Happy Easter from the Cosy Cottage residents! We are having an Easter break for a fortnight so will see you again on April 25. 🙂
A flashback to a previous blog post, written in 2017, when I first thought about adopting animals. At this point, I did not have any guinea pigs or chickens. Now it’s hard to imagine Cosy Cottage without them!
In 2015, I was all about the chickens. After seeing an article about ex-battery hens looking for homes, I could literally imagine them in my garden. My side garden wasn’t doing anything. It was just there, a spare piece of land filled mostly with stones or random plants, I knew not what they were. So that tiny plot was obviously waiting for my hens, right?
So I joined chicken internet forums, asked questions, made notes of the answers, bought books, became a regular visitor to Fulwood Library (great customer service, thanks Caroline and Chris!) read and researched, perused and contemplated. I saw images of poorly hens and dead roosters, articles on culling and roast chicken recipes, library book chapters on coops and breeds. My relatives told me about rats and smells and noise and neighbours who would report me for annoyances.
I attended jury service and bought a book one lunchtime from Oxfam about ultra-small smallholdings. Somehow during deliberation, among seriously talking about what verdict to reach, there was chat from jurors who knew people who had chickens. So many real people – that is people like me who had normal gardens, not acres – had them pottering about their patios.
For five months, I chatted about chickens.
In March, Simon asked me when I was getting them.
In May, he asked again. Had I got the garden ready for them yet?
Procrastination was in charge though.
I dithered because chickens seemed too ‘alien’ to me, too unusual. It felt like I would be giving farm animals a home rather than pets. I wasn’t a farmer. I shouldn’t have livestock.
And the pictures of poorly hens, queries about rats, criticism about smell… And then there was a case of bird flu not far from me! The last straw!) 🙁
So I rehomed Loco and Bugsy (I did not choose those names!) instead. Not hens, but two guinea pigs who are very endearing and cheeky, and were residing in a pet shop’s Adoption Section.
Loco, the black and white guy, thinks with his stomach and is a first class beggar. Bugsy, the punky red head, can be a tad irritable and reclusive (not as much now he knows there’s food around so it’s worth getting out there to see what’s happening!) but Loco is his best pal and he misses him when he’s not around.
I had guinea pigs as a child. I knew how to look after them. If you put in the time and effort, they’re pretty easy to care for.
2015 – the Year of the Guinea Pig. 🐹
Will there be a Year of the Hen? 🐔
A representative from Weight Watchers (aka me) decided it was time for a weight check on the residents of Cosy Cottage. Usually I do this with a glamorous assistant – well, Simon or my dad – but today I thought I would try it myself. Not an easy task when dealing with flighty chickens who mistake the scales for a sauce pan. But I got there.
So first the hens – all a healthy weight. How much they weigh varies throughout the year and even during the day. When they moult, if they’re about to lay an egg, illness, the season, even the time of day could have an impact. So as of February 2020, their respective weights were (in grams):
The guinea pigs are a simple matter in being weighed. They don’t immediately jump out or scramble out of the scales, which makes it easier to take photos too. Their weight tends to focus on how much they eat versus how much they move. Like humans really. It looked like Tom had lost a little weight and Tim had put some on but over 1,000 is a healthy weight so I was happy.
It’s a job I do periodically rather than regularly but it does give an idea of how healthy the animals are and whether they’ve put weight on or have lost it. The pigs seem quite nonchalant about the process but the chickens hate it. Which unfortunately means that it’s tricky to snatch a photo when they’re quite literally in a flap.
I’m sure they were having a celebration when they saw the back of the Weight Watchers rep leaving the premises while clutching the scales.
Just over three years on from her arrival at Cosy Cottage, Florence crossed over the Rainbow Bridge following a period of ill health.
Florence’s life and death left a bigger impact on me than I thought possible with a hen. It was Florence who really showed me how complex and lovable chickens really were. And what an impact such tiny creatures can have on their human guardians.
She made me smile and worry and feel protective.
