We lost one of our hens over winter. In addition to our three rescue hens someone had given us an aristocratic looking Welsummer. When she arrived she seemed to be suffering from a bad cold. Happens all the time, we were told, she’d be fine in a couple of days. So trying hard not to think about bird flu we isolated her in the greenhouse and waited to see what would happen. The gurgling noises that came from her throat got worse. We were advised to administer antibiotics. Twice a day we cornered the invalid and hosed the stuff down her throat as she struggled to breathe. It’s just possible she held this waterboarding against us.
From the outset she kept herself aloof from the scruffy rescue birds. She would stand in her magnificence with her back to them at the far end of the run. In nine months she laid precisely 3 eggs. And in her defence I would have to say that very fine eggs they were too.
Most days the hens were let out of the run to wander the garden. Usually it was the rescues who caused the problems. They once squirmed under the hedge and leaving the premises by the front gate set off to see the world. Picking their way through the crowd of well-heeled mothers unloading their adorable offspring from four-by-fours the hens wandered unmolested along the busy pavement until they came to the private nursery school down the road. Here they spotted a patch of grass and set about doing what chickens do best – converting pristine lawn into blasted heath. They weren’t going to come quietly. After being summoned by a nursery assistant I ended up chasing them through the ornamental flower beds while increasingly distressed toddlers buried their faces in their hands wailing “What’s he doing, miss!!!? What’s the man doing to the chickens?!”
Getting the birds back into the run was usually fairly straightforward. If it was near the end of the day they wandered home by themselves and all we had to do was remember to shut them in safe from the local foxes. If we had to get them shut in earlier we invariably came up against the Welsummer.
Sometimes we simply had to give up, leaving her to her own devices, knowing that she’d come back when she was ready. Towards evening we’d go back open the door and let her in. Until the night we forgot. She must have returned and stood expectantly outside the run as night fell. We know this because that’s where we found the feathers the next morning. The slaughter was doubtless witnessed by the rescues from the vantage point of their cosy nestbox.
The messy demise of the Welsummer had a marked effect on the other birds. The short days and cold weather had seriously curtailed their egg production. The morning after there were three eggs nestling in the sawdust. They’re still producing them faster than we can eat them.