Monday 4 November 2013

Elderly Hens - letting go

 Elderly Hen - saying goodbye

Our beautiful brown red Pekin hen Selene has not recovered from her winter moult this spring. Usually her comb shrinks and loses its red, waxy sheen and she drops weight and energy from around May – September.  Just when we begin to worry about her, suddenly a spark ignites into a massive production of weight gain and good health.  Her comb doubles in size, it reddens and glows shiny and new and her dominating behaviours triple as she brings the flocks into line for the laying season.  However this year there was no new life, there was only the beginning of some seriously concerning signs of ill health.  From early October we noticed that Selene seemed to be unsteady on her feet.  She needed to be lifted out of the sleeping hutch or else she would be the last to leave and would struggle painfully down the ramp to the ground.  I initially removed the roosts from the sleeping hutch as I found that making her way over these was the biggest problem in getting up and out in the morning.  However when I found her unable to step down less than 2 inches off a slightly puffy pillow, I knew she was in real trouble.  She also had begun to need regular cleaning (washing in the laundry trough) of her rear as her droppings were accumulating there within two days.  She could not preen herself or scratch her face as she was so unsteady on her feet.  The Vet found no sign of cancer in her belly and so we started by treating her sore legs with anti-inflammatories.  By the end of that weekend I knew that she was making no improvement and considering she had not been sick even one day in the seven years we had her, I knew the signs that our girl was finally succumbing to her long life.  So we arranged an afternoon appointment for her. 
She was so good, so trusting and gentle as the Vet slipped a gas mask over her little face and we held her close whilst she succumbed to the anaesthetic.  It was a quiet and graceful end to our beautiful lady.  The other girls cooed over her little body at home and she took her place next to Rosie, our recently departed Wyandotte under the rose bush in our back garden. 
This leaves us with three hens.  Alice our wheaten Pekin, Farrah the black Silkie and Jewel our oversized, black Pekin bantam.  I was always worried that Jewel would go totally feral if Selene passed away and she was left in charge.  The truth is with such a small flock in such a large pen, that competition is virtually nil, so Jewel has in fact not bothered to exert herself over either of her hen sisters.  So we’ve smoothly moved to a three hen flock without a hitch.  The only problem being that we hate to see so few girls in our garden, especially as we can not restock the flock under the current cloud of the ILT virus.  It’s been a heck of a year with so much loss and so much sickness.  We thank our lucky stars for the ladies we have left but I worry every day as to who will be next and  what we will do when we have only one girl left with no one to give her the company that hens absolutely must have to ensure their happiness.  
Selene - October 2013.  Seven wonderful years as our top girl.

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