She made me laugh, like the time she was brooding and stubbornly insisted on sitting on a plant pot after I closed the coop door.
She taught me to be more patient and caring during her illness.
And to be less screamish about mealworms!
Flo first arrived with her two sisters Jemima and Dottie in 2017, they were slightly older than her by a couple of weeks. The difference in Florence and her siblings was apparent straight away. While Jemima was quiet and reserved and Dottie was chatty, they were both confident in themselves and about humans. No, they did not want to be picked up, thank you very much, but this was only because it was their personal preference. They were not scared of humans on arrival. Merely tolerated them.
Florence, on the other hand, was terrified. When she saw a human, she flapped her wings and made a big fuss.
“Murder! I’m being murdered!”
It’s hard to believe now but this state of fear was really the case for the first few weeks of Flo’s life here.
She was a real little scaredy chicken.
Was the sky going to fall in? It was, it was!!!
Oh dear, poor Flo.
Dottie would then helpfully peck her on the top of her head to put her back in her place.
And then, as I wrote in https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/florence/
Florence changed from a frightened Cinders into a confident and charismatic Cinderella.
She became popular with all. When my godchildren came to visit, she proved a big hit with Noah, five at the time. As she was the only hen laying, she was the most amenable for being picked up. Which she was. A lot. But Flo’s patience shone through.
Dad admitted she was his favourite and Mum described her as the “best hen”.
I think it was because of her personality, but the eggs would have helped too.
Of all the chickens, she was the best layer. During spring and summer (except when brooding), she laid eggs nearly every second day. This year there was no brooding so she broke all records for her egg laying.
No mean feat for a little Pekin bantam.
And the eggs were absolutely delicious.
She knew it too. How Flo boasted about her eggs after she laid them! Her egg song proclaimed her eggs were the best of all the world! Not just the world, the universe!
But she also had her broody moments, where she proved very stubborn indeed. She was going to have chicks and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Her broody adventures can be seen here: https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2018/06/23/brooding-buddies/
Flo was very independent, often seen doing her own thing, digging away for worms. Worms was her favourite food. Whenever I held a bag of mealworms, she would be jumping, trying to grab them from my hand. When I started digging, she would be first there, eagerly anticipating tasty creepy crawlies.
She was also demanding. Especially first thing in the morning when she would insist that it was time to be let out of the coop.
Did I say she was popular with everyone?
Hmm, maybe not the neighbours.
There’s a reason why the girls have longer lie-ins these days.
I used to have to run to let them out during the early mornings before a squawking Florence would fly and jump angrily at the coop door.
“Let me out! For **** sake, I’ll be missing the worms!” I could imagine her screeching.
Florence had her ups and downs with her friends. She never had any ‘besties’ and was often on her own, digging away. Although when it was brooding time, she was often seen cuddling up to Jemima, her fellow brooder.
Dottie always seemed to patronise her, pecking her in a “I’m bigger and older than you” sort of way. But it was Mabel who she had a real feud with. A feud that started a year ago when Florence was brooding – in what Mabel perceived as her nesting space.
This summer, Florence had a welcome break from Mabel when her enemy was stuck indoors.
‘Staying at Home’ like a good girl during lockdown? No, she was brooding, waiting for imaginary eggs to hatch. Sometimes – the irony – she would be in what Flo would think was her nesting space and Flo would fuss and grumble until I took Mabel out and left Flo to do her hard work in peace. Eventually Flo realised that there were other levels and other corners in the coop, which could also be used to lay eggs in.
But when Flo was out enjoying herself and saw her broody foe come out of the coop, she would give a loud screech.
And sometimes she would ‘swear’ for no known reason.
Flo always came across as a sweet girl so her reaction to the new kids on the block, Mabel and Ava, was very surprising. The pair came to Cosy Cottage a year after Flo, Dottie and Jemima. Of course, I had heard that chickens could be hostile to newbies to the pecking order but somehow I expected more of Florence.
