One of my old hens, Lily, was sadly given sleep at the vets last Friday morning. Even though it’s never an easy decision to make (for any animal), this was the right decision for her. She was a rescue hen and experienced 4 years of ‘freedom’ with us, which of course is a lovely achievement but this also made it much harder to let her go. It’s odd not seeing her in the garden, she was part of the furniture and a huge character. My thundering big hen. I miss her and I believe her partner in crime, Emily, misses her too. I’ve never known a chicken to react the way that Emily has, as if she senses the loss.
Lily and Emily were very bonded, Emily kept calling for Lily and appeared quite distressed on Friday. This left me with a problem. Emily was now on her own. I have other ex battery hens here (housed separately), they’re all quite physically challenged with thing or another, definitely not a good idea introducing Emily to them. Being a big fit hen she would be too much for them to cope with and probably cause them unnecessary stress. Hens are flock animals and much happier with the company of other hens, I had to get some friends for Emily to eventually bond with even though I really wasn’t in the mood for it.
I’ve been lucky with the rescue hens that I’ve kept over the years, being regular layers I’d never really thought about keeping other chickens for this purpose (although I’ve always admired certain types of hens for their looks). For some time now eggs have been like gold dust, it’s not really surprising considering the ages of my current hens and the conditions they endured before being rescued. Those who read my blog regularly know my feelings concerning battery or intensive farming methods, I’ve given homes to ex battery hens for the last 4 years. In all, around 17 rescue hens have spent their ‘retirement’ here. I’ve nursed many a hen back to health (very satisfying if a little mentally exhausting at times), some had a few months of freedom, some had many years. That’s how it goes sometimes.
So, for the need and pleasure of collecting our own fresh eggs, plus the worry of Emily being too much for poorly ex battery hens, I decided to buy some point of lay hybrid hens. It felt alien to me, ‘picking’ different coloured hens from a free range farm rather than having pale-faced scraggy brown hens gently placed into my boxes. On a rescue re-homing day there’s not usually any choice or time for ‘cherry picking’ the hens waiting to be rehomed, I often took what was given with joy in my heart and excitement of knowing the lovely life that awaited them, once we reached home. Rescue hens are usually silent in the boxes on the way home, they have no idea how much their lives are going to change for the better, no matter how long or short.
On the way home from the free range farm with my hybrid hens at the weekend, I could hear clucking and screeching coming from the boxes. The pecking order had already begun. I didn’t feel the usual excitement of having new hens, in fact I had a banging headache, and I knew why. Guilt. My decision to buy hybrid layers (or posh hens as I call them) was a difficult one for me to make, I adore all types of chickens and this is something I need to remind myself of at the moment. I will get over this phase I’m sure, I’m still raw from losing Lily and it’s all new to me, having pretty hens in the garden.
At the moment Emily is making sure the new hens know who’s boss, thankfully they’re far too quick and nimble for her to do any real harm. She’s doing a lot of chasing, ‘donking’ them on the head, shouting and food guarding. I’ve placed extra bowls of food inside the enclosure to make it more difficult for Emily, and to ensure the new hens eat. Bed time is amusing, the hybrids want to roost outside in the enclosure or up on top of the coop roof! I’m not used to having hens so agile! Once it’s dark I go out and gently place them back inside the coop, they need to know where to go at dusk just in case I cannot get them back inside once they start free ranging. At least then I know they will return at some point. It will all sort itself, it takes time.
No firm names for my hens yet, I’ve not really had a chance to think about that. What I need to do is bond with them first, perhaps then I will stop feeling so guilty for not adopting more ex battery hens.