Don’t go breaking my heart…

A settled Poppy and Clover

For the past fortnight we have been nursing Clover, one of our first ex-caged hens.  Having dealt with many chicken ailments over the years; crop checked for food blockage, abdomen checked for egg blockage or swelling, wormed, antibiotics, critical care (Lucozade for chickens) syringed twice a day, vitamins, wet pellets with oil and porridge to no avail.  The vet was stumped too… We have sadly watched her decline and this evening we took her to the vet for the very last time.

I know many believe that we devote too much time and money to our pets and many have asked over the years “why not eat her?”, “just wring her neck!”, they wouldn’t bother.  Let me explain why we care so much.  Like the famous song that you will now be singing for the next week or so “right from the start I gave them my heart”, these girlies are not food but given the status of a family member on their arrival, they are in our care and we will be with them until the bitter end.

Wherever you are beautiful Clover we hope you are happy, scratching around and dust-bathing in the sunshine with those who broke a little of our hearts before you.  We will miss you. x

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All is quiet on the chicken front…

So I haven’t posted on our chickens for some while, the last being a rainy day back in May when we had to say goodbye to lovely Lily.  In July last year we adopted our first two ex-caged hens(Essex girls saved from slaughter), Poppy and Clover, who have settled in so well.  We have had our fair share of chicken issues but these two have been a healthy pair (here is hoping I won’t jinx it).  One of them no longer lays which is not unusual as reproductive issues are common for such intensively farmed birds but she is enjoying her retirement none the less in our back garden.

A settled Poppy and Clover

A settled Poppy and Clover

With the loss of Lily and a family with an increasing appetite for eggs we decided to adopt another two in May this year, named Petal and Fleur (though they are so similar I suspect they may have interchangeable names).  As there were already two sturdy birds in residence we had to keep the weedy pair separate until they adjusted to a life outdoors and gained in confidence and strength.

Introducing themselves

Introducing themselves

After a week and a half we started to mix them for short periods in a larger area that we had constructed to increase their free ranging abilities.  The introductions were stressful with lots of squawking and pecking and chasing (and panicking for me).  The decision was made to wait a little longer and they were not fully integrated until the end of week three.  Petal and Fleur still have a long way to go, they are much skinnier than Poppy and Clover and have many feathers to regrow but they now all live happily together.  I will keep you updated on their progress…

Cinderella

Cinders and her gorgeous sisters

Cinders and her gorgeous sisters

Lily, once the belle of the ball with two ugly sisters, currently looks more like Cinders before her transformation.  Our newest ladies have gone through their annual moult and have turned into handsome young ladies while Lily, still moulting, looks small, pale and tatty.  While she puts all her energy into making new feathers she has stopped laying eggs.

Poppy-stripped wing feathers, tatty bottom feathers and missing tail, chest and head feathers

Poppy-stripped wing feathers, tatty bottom feathers and missing tail, chest and head feathers

Poppy transformed

Poppy transformed

This is a time when your hens may need some extra help to stay healthy by provided them with a higher protein diet.  You can give them a specialist feed or add in a handful of mealworms or sunflower seeds in the afternoon, you can also give them a boost with some liquid seaweed vitamin supplements.  In a matter of weeks Lily will be transformed once again.

Lethargic Lily

A fortnight ago I returned from a lovely family holiday in Cornwall to find a dirty bottomed lethargic Lily, her wings spread out hanging down by her side and when she stood still her head would begin to fall towards the floor, her eyes closed.  My neighbour who had been taking care of her reported egg shells so soft that they broke when you picked them up.  Lily was still eating and drinking so I felt time was still on our side.  Having experienced enough chicken ailments in the last seven years to write an encyclopaedia I worked my way through the possibilities ruling them out on by one.  After much deliberation and a little googling I narrowed it down to a few possibilities, egg peritonitis, infection, worms or a combination.  I started my lovely lady on a course of antibiotics and ordered in worming powder called Flubenvet.  Previously our ladies had been prescribed Panacur to prevent and treat worms but recently I discovered it is used for treating cats and dogs and so we had to dispose of eggs as it is not considered safe to eat the eggs produced for a period of time following treatment.  Flubenvet while a little complicated to mix for a small number of chickens (you treat the whole flock) is made specifically for domesticated birds and does not require any egg withdrawal period.  After four days of antibiotics Lily showed no improvement so worms were beginning to look like the culprit.  Three days into the seven day worming period and Lily began to look a little livelier.

Lively again!

Lively again!

Lily has now recovered however a lesson has been learnt that I wish to share… Our chickens are wormed regularly; Lily had not been treated long before she became ill.   Apparently if they have worms you must repeat the course three weeks later instead of the three months recommended as a preventative measure as the ground will be infected and reinfection is likely.  I will not be making this mistake again…

Essex girls saved from slaughter

The British Hen Welfare Trust were looking for homes for 1700 hens over the weekend, these girls were caged hens who had reached the end of their working lives at 17 months old and would otherwise be crated up and start their journey to the abattoir.  Lonesome Lily had grown increasingly sad and so it was decided that she needed a friend… or two. So I set off on a road trip to Essex to rescue two girls.