But no, instead of acting like a good neighbour, when she saw the new ladies, she flew at their coop in a fit of anger.
Towards the end, when I looked after Flo in my house, she proved to be a determined girl as she battled illness. A scratch on her eye developed into an infection. She went to the vet on two occasions, receiving antibiotics, an injection and painkiller. But despite a brief recovery, she took a downturn and never recovered.
On her last day, I thought she had gone but then she half opened her eye … as if to say “goodbye”.
Goodbye Flo, a golden girl in colour and personality, the garden and coop feel a lot quieter without you.
* For those who don’t know, Rainbow Bridge is a poetic term for the afterlife for animals.
I had been feeling hopeful and optimistic. Florence’s eye seemed to be less painful, she was opening it much more. She was also moving around more and showing natural behaviour such as wiping her beak across the floor (later on I realised this was to keep her beak short and trim). She was grooming herself and feeding and drinking by herself too.
But then she had what I decided was an ‘off day’; an euphemism indeed as it turned out.
The next Monday morning she did not jump out of her box. So I took her out and noticed she had a cloudy eye. I tried to give her cabbage, something that only a day ago she had been trying to grab off my fingers. But this time, when I tried to hand feed her cabbage, she kept missing where the cabbage was.
I hoped it was a temporary blip and she would feel better the following day. But she was just the same.
Florence went back to the vet who told us (I had gone with Mum) she had an infection. He gave her an injection and gave us antibiotics to take with water.
So this time instead of eye drops, Flo had antibiotic mixed with water via a syringe. There was still painkiller from the last vet visit, so she continued to have that too.
Simon came over for a week and together we looked after our poorly patient.
Curiously she often made a purring sound when Simon or I held her. I had not noticed this before and wondered if she was in any discomfort, but when we looked at YouTube videos of hens purring, it was believed that these were contented chickens.
Maybe Florence was aware she was in a safe place with people who wanted to help her?
Flo had stopped exploring and tended to sit in one place. I thought this was because of her eye and being ill but when I saw her trying to move and wobbling instead of walking normally, I realised that she needed rehab. So each day we gently lifted her up and down in an attempt to strengthen her legs.
As well as antibiotics, we had to make sure Florence had enough water and food. Whereas before she was capable of drinking and eating by herself (as long as the grain was spread in front of her so she could pick at it), this week she needed to be hand fed. So we would put grain and corn onto our hands so she would eat off them. If we dipped her head towards the water bowl she would sip it. We would get a general idea of whether she had enough to eat or drink by feeling her crop (at the front of a bird, it should have a bulge before bedtime) and her poos.
That week she was very weak but still had an appetite. I truly believed that if I continued with the ‘rehab’ of gently trying to strengthen her legs, finished the course of antibiotics, handfed and made sure she had enough water, with a matter of time she would get better, even if it would be as a pampered house chicken.
One thing was that when she had a poo, she always moved away from it. But the following week I found poo stuck to her feathers. Her personal hygiene had gone downhill. She was no longer preening herself as she had done in her early stages of illness. She was no longer wiping her beak on the floor. Simon had noticed her beak seemed to be growing. We tried to carefully file it slightly with an enamel board. I hadn’t realised that hens wiped their beaks on surfaces because they were filing them down.
Her mobility kept decreasing, despite my rehab attempts. A few weeks ago I had increased the number of tea towels for her to walk around on. Now I was increasing my usage of them to support Flo. She was hardly able to stand or sit unaided, falling to one side.
By the end of the week, Florence’s attempts to eat by herself off the floor or tea towel had decreased. I had placed a brick (like a table) with grain spread across it to help her, so she wouldn’t have to reach for the floor. But towards the end, I would find her pecking in mid air, brick or no brick. So my attempts to hand feed her increased. There were days when Flo received water via a syringe and her grain was mashed up with water and again, this was given via a syringe.
I contemplated taking her to a vet again. Except this time, there was nothing a vet could do, in my opinion. It would be for one thing and one thing only. But it felt like it would be the right thing for Florence. I mused, deciding I would ring later that day and make an appointment the following morning.
