Mabel was busy sulking and grumping in the nestbox – except when I lifted her out and then she would be sulking and grumping in the garden. It was broody season again when common sense would fly out of the window or, to be precise, the coop. Dottie was sadly gone, as had Jemima. And now Mabel had set up camp in the nestbox, never leaving unless I physically took her out.
So there was only really Little Ava left who would perch in the garden by herself or potter about with her deluded pal who would be obsessing about the imaginary eggs she had to sit on. I felt sorry for Ava, she must have felt very isolated, and at the same time as grieving for her two late companions, in particular Dottie who had passed recently.
Crunch time had arrived at Cosy Cottage. It wasn’t fair to keep just two hens, something could happen to one and the other would then be left on her own. And hens are not solitary creatures, they need company. So either I looked for companions for Ava and Mabel or I rehomed them, an unpleasant prospect as I was very fond of them.
I had earlier thought of getting more hens when Jemima died earlier in the year, but the process of integration put me off. It’s never a matter of just putting them all together, it’s a gradual procedure otherwise bullying could result. It took a few weeks for Ava and Mabel to become part of the established pecking order of Jemima, Florence and Dottie. Even then the duo kept themselves apart from the three. They weren’t really a unit until much later.
So I had to be decisive for the bantams’ sake.
Decision made – I chose to look for more chickens. Alas Pear Tree Poultry, Ava and Mabel’s childhood home and where I also got Jemima, Dottie and Florence, had closed post-Covid. I had to look elsewhere. Once again I mused on the ex-battery hens but knew that I did not have the space to keep these larger girls with bantams. The difference in sizes made me hesitate too.
A scroll down the internet took me to some pekin bantam sellers in Lancashire and after ringing one up, I ventured out to find some new pals for Mabel and Ava. In large rabbit hutch style cages were several chickens of varying sizes and ages, separated by age. I had liked the look of a lavender one but it was vital the three were all of the same age so I plumped for three 18-week-old chicks who were chirping away. A white one (like Jemima), a white with black barred neck and a black and white speckled, a little like Mabel. I joked that Mabel might think her a long-lost daughter.
Simon helped me select names for the trio. The white one with black bars around her neck had the look of a vicar wearing a dog collar so was named Victoria, the black speckled one had the appearance of Mabel’s daughter so Matilda seemed appropriate, and the all white one would be Eliza. There was no reason for this last name, only that she looked an Eliza in our eyes.
The new girls lived in my spare coop for the next two weeks. After their life in the rabbit hutch, I believed this was the first time they encountered grass, and did they make the most of this delicious new substance!
Ava would peer at the new bantams through the spare coop bars, and on the second day she perched on top of the coop. Was she sending a message to the new arrivals? When Mabel was brought out of the coop and saw the intruders on her territory, she tried to launch herself onto Matilda, luckily safe behind the bars (so much for the long-lost daughter idea!).
For the next week, I would keep the youngsters in their ‘nursery’ and let Ava ‘make friends’ via the bars. At least that was what I hoped she was doing. In the meantime, I would bath Mabel and try to get her out of her broody state while showing her the arrivals from a safe distance. Unfortunately Mabel’s state of mind at this time was both deluded and bad-tempered.
This was going to take some time…
Coming up Part Two – will the two groups of girls make friends? Will the new ladies settle in?