Arriving at a really pretty farm collection point I had no idea what to expect, after signing in I queued (a British obsession) for the girls that would be returning home with me.  People in front of me prepared their cardboard boxes with little rectangular holes in the side to receive theirs and I watched as one featherless, hen-pecked hen at a time had their extra-long claws clipped and was placed in a box ready to be carried to the car.  The lady in front of me told me how she had rescued six hens six months ago and felt obligated to rescue another six (which turned into seven, her lucky husband!) as she had the space.  Her hens she told me were bonkers but healthy, she asked me about my experience, not wanting to frighten her (she seemed quite nervous) I kept quiet saying only that my hens had got poorly and died leaving Lily in need of a friend.  She had brought her daughter with her, perhaps about three or four years old, as hens were placed in boxes she became increasingly scared of the very strange, pale, naked hens that would be coming home with her.  Mum reassured her that they would look like their other girls at home, but she needed to help her make them better.  One of their girls had no feathers at all on her head and neck, though I had an idea of what to expect, I was shocked.

Poppy-stripped wing feathers, tatty bottom feathers and missing tail, chest and head feathers

Poppy-stripped wing feathers, tatty bottom feathers and missing tail, chest and head feathers

Clover-stripped wing feathers and missing tail, chest and head feathers

Clover-stripped wing feathers and missing tail, chest and head feathers

Battery farming was banned in 2012 however colony cage hens remain, these cages have more space but are inside with no natural light.  Clearly these hens are bored and stressed leaving them no alternative pastime than to peck at each other.  How can this practice still be legal?

The sneaky thing is you might think that you haven’t contributed to these girls misery because you buy free range but they are often hidden in convenience food like ready meals, pasta and cakes or are sold in restaurants where there isn’t the option of checking the label.  The moral of this story, one we all need to learn, for the sake of girls like Poppy and Clover (my two Essex girls)… always check.

And then there was one

Lonesome Lily (jonnyback.com)

Lonesome Lily (jonnyback.com)

Sadly Violet is no more…  Lily the lonesome struts around her run, crowing like a cockerel in search of someone to keep her company.

A listening ear?

A listening ear?

During the days following Violet’s demise Tilly, our similarly coloured cat, sat on a wooden toadstool at the end of the run keeping her company.  Tilly never sits there usually, perhaps she could see that Lily was in need of a companion? When this stopped I decided to let Lily completely free range in our garden so she could seek out our company when she needed it, this was not a success as one of my twins developed a taste for chicken poo and Lily had to return to the confines of her run.  We all try and visit her regularly with offerings of raspberries or something equally yummy but although chirpier I fear she is still lonely.

You might think “why has she not gone out and got another chicken or given her away!?!”  Lily was a poorly girl when she arrived with us and the vet suspected she was a carrier of a very serious, sometimes fatal, infectious respiratory disease called Mycoplasma.  When carriers become stressed their symptoms may reappear and spread to other birds.  Introducing her to a new flock or giving her a new friend may cause stress and illness.  My twins are suffering from their second round of tonsillitis in 3 weeks with only 3 days of almost recovered joy in between.  Sleep is a distant memory for us all, so just the thought of sick chickens to care for too is exhausting and frankly impossible.

A recent chat with the chicken vet left us with two feasible options; the safe option is a lonesome Lily or the riskier is a rescue hen that has come to the end of its short working life.  Rescue hens (from colony cages) are extensively vaccinated so in theory should be protected against an outbreak however as they get older the vaccine wears off and she may become more susceptible to future outbreaks.  So here is our dilemma…

Could this be the end?

My lovely old lady

My lovely old lady

Today I am faced with a sad decision, should Violet live any longer?

Our much loved old lady is sick, she has had a dirty bottom, been looking sad and has not voluntarily eaten or drunk anything for about a week.  This has happened before with a few of our birds and it can signal several issues.

A dirty bottom usually suggests worms.  Worming treatments can be bought from your vet or online, I would suggest Flubenvet.  Many other makes (intended for cats and dogs) require an egg drop period, meaning no eggs and soldiers for 7-14 days.  Violet was wormed a fortnight ago and her bottom is now much cleaner.

Looking sad and an unwillingness to eat can be caused by crop problems, and many other ailments including infections.  Violet has been checked for crop issues and they have been dealt with as they arise frequently.  I also have a stash of Tylan soluble (antibiotic) which I gave to Violet just in case she had an infection but with no success.  She remains the same.

When our chickens have been on deaths door in the past we have made a solution of VetArk Critical Care and syringed it into their mouths, this usually gives them a burst of energy and they start eating again and after some intensive tlc and a lot of specially prepared tasty food they usually make a full recovery.  This is barely working on Violet.  Today she has eaten cucumber and some scrambled egg and had some olive oil and critical care solution syringed into her mouth…. but turned her nose up at strawberries, mealworms, sunflower seeds and wet mash.

If she shows no improvement tomorrow we might take a trip to the vet… but I think I know what their solution will be, I’m not sure i’m willing to give up on the tough old bird yet!