That afternoon, as I worked from home, I gazed towards Florence, who was wrapped up in her tea towels. She didn’t look like she was moving. I went over to check and she half opened an eye.
A little while later, I went over to her again.
No more suffering.
Over the next few days, Flo started to have a routine. She would wake up, I would take her out of the box and place her on the tea towel. Her bowls of food and water would be put in front of her. As she couldn’t see very well out of one eye, I spread her grain on the floor in front of her and she pecked away.
At first it was one tea towel that was placed on the floor as she didn’t go far. Then it was two…
Then I noticed her exploring even further afield; she started heading away from her tea towels and towards the rug. A softer surface, it made sense. It was great to see her using her common sense and it was even better to watch her moving more.
I started putting her tea towels on top of the rug, along with her grain and water. I treated her to mealworms and little pieces of kale and cabbage which she loved. Apart from the greens, which I mostly gave her by hand and which she started looking for, I knew I could leave Flo to her own devices. She pecked the rug for the grain. Sometimes she missed, but often she finished the grain which had been put there.
Flo was pottering about more in my living room. She no longer felt tied down by the tea towels or rug.
One Monday afternoon, two weeks on from the start of her illness, I noticed her walking around, before settling down on top of some small boxes. It was getting dark and Florence was ready for bed. It was the first time I had seen her do this and it was a joyful moment as it was such a natural, healthy hen behaviour. Saying that, I did take her down from her makeshift ‘roosting spot’ and put her back into bed aka her box, laid with towels.
The following morning I got a fright when I heard a noise coming from her box bed. It was Flo, flapping her wings and jumping on top of the box!
And for the next few days Flo jumped/flew out of the box herself.
I started making up plans in my head on how to reintegrate her with the other hens.
One of the days I put her into a see-through cage for half a minute and put her into the chickens’ enclosure. They looked at her; she looked at them with her good eye. And then I brought her back into my house.
One step at a time. I had high hopes though. At worst, if they didn’t accept her or if she never regained the sight in her left eye, she may have to become a house chicken. This was possible with regular cleaning, and a proper pet bed/indoor hen house of some kind rather than a cardboard box.
At best, she would rejoin the other hens and become part of the pecking order again.
But then things took a turn for the worst.
- To be continued
It started with a sore eye. How Florence got a scratch or an abrasion in her left eye, I don’t know. Only that one weekend when Simon was here, he noticed she was sitting down in the chickens’ garden with her eye closed. Usually she’d be digging for worms or pottering about. But she didn’t look herself at all.
We took her into the house, placing her on the settee, on top of a tea towel. We couldn’t decide whether it was a general lethargy/health issue or a specific eye problem. So I thought I would keep her in a cardboard box overnight in my living room and see how she was in the morning.
The following morning, Florence was the same. I rang the vet and made an appointment for 5.50pm that same day. During that time, Florence didn’t move much (I had placed her on a tea towel in the living room next to grain and water).
The vet looked at her eyes carefully, coming to the conclusion that it was an abrasion, a scratch of some kind. He gave me Metacam (painkiller) and Exocin eye drops for Florence to take over the next five days. It was with a sense of relief when I left the vet. Okay, there was a problem with her eye but surely if these eye drops are given, she will recover her eyesight? Not that I was looking forward to giving these eye drops. I’m not the most practical of people and Simon had left by then.
Thankfully my parents came to the rescue, helped by the fact that my mum is a retired NHS worker. For the next five days, they came to mine to help out. It was a two-person job to hold Florence’s beak open so the syringe with the painkiller would go in. It required two people to adminster the eye drops. Early on I tried just by myself but it was difficult.
So much for my childhood dreams of becoming a vet…
On the fifth day of Flo’s rest and recovery at mine, I decided it was time for a visitor. Partly to boost Flo’s spirits (having visitors worked for Dottie when she was ill) and partly so the other hens would not forget her.
