Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Amy - a tribute to our special chatty hen...

Sad news at the 'secret cottage' this week - Amy one of our beautiful exbat hens, whom we've looked after for 14 months since her release, has sadly passed away.

We awoke to her clearly not looking herself. She was quiet (a very drastic change, as she was our chattiest girl - always talking to us when we were near), head lowered and feathers all fluffed out with her tail down (a sure sign when a hen is very poorly.) Feeling that her abdomen was very swollen we rushed her to the vets, who scanned her and then drained some fluid. But she went downhill and when her breathing got worse we were called in fearing the worst and she could not be saved. Stoic to the end, it's such a shame that the prey-nature of hens means that they often mask illness until its too late to help them. She was literally leaping about one day and gone the next.

This post is in honour of her, because she taught us so many surprising things about an animal that humans are indoctrinated to believe is stupid and that exists for no other reason than to provide people with eggs and meat.

Don't get me wrong - our other hens have taught us this too - but Amy, more than any other, formed a bond with us and crossed a line that was so profound that I think it's fair to say she massively contributed to our inevitable decision to become vegetarian.

Amy was intelligent. Very intelligent. She was also communicative and aware that, although we spoke different languages, she could make herself heard and could understand (some of) what I said in return.

She also showed a keen sense of observation and logic.

In the beginning when we picked Amy up from the BHWT (British Hen Welfare Trust - formerly the Battery Hen Welfare Trust) the lady passed us to her and said - she's a feisty one' and boy was she right! The other hen she was with was timid and meek - a shattered soul.
But Amy had the survival spirit in shed-loads. She fought and fought to get to food first when we fed them - so much so we had to feed the other hen (Hermione) separately so that she could build up her strength too.

 pic of Amy (right) and Hermione the day we collected them from BHWT

The minute I opened the door to their run Amy would hop out vertically and keenly explore her garden surroundings - chattering constantly as she did.

Her spirit was incredible.

We knew that integrating Amy and Hermione with our existing flock was going to be problematic. Preliminary 'meetings' saw feathers rise, chests puff out and strange guttural noises from the two chief hens of the other flock and Amy. Hermione stayed very much in the background. But come the day that we did need to integrate them we just had to bite the bullet and let them battle it out.

It turned out to be less traumatic than we feared. A few brief fights ensued but I think Amy had to bow to seniority and our chief hen was having none of it from this feisty young upstart.

As time went on though I observed Amy putting up with not being boss, as she realised that taking 3rd place to boss and deputy was OK and in reality she could manipulate them and situations  anyway, so she opted for less stress of letting them 'believe' they were in charge! This was classic Amy.

Such was the amazingly interesting dynamic that we observed when she joined our flock.

Amy (back left) going for a walk with the other girls ...

And so life went on and she never changed - only got brighter. She was always the first to greet us, talk to us, be out of the run. .

But a real connection was made when, rightly or wrongly, I started mimicking her clucks to me of a morning. 'ba bo, ba bo' she would say and I would say it back and then she would say something else and tilt her head on one side as if to say - why the hell are you just repeating me?!
 Amy coming up to me for a chat...

She never really integrated with the flock it has to be said. Amy was a true free spirit.

Yet for all her strength, when we moved house something so startling happened that I will never forget it. We put all of the hens in a portable run that we had made for quarantine purposes / new hens prior to integration etc. in the back of a hire van. We stopped regularly on the way between Staffordshire and our new Devon home to water, feed and reassure - and the hens seemed OK. But when we placed them in their new home Amy jumped from the ground direct into my arms - and I'm tall at 5'9". She literally clung to me. Obviously through fear. Clearly the trip had terrified her. At the time it crossed my mind that she thought we were taking her to somewhere awful - perhaps she had a comprehension of other hens being taken to slaughter? or that perhaps the whole transfer thing before had been terrible for her. Whatever it was, she clung to me for the next 24 hours.

Beyond that, when she realised she had a wonderful new home - she was fine.

That was until she went through a moult.

To explain a moult - it's like a girl losing her hair and then all of the kids in the playground at school bullying her. When hens moult some of them don't know what to do with themselves. They know they feel scruffy and they probably feel insecure that they look weak and are therefore susceptible (in the wild) to being more prevalent prey victims.
It's not helped by the fact that the rest of the flock may bully them. In Amy's case the others did just that - they pecked her constantly and shooed her away from food at every opportunity. She lost weight and her spirit looked broken. She was so poorly that at one stage we had to separate her from the others and it looked as though she had a virus and she needed 1-2-1 care for a few days.

Amy in the living room on my lap when she was poorly - we watched the afternoon film on 5 together and she dozed for a bit...

But bless her she pulled through and gradually with additional feeding (out of the sight of the others) she started to regain weight and confidence and as her full feathers came through - really I would say, for the very first time properly - she looked amazing.

With her confidence back she continued to blossom further still - she would follow me into the feed shed all of the time - and learnt to jump up onto the feed bins, the work table and the food tubs! She would ask me for food very specifically and knew her favourite things.
It was so endearing and so hilarious that I guess I let her do it because I enjoyed our interactions. Yes it was cupboard love I suspect - but I got used to her different phrases and I don't hesitate to say that we had a bond.

 A now fully-feathered Amy gardening with me..

That bond was also evident when I was gardening. I always let the girls out when I'm working the garden as I can keep an eye on them and deter Mr fox (who visits during the day where we live). Amy was the first to clue into the fact that where I might be digging there would be a better chance of worms, without her having to do any hard work!

And yet when I was clearing the flower beds of leaves and cutting old dead foliage back she would scratch away the leaves for me - with no pecking for worms - just to copy what I was doing and / or to help with my work. What a joy to have a hen literally by my side while gardening - chatting away to me like an old friend all the time.

I could go on and on and had she lived longer I'm sure there would have been tales to tell of our lovely chatty girl.

Hens can take you by surprise - all of them totally different in their personalities. And rather than be sad I'm trying to think of how much she made us smile and I'm so glad that she got the chance to be a real chicken - the bright intelligent bird that she was meant to be.

I hope that wherever she's running along now that she's with the other girls we have shared our lives and many laughs with, and that the sun is on her back, the grass is lush and the worms plentiful. 

Ah these meal worms look nice!
(note the galvanised feed bins rhs - she jumped up on to get on the table!)

Now to find a way in...

Just need to open these pesky blue clips...

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