Death of a Chicken

Fern, chicken, hen, died, dead, RIP, Rhode Rock, Egg Yolk Peritonitis, double yolk
Fern – RIP Beautiful Girl

Death of a Chicken

You wouldn’t believe how attached you can become to a chicken. We’ve had four of the little blighters since March this year and they really have become family pets.  The kids love ’em. We love ’em. And of course, we love the eggs they produce.

Mark, Fern, chicken, hen
Mark with Fern

It all started at dusk one Tuesday evening when we noticed that instead of scratching and pecking the ground, Fern was just stood still, resting on one leg.  Upon inspection, she looked fine: her comb was dark red and upright and her eyes seemed bright, so we put it down to the fact that it was nearly their roosting time and she was tired after a hard day’s pecking.

Fern, chicken, hen, died, dead, RIP, Rhode Rock, Egg Yolk Peritonitis, double yolk
Poorly Fern in Her Makeshift Nest

The following day, we let them out as per normal and watched Fern.  Again, she was more or less motionless: not her usual productive pecking-and-gathering self at all. I had a dental appointment, so Mark opted to take her to the vet. The vet also acknowledged that her comb and bright eyes indicated that she was healthy, however, he gave her a shot in her breast and gave us some antibiotics to put in her water.

Mark made a nest for her next to his desk and he played nursemaid to her whilst I was at work. By the time I returned home at 4pm, she really was no better. She hadn’t eaten anything during the day but had taken some of the antibiotic-supplemented water.  Nonetheless, I was disappointed that she didn’t look more lively.

We made the decision to keep her inside overnight and we made up a nest for her in the kitchen.

It was with some trepidation that we ventured into the kitchen the next morning. “Think positive”, I told Mark. She’s going to be fine. I was soon eating my words, however. Poor Fern had moved out of the nest and was sitting in a pool of liquid faeces and other clear liquid on the kitchen floor. She looked much, much worse than when we’d left her the previous evening.

Mark went to move her into her bed so that we could clean up the mess. As he picked her up, she squawked, vomited clear liquid and died in his arms. It was literally that quick. Poor Mark was beside himself, blaming himself for moving her. Yet we couldn’t have left her in the wet mess and I honestly believe she would have died anyway soon afterwards.

Fern, chicken, hen, died, dead, RIP, Rhode Rock, Egg Yolk Peritonitis, double yolk
Mabel, Doris and Ivy Enjoying a Dust Bath

We had to know what was wrong with her so Mark returned to the vet where he performed a necropsy on her. He identified her cause of death as being Egg Yolk Peritonitis.  This is basically similar to an ectopic preganancy in humans.

In a chicken suffering from Egg Yolk Peritonitis, egg yolks are deposited internally instead of within an egg, and when the hen’s body tries to reabsorb them, the peritoneum can become infected, as egg yolk is a good medium for bacteria to grow.  Once the infection has become established, the infection will cause a widespread peritonitis.

With the benefit of hindsight (and reading copious internet articles), we recalled all the double-yolk eggs we’d had, as well as, more recently, a number of soft-shelled eggs – particularly the one that Fern suddenly laid when she was sat on Seb’s knee one day.

In addition, since Fern’s passing, we have consistently had three eggs from the remaining three hens, every day without fail. We have now realised that it was probably Fern who wasn’t laying consistently.

It’s been a steep learning curve but hopefully we are better armed to deal with any of the chickens becoming ill in the future.  RIP Beautiful Fern. We miss you.

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What We Did With Our New Chickens and Other Stories …

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Childhood Chickens … and Grown Up Chickens

Growing up on a smallholding in rural Staffordshire, we had a variety of farm animals: pigs, sheep, cows, geese, dogs, the ubiquitous feral cats … and chickens.

Back then, I had no real interest in them. Dad fed them, cleaned them out and collected the eggs. The only thing my brothers and I had to do was chuck kitchen scraps into their run every now and then whilst mum was making dinner. Oh, and eat the eggs, of course.

Fast forward 35 years and we decided to have chickens of our own. My partner Mark has always wanted them and I was certainly not averse to the idea.

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Choosing Our Chickens

The first step was identifying what type we wanted and locating them. We decided to take on battery rescue hens who deserved a better life.

Despite our good intentions, avian flu is still rife in some parts of the UK, particularly in Lancashire where the birds were located.  We waited several months for the government to give the go ahead for poultry to be transported, but it wasn’t to be.

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Photo courtesy of

Itching to get on with the business of keeping chickens, we opted for some point-of-lay hens. We found them at Cheshire Chickens – a poultry farm in Knutsford.