How could anyone forget Flo? True, but chickens are fickle creatures and I wanted them to think of Flo as still being one of them, one of the flock, one of the pecking order.
So ‘top dog’ Jemima was a guest to Flo’s temporary hospital bed. Florence had been looking very sorry for herself up to that point, her eye closed most of the time, but when she saw Jemima she woke up and chatted or, more to the point, chirruped. It was a one-hen dialogue, a soliloquy. Jemima just looked around her until suddenly she flew at Florence. Thankfully, my parents and I had been watching closely and we managed to get the pair separated quickly.
Curiously, Florence looked like she had been defending herself just before Jemima was taken away. And interestingly, that same afternoon she seemed more awake and hungry.
Perhaps the visit had stimulated her after all?
Jemima was now barred from ‘the hospital’ but Florence received a couple more visits from guests Ava and Dottie.
Both were closely watched to prevent any more arguments. They were better behaved than Jemima although Ava did help herself to Flo’s mealworms, ignoring Flo, while Dottie’s visits seemed to send Florence to sleep! Florence’s other eye always seem to close as well when Dottie came to visit.
Hope springs eternal as they say, and with the passing days I hoped that there was a subtle improvement even if I couldn’t see it right then.
To be continued …
Apart from a deluxe dust bath, there’s nothing like a good rummage through freshly turned over compost. One never knows what one might find – worms, grubs… There’s a whole treasure trove in the compost, waiting to be discovered and devoured.
Unfortunately, as my dad was digging out the compost, he spotted two rats, feasting themselves. So when we put the bin back in place, we placed some wire netting underneath to deter these intruders. Fingers crossed, this will work!
Over the last couple of months, the hens have sometimes looked as if they are moping around, complaining about the rain, wind and cold. The soil is too compacted for them to dig into properly (even though I keep forking and digging it). They cluster together under the pear tree, moaning about the season of winter and wishing for spring – their favourite time – to arrive.
And then, one day, it was as if Santa had arrived (this was before Christmas) with a big bag of goodies. It was actually Simon with woodchip, but when this simple substance was scattered on top of the damp, slightly sticky earth, the ladies came over curiously, with mounting excitement.
This needs investigating, they pondered.
Then Jemima revealed all.
‘It’s a day at the spa!’ she proclaimed.
At that, the hens got stuck in, quite literally. Rubbing and rolling themselves into the woodchip, having a luxurious dust bath.
They often have these baths in spring and summer, when the earth is dry, but don’t have this opportunity so much in the winter.
For some reason, Dottie kept appearing under Jemima, which caused her friend and pecking order leader some frustration, understandably.
All in all, it was the height of luxury and this day at the spa was just what they needed to cheer themselves up during the cold, dark winter months.
In one of my chicken books, there is guidance on making a permanent dust bath for hens which I think would be much appreciated by Jemima and co.
Fact of the Day
Dustbathing helps to keep chickens free of parasites.
The Cosy Cottage citizens are lucky in that we live in a relatively temperate climate (usually), even in the winter. But life can still get very chilly, especially for these chickens who live out in the garden coop. Thankfully, they have a lovely fluffy thick plumage so that helps. But the more heating aids, the better…
Every morning these days I scatter porridge on the ground. It used to be leftovers from the pot but the stickiness was not pleasing to my hands or the ladies’ beaks! So now I buy porridge that’s reasonably priced and scatter it from the packet. The foraging helps stop them getting bored too.
Corn is given in the afternoon, a couple of hours before bedtime (although these days, bedtime seems to be about 3pm and getting earlier and earlier). To avoid rats, it is given in the coop when the girls go in for the night.
Plenty of straw is always needed for bedtime. Although I’m sure half of it seems to get kicked ‘downstairs’ when the ladies get ready for bed.
Keeping an eye on the water supply is always vital. No one can drink frozen water after all!
Making adjustments to the coop to make it warmer is useful to do during these cold months.
And lastly, a tip from the ladies themselves – early bed and snuggling together helps fight against Jack Frost.