Friday was an extremely sad day for us as one of our hens, Geraldine, passed away. She seemed perfectly fine in the morning but later in the day the Hubster found her lying motionless in the run. He called me immediately and I rushed to collect my things and head home from the allotment. It was pretty devastating for both of us but more so for the Hubster. He's taken on the role of chief chicken handler and is out regularly cleaning the coop and taking the girls treats. Over the past couple of months Geraldine had become his favourite and she would follow him around the run and even eat from your hand if you let her. Poor girl...we'll miss her.
When you have only three hens you really get to know their little personalities and the line between livestock and pets can easily be crossed. Though we enjoy the eggs that our girls lay for us they're definitely more pets than working animals. We're constantly worried about whether their run is large enough, if it's too wet, if they have enough sun, and what they eat. No doubt all part of a new hen owner's experience but no matter how long we'll have chickens I imagine that we'll be just as conscientious as we are now.
In our hens' pecking order, Geraldine took middle rank. She was easy-going, trusting, non-aggressive, and the prettiest of the three. Now that she's gone you can tell that our other two are completely lost. The first day they hung around Geraldine in the coop until I picked her up and took her out. In the days since they've been skittish and their behaviour towards each other has changed. Miracel no longer pecks at Carmen's head when they eat in the morning and after one night of sleeping alone she's moved from the nest box to roosting on Carmen's bar. Chickens don't mourn loss in the way that people do but I think they know that something has happened to their friend.
Though we'd already decided to introduce a fourth hen to the flock in the spring, the Hubster and I had a chat and decided to go ahead and introduce two new hens this week. We hope that by giving our girls new friends that they'll liven up a bit. Hens should always be kept in groups of at least three and any less than that could mean sad and dejected birds.
Up until now we haven't known what breed of chicken our hens are but we wanted to get two new ones of roughly the same size. We were thinking Bantams but I also thought to get in touch with Brian, who has the farm where our hens came from originally. He invited us up to have a look at his menagerie on Sunday and it's then that we found out that our girls are 'Old English Game' which is a breed descended from ancient fighting cocks. That explains their musclely leanness and why Miracel looks like a velociraptor when she stalks around the run.
Brian had close to two hundred chickens roaming wild around his farm last year but he's been able to give a lot of them away. He still has plenty left though and has promised to catch two of them tonight so we can pick them up first thing in the morning. His advice for integrating them was to just put them in the run and let them work things out. We're a bit concerned over scuffles though so we'll keep the new hens in an enclosed area inside the run for at least the first day.
We're a bit nervous and of course sad about Geraldine but we're looking forward to having some new hens. We're not sure which ones will be waiting for us in the box tomorrow but after this experience I have a feeling that Carmen won't come out as bottom rank this time. Whatever happens I hope that our girls are happier birds once they've got new friends. They won't replace Geraldine in our hearts though and we'll always remember our pretty red hen.