Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Life and Death in Chicken World

The latest chicks to be born on the farm are now just over a week old.  They hatched under two of our Speckledys, who were very content sitting together and enjoyed raising their shared babies for the first few days.  Then one of them decided that this motherhood lark was not for her and demanded to be let out of the Broody House in no uncertain terms.

As she ran off relishing her freedom from motherly chores the other one got stuck in, teaching her babies to eat by themselves, introducing them to all sorts of tasty titbits and plonking herself firmly down whenever they ran to mum to get a warm under her lovely downy soft feathers.

Elsewhere in chicken world we are slowly losing one by one the birds we rescued at the start of the year.  The Hylines were from a 'free-range' farm that was going out of business and lots of lovely folk stepped in to take the birds before they went to slaughter.  We managed to fit 20 of them into one of our henhouses. 

They are lovely characterful birds, absolutely obsessed with wellies, they will peck contentedly at your feet for hours if you are wearing wellies.  It doesn't matter if they are clean or dirty, it's like a ritual for them, I'm guessing that's all they really saw of people, wellie clad feet striding through their giant 3000 chicken sheds and they relish the contact with you.  If I pick them up for a cuddle (I'm usually to be found wandering round the farm with a chicken under my arm), they always look surprised and then settle down into the cuddle in a most contented way.

Sadly because their little bodies are pushed to the limits with an egg a day expected of them all year round, lights left on in Winter to simulate extra daylight hours and the general push and shove that comes with so many birds being in a relatively small space, they don't live as long as the girls I have had on the farm from chickhood, and now aged about two and a half they are slowly declining.  When they first got here they were a sorry bunch, most went through a moult and some only regained some of their feathers, so some of them have nick names like Baldy Bum and Scruffy, although they are still the typical glorious red that Hylines are.  Others became resplendent with lovely colouring and  unique feather patterns, but each is a character in her own right.

The scruffier ones are now slowly dying, one at the start of last week, one on Monday and then sadly another this morning.  Not for them the sitting gracefully waiting to go though, they usually just keel over after breakfast or die peacefully in their sleep with no warning to us.  Very sad, but I am glad we got these lovely girls, they have lived for six months with space to roam, new friends for company the glorious Oxfordshire sunshine on their little backs and fresh clean wellies to peck whenever they want to.

  By the way our oldest hen Jemima, one of the original rescued White Stars, now over four years old is still doing well and holding her place in the higher echelons of the flock.

Every chicken deserves a happy retirement, and if they come to us we make sure they get one.

Sue xx

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