Like all the other little hens, she hadn’t started laying when she first arrived on our small holding.
One morning, I took my coffee up to the middle field to spend some time “chicken watching” (or chicken TV as Tish calls it)…. I couldn’t find Honey anywhere… This was the first time our free ranging hens hadn’t run to greet me…something was wrong. I eventually found Mini, Gwen, Red, Annie and Benny but I couldn’t find Honey.
After hours of looking, Bella the jack russell found her hiding in the bamboo patch. I thought nothing of it and put her back among her mates and went back to the house to hang the washing out….
A few weeks later Tish found Honey bloody and battered under a tree in the middle field. We naively thought she had been attacked by a cat.
Tish brought Honey into her house, rang the vet in a panic and followed his instructions… “Purple spray and a quiet place to recover”. Then he said “Of course she won’t be able to go back with the other hens seeing as she’s obviously been hen pecked, they probably won’t ever accept her back…” Hen pecked?! No, never! Not our sweet little happy flock of adorable hens!?
We spent many evenings in ignorant bliss quietly spoon feeding little Honey the hen, coaxing her out of her little dog crate for soothing baths and exercise. All the while ignoring what the vet had said – once she was healed, she would go back with her friends and live happily ever after….
Meanwhile the other hens started to lay their first eggs! Delighted excitement was experienced every morning to find 2, 3 , 4 then 5 fresh eggs every day. Little Honey continued to recover, the skin on the back of her neck that had been ripped from her slowly stopped weeping and started to heal over and her bare back and tail started to re-grow shiny new ginger/red feathers. Tish and I were optimistic that she would soon be laying her own eggs as she had not produced any so far. We put this down to the stress of healing her body. We continued to feed her high protein foods – scrambled eggs mixed with probiotic yoghurt being a favourite.
About 4 weeks later Honey had become a happy house hen, making friends with Bella, Hebe and Ariss the dogs, happily wondering the house, inquisitive and chirpy. Tish and I decided she was healed and healthy enough to put her back with her friends…we learnt a lot that day!
I understood that such a long time away from her flock would have put her at the very bottom of the pecking order and so I would have to handle the reintroduction with care.
I placed Honey in her dog crate in the middle field where the others could see her…they rushed to greet their old friend and seemed happy to see her – I let her out of the crate happy to see Honey clucking excitedly….. Then the fighting started!
The vet had been right all along, one hen inparticular, Annie, immediately went for her newly healed neck and drew blood straight away. I was so upset and disappointed.
I made a special run and coop for Honey so she could still be outside but the other hens couldn’t get to her. I would try again in a few days.
Then reunion never happened, a few weeks later I noticed Honey one morning being what I can only describe as ‘sick’. It was a shock! I scooped her up out of her run and brought her back into the house and after a few hours on some chicken forums came to the conclusion that she had an impacted crop. She seemed happy to be back inside and enjoyed several days of being thoroughly spoiled with small meals of scrambled eggs and olive oil. She particularly seemed to enjoy the gently massage sessions she had several times a day by me in a vain attempt to free her blockage.
It was the week before Christmas and Honey was still poorly, loosing weight but still her usual alert, happy self. She still had some feathers missing from her attack and she did look a sorry state but I had fallen in love with Honey as had my daughter and husband. I was determined to get her fit and healthy. A few days before I had purchased a young rooster from a local lady – his job was going to be to protect Honey from the other hens when she recovered from this latest set back. I was excited but in the back of my head, I knew Honey was a very poorly little hen.
I struggled with my conscience right up until Christmas Eve, that day Honey stopped eating. I thinks she was trying to tell me “I’ve had a short life, but a good one – it’s time for me to go”.
I called our friend Anthony who was confident about killing poultry and I knew he would do the job painlessly and quickly.
He came over in the afternoon, I had let Honey stroll around the court yard for the morning to give her a few last hours in the winter sunshine. She seemed happy but I knew she was starving, I told myself I was doing the right thing.
When the time came, Anthony picked Honey up – she was so tame, she looked expectant at the thought of another massage session.
I couldn’t say goodbye.
Anthony gently carried her up to the top field and did the deed.
The sun was shining, it was a crisp winter’s day. Honey was buried under the pine tree by the pond.
I miss her but I don’t miss worrying about her. She was a lovely little chicken but her size and personality was her weakness within the flock.
So, what lessons can I learn from this:
*Chickens, even when from the same clutch will want to establish a strict pecking order.
*Chickens will hide an illness or weakness from the flock and from you – observation is the key.
*Chickens will benefit from the odd bit of probiotic yoghurt – good for their insides.
*Although they look sweet, chickens will fight to the death if you let them – and draw alot of blood!
Honey taught us a lot about the life of a chicken.
Thank you Honey.