Sunday 18 November 2012

Celestial Sunday - Part 4

Seeking a Friend

After about two years of being an only child we decided to get Celeste a friend.  Seeking a friend for a hen requires some careful planning.  I didn't want to get her a friend who was actually the equivalent of a school yard bully and I also didn't want her giving some poor, little chick a hard time because she was bigger and older than them.  

I went back to the suburb of Forrestfield, to the same little farm where we bought Celeste and chose a black Silkie hen of around 4 months of age.  We called her Sylka.  I foolishly took Celeste along for the ride, thinking she'd be so pleased to see other hens, but all she wanted to do was fight them and she gave Sylka a few hard pecks on the head during the drive home.  This is nothing new and in fact had Celeste not wanted to fight with the other hens, it would have indicated that she was most likely very ill.  Chickens love a rumble. 
Little Sylka was a sweet hen.  She filled her role as hen companion to her majesty Celeste very well.  She was submissive to Celeste but Celeste also wasn't very hard on her, so after a couple of weeks they settled nicely in to a positive relationship. 

Sylka was also quite a bit smarter than Celeste.  Celeste was used to having everything hand delivered so never particularly tried too hard to look around for food etc.  Sylka on the other hand quickly worked out that when I lifted the flap on their sleep hutch, that there would quite often be crickets and other bugs ripe for the picking.  I remember accidentally dropping the flap and really scaring her.  Her memory of the event was excellent and she took over two weeks to again be comfortable being front and centre for the unveiling every morning. I had to coax her towards it bit by bit.  

Sharing the rocker - now that's friendship
Celeste introduced Sylka to the joys of scratching in the front yard and enjoying the rocking chair.  Celeste even allowed Sylka to join her on the chair - providing Celeste had exactly the position and amount of space she required.  

Celeste no longer screamed at us when we left the house and she seemed to generally calm down and behave more like a regular hen, rather than a spoilt child.  My brother built them their own house and enclosed a good sized section of the garden for their use.  We also planted a lemon tree in their garden for some shade.  In the Winter I would get worried for them as their house had a tin metal room and the rain beating down on it must have been horrendous.  The logical response being to bring them in to the house, put down a towel, put their basket on top and reinstall them in their basket - immediately next to my bed of course.  I would get woken up by Celeste preening.  I swear that hen preened for hours at a time.  I still sometimes say to my husband that I would love to have our current girls sleeping beside the bed - but I'm trying to pretend that I've grown past that, so haven't actually gone through with it so far.  

A new pen with custom built boudoir

Saying Goodbye

Sylka wasn't a particularly healthy hen and over her time she had some weird health issues. A Protozoa bug got in to her gut but that was the tip of the iceberg.  She would often look really shabby and not grow back a healthy coat of feathers in the moulting season.  Later on another hen had the same problem and was given thyroid medication which helped enormously but unfortunately it was too late for Sylka.  She finally succumbed to cancer.  I really wanted to know what had taken her life as she was so skinny, lethargic and miserably we had to have her put to sleep.  It's only the second time that I have had the Vet conduct an autopsy and this confirmed the presence of tumours.  Probably caused by a viral, poultry specific condition called Marek's disease.  

Because she had been autopsied we decided to bury her without opening up the paper which her body was wrapped in.  She had only been gone a day so Celeste was missing her but I figured that seeing Sylka in her post autopsy state would be too distressing.  It was a stupid thing to do and I really think much of the decision had to do with me not wanting to know what state Sylka was in after the Vet had done his work.  Celeste searched for Sylka for days and days and days.  It was bloody awful and I do not forgive myself for not cleaning up Sylka and allowing Celeste to see her one last time.  Hens are very quick to work out when a hen has passed away upon viewing the body.   

One Last Lesson

Because of this experience I make a point of showing the hens the body of the chicken that has passed away.  I lie the hen carefully on the paving in the middle of the pen, the other hens grow silent and skittishly creep around the body, sometime giving it a nudge like peck, calling to her perhaps and after a minute or two they turn away and go back to their business and I can then bury her. 

The few years that Celeste had Sylka were possibly her most comfortable (she was never without her) and also her happiest.  I wouldn't keep a solo hen again.  Hens are very social creatures and deserve the constant companionship of another animal that respects and understands them at all times - not just outside of office hours.  

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