Our Rescue Chooks; Another Update
You may remember that we recently took on some chickens who had spent their life in colony cages. They were in a dreadful condition, with a lot of feather loss, a pecked off comb, no tails and one who was blind in one eye, after it had been pecked by another chook.
We’ve been looking after them, introducing them to the outdoors, encouraging them to forage and watching as they slowly regrow their feathers.
So it’s time for an update and it’s a very mixed bag.
Unfortunately Emily, the hen adopted by Plum, has died. She showed no signs of being ill; we just found her dead one morning. This is always a risk when you take on rescues, especially when they’re in such a poor condition.
In better news, Amy is looking amazing. She has lots of lovely feathers and is looking very well indeed. She’s even begun to regrow her comb, which has been pecked off in the colony cages. We’ve also discovered that she lays white eggs. It’s the ear lobe which determines the colour of egg a chicken will lay. Most of our commercial birds in the UK have red earlobes, which results in brown eggs. In the USA, most commercial birds have white earlobes, which results in white eggs. The eggs don’t taste any different, it’s just the shell that changes colour. Amy has white earlobes. She is *very* difficult to photograph though because she’s so pecky. Here’s a picture from behind…
Jessica is still going strong. She still has her large bulge at the rear end, but it does not seem to trouble her and we’ve had advice that this is not unusual in colony birds. She’s looking better, although still has feathers to grow. Her blindness doesn’t seem to bother her and she’s getting to be quite a cuddly girl. Yesterday, she popped into our living room to watch the football. Now she’s got wing feathers, she’d managed to make several hops to the top of our garden wall, and because our neighbour has not replaced their fence, she was able to get into their garden, walk down their drive and hop over to our front garden, and in through the open door! She didn’t hang around long; clearly football doesn’t interest her. She walked herself back to the garden gate and I opened it so she could rejoin her friends.
Betty has made huge improvements, although to look at her, she still looks in very poor condition. If you collected her from a rescue as she looks today, you’d be shocked by her condition, even though she’s so much better than she was when we got her. The back of her neck is now fully feathered, but the front is not. Her tail looks to be doomed – there has been no change to it at all. The feathers have been completely pecked away so only the shaft remains, so she’ll need to lose that in a moult before she can regrow it. Her wings are still in a similar state. Poor thing! She makes me laugh though because she loves to run to the garden in the mornings when I let them out, and with her lack of feathers, she has the look of an Indian Game Bird, or maybe even Roadrunner!
Two of the girls are laying and one is not. We know Amy is laying but we don’t know if it’s Betty or Jessica laying the other egg.
And now the biggest news. Plum was distraught at the death of Emily, as you might expect. We agreed to share Betty, since she needs so much love, but then I had an email from another hen rescue charity asking if we had room for any more birds. We decided that, yes, we did have room. It would be unfair to put one new bird from a rescue in with a fairly established flock of three; rescuing is very stressful for the birds, so putting one in on her own would cause even more stress. So we said we could accept two – this would limit the amount of bullying a new hen would get.
We collected them this afternoon. We didn’t know what condition they would be in, but when we arrived we were told they had come from a free range farm. And what a difference that makes! These two new birds are in excellent condition. Introducing Emma (Plum’s new hen) and Mildred (another one for me).
It’s really heartening to see that they’ve clearly been well looked after. I know commercial farmers need to get rid of them at 18 months old because they become unprofitable, and I can just about accept that. I don’t understand why they can’t look after them well for the time they have them though. These birds are going to settle much more easily, and I’m wondering if it will be them picking on the established flock when we put them altogether!
There will be some bullying – hens literally decide who is in charge by pecking – hence the pecking order. Whenever new birds are introduced, the order has to be reestablished, so it’s better to introduce birds in groups to even the stakes a bit.
More news as they settle in!