicken who went to sleep last week, leaving her beautiful owner, Quolanta, heartbroken.
And little Rosemary bantam, who died very suddenly on Saturday. Her owners, our good friends Ann and Sarah Louise, are devastated at the loss of their little girl.
RIP Kiev and Rosemary xxx

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Friday 13th proved to be a very lucky day for some commercial hens who would otherwise have been destined for slaughter. The lovely people of Cornwall (and Devon too!) decided that saving a life (or three) this Christmas was the best way to celebrate the sentiments of the season and had offered homes to these little hens.

A wet and windy Cornish Friday night saw 267 little girls whisked from the farm to the warmth and comfort of the stables at Rosewarne.

The next day, bright and early, the first rehomers arrived and by lunchtime all the girls had been waved off to their new homes, the stables were cleaned and we were collapsing with a well-earned cuppa and piece of cake!

Chicken catcher supreme Carole chooses her three...sorry...four new girls!

Chicken catcher supreme Carole chooses her three…sorry…four new girls!

We have a wonderful team – Gary, Paula and Tim without whom none of this would happen, John who helps us in the farm and Carole, Dave, Marie, Angie and Pete who were wonderful chicken catchers all morning. The staff at Rosewarne help enormously with the day – it is almost exactly two years since we first rehomed from there (I know that because a certain special little lady will be celebrating her two year Henniversary this week) and we have rehomed over 1,000 hens. That is over 1,000 lives saved – and whilst 1,000 is a very small drop in a very large ocean – it is a start and I feel we are doing something, albeit a tiny something, to help some of these beautiful creatures.

I deliberated long and hard about whether to add this following bit but decided that I owed it to the hens:

But the rehoming was not all good news.

For the first time ever, we lost hens during the rehoming. One girl, died in the crates before she even got to the stables and three more died overnight. We think a fox scratching about outside the stable made the girls panic and these three died in the ensuing ruckus – when we arrived the girls were all in a very agitated state.

We are devastated by the losses. To lose girls before they even experience the freedom we worked so hard to achieve for them, is totally heartbreaking. I cannot describe the sense of failure I personally feel by their deaths. I was organising the rehoming, I was responsible for getting the girls safely from farm to stable to rehomers and I failed to do that. Somewhere along the way I did something wrong and these four innocent souls paid the price. Those girls will never be free girls and they will never know human kindness and it is weighing very heavily on my heart and on my conscience.

They were cremated just as our own girls are, and their ashes will be buried alongside their new sisters. They were given names – Freedom, Liberty, Care and Compassion – and poignantly the flower tucked under each of their wings was a rose called Compassion. Giving them dignity in death was the one thing we could do for them. In the words of the lovely Liz, they were finally given the recognition of their individuality that they deserved.

These girls need remembering so that they have not died in vain. If you can, please light candles for them tonight as their precious souls fly skyward, free forever.

RIP four little angels…from the very bottom of my heart, I am so sorry xxxx

Dedicated with love to special hens  Freedom, Liberty, Care and Compassion. May your spirits fly free always xxxx

Dedicated with love to special hens Freedom, Liberty, Care and Compassion. May your spirits fly free always xxxx

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