Jemima had been leader of Cosy Cottage Coop for four years before her sad passing earlier this year. Dottie, despite not being obvious leadership material, dutifully took over, gaining confidence and respect, until one morning I went outside to let the hens out and found her motionless.
It was a sad and unexpected shock and it took me a while for it to sink in. She had died peacefully in her sleep at the age of five.
The last of the original trio I had adopted back in 2017, she was a hen full of character and boasted a beautiful brunette speckled plumage.
It was her colouring that led to her name but it suited her persona too. She could be changeable in her outlook. Friendly at times, she would squat for us human friends to pick her up. Often she was demanding, vocally calling out for mealworms or other titbits. Her loud voice often sounded as if she was grumbling, a lack of worms , perhaps? During her stint as leader, she would lead her little flock of two to my back door. “What do we want? Mealworms!” She would loudly insist. But then there were times when she was much quieter, or if I would pick her up she would flap her wings, shrieking: “Let me down!”
Dottie was a hen’s hen. She loved the company of other chickens, especially Jemima. Along with Jemima and Florence, Dottie arrived at Cosy Cottage in September 2017. On the first couple of days, Dottie made a few attempts of being leader by being very vocal, claiming the first egg on the first night of arriving, and being bossy and pecking the younger (by two weeks) Flo. But it was the calmer, wiser Jemima who eventually took over as top hen.
Jemima was her best friend. I remember they had a spa day in their garden, when a large bag of woodchip was scattered on the ground. While Jemima enjoyed her dust baths, Dottie would insist on pushing underneath her.
A few years ago, in 2018, Dottie was ill. She wasn’t moving, eating or drinking and so we took her to the vet who gave her high energy food. A few days of keeping her inside my living room and giving her this food via a syringe, she seemed to start getting a bit perkier. From sad experience since then I realise that Dottie was one of the luckier hens to recover from an illness and it’s not always inevitable that they’ll survive. I do not know what the reason was behind the illness. I had wondered if it was because she was eggbound but the vet examined her with his hands and didn’t think she was. Although she made a full recovery, she was never a prolific layer of eggs, certainly not of edible eggs.
Dottie and eggs were never a perfect match. Often her eggs were soft and this led to the undesirable trait of egg eating, helped by her friends who, no doubt, thought this a grand treat.
When she was laying (soft eggs or otherwise), her comb was red and she was assertive and vocal. But there were times when she seemed perturbed about the softness or the lack of eggs and this seemed to diminish her confidence. I tried to encourage her to eat more grit in case this was the issue. Thankfully, for the most part, she was more often happy, pottering about with her pals.
In the early days, when it was just the three of them and Jemima and Florence went through their broody phase, poor Dottie would be wandering the garden by herself while the others would be queuing up at the coop door, waiting to be let in to continue their brooding.
When Mabel and Ava arrived, she found herself a faithful companion in Ava (although sometimes the independent Ava did her own thing). Ava didn’t lay eggs, except for a couple of tiny ones at the beginning. But Ava didn’t care about this, she didn’t let it worry her. Ava also didn’t take part in the brooding season so when Mabel joined in the broodiness, Dottie and Ava could often be found together.
She may have been bossy and liked to peck her friends (Ava, Florence and Mabel, never Jemima, who was top hen), but Dottie was pals with everyone. There was no malice behind her pecks. While Jemima and (surprisingly) the usually mild-mannered Florence showed aggression towards Mabel and Ava when they first arrived, Dottie was mild in her approach. She saved her pecks as friendly reminders – Jemima is boss and I am second-in-command.
There are only two left now, brooding Mabel and Little Ava, who wanders the garden, looking lost and perturbed by the loss of her friend and leader. They will miss their scatty but kind-hearted friend, as will I.