Mark, the teenagers and I piled into the car early one Sunday morning in mid March, stopping off en route for a gorgeous breakfast at Piccolino on King Street in Knutsford.

Replete, we headed off to collect our chickens. The farmer was just loading a couple of birds into a box for another family, including a very pregnant lady. She told me she was expecting twins, despite already having four children – plus numerous hens, cats and dogs. How does she do it?!

66 Thoughts chicken hen, poultry, birds, free range, eggs
Clockwise from top left: Doris, Ivy, Mabel and Fern, enjoying sweetcorn cobs

We opted for two Rhode Rock hens and two Novo Browns (also known as Warrens).

The Rhode Rocks we named Mabel and Fern and the Warrens Doris and Ivy. According to my friend Amy, these were “names you’d hear in any good nursing home”!

Whilst there, we also bought laying pellets, apple cider vinegar and grit, plus a pellet feeder, having already bought water feeders previously.

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Coming Home

Armed with our birds and our purchases, we carefully loaded them into the car to take them to their new home.

66 Thoughts, chicken, coop, run, hens, hen “Home” was a new coop, bought online by Mark weeks earlier, when we’d assumed we would be able to collect our battery rescues straightaway.

Mark was worried (to say the least) that we may have unwelcome visitors, so he had already made it as fox-proof as humanly possible. His prevention measures included security chains on the openers, spring-loaded self-closers on the doors and wire mesh fixed to the ground round the coop and run. Inside was plenty of sawdust and fresh straw: the chickens were going to love it!

66 Thoughts, chickens, hens, new home, coop, run, Nantwich, Cheshire

We popped them inside, let the ramp down into the run and sat and waited. And waited. And waited some more. The poor things were terrified and wouldn’t come out!

After an hour of sitting around waiting for them to make an entrance, I decided to place one in the run, hoping the rest would follow.  After a tentative peck around and an acknowledgement of the water feeder, she scooted back up the ramp and resolutely stayed inside with the others!

Deciding that they’d probably had enough for one day, we decided to leave them to settle in and get used to their surroundings.

The following day they seemed far more perky and they soon ventured down the ramp and into the run.  Over the following days, we introduced them to the rest of the garden, allowing them to free range whenever we were at home and able to keep an eye on them.

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Who Knew Chickens Were Fussy Eaters?

We also tested different kitchen scraps on them and discovered that they are possibly the fussiest chickens on the planet! They’ll wolf down sweetcorn – cobs or tinned – but refuse any type of lettuce or salad greens.  They are indifferent to tomatoes and grapes.  Pretty much any other scraps from the kitchen they refuse: carrot peelings, broccoli stalks, cauliflower leaves, asparagus trimmings … basically, all the things we thought we’d be able to feed to them!

On the plus side, they also eat garden pests such as slugs and snails … and our compost heap is ever-growing, with fruit and veg scraps plus the chicken manure!

Waiting for Eggs

Every morning, we ran to the coop, excitedly looking for the first egg to arrive.  We pored over every available website and article online to read up about our new friends. We learned that having come to us at 21 weeks they were almost fully grown but their combs and wattles were still pale pink – a sure sign that they weren’t quite ready to lay.

66 Thoughts fresh laid egg hen chicken free range cheshireMabel’s comb was getting darker by the day and we guessed that she’d be the first to lay.  Still the waiting continued. Then just before Easter, Mark had to go to work in Denmark. Lo and behold, the very next day, we collected our first egg!

My youngest and I were joining Mark in Denmark a few days later for a week’s break over Easter, so we carefully wrapped the first egg – and the one produced the next day – in bubble wrap and kitchen roll. Placing them in a box, we transported them to Denmark to surprise Mark.  He was SO happy!

Soon after our first egg, the others started to lay and soon we were having four eggs each and every day!

The two Rhode Rocks lay bigger eggs than the Warrens, and Mabel, bless her, has laid quite a few double-yolk eggs.

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Becoming Our Friends

As the days have grown longer, and Mark and/or I have been working from home, the chickens have been out in the garden more and more. What wonderful characters they are! Whilst not as cuddly as a dog or a cat, they are certainly very friendly and they keep us hugely entertained with their antics.

66 Thoughts, chickens, hens, pecking, glass, window, patio

One of their favourite habits is to stand in a row outside the patio doors, pecking at the glass, as we work at the dining table inside. They are so insistent that they keep pecking until we come out and give them a treat!

They are also incredibly friendly, allowing themselves to be stroked and picked up – and even jumping on our knees when we sit outside! And don’t get me started on leaving the patio doors open, even for a few seconds – they hop in (and poo!) before you can stop them!

Next time I blog about the chickens, I’ll be talking about “5 Reasons to Have Chickens … and 5 Reasons Not To”.

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