The Old Chook Pen

Any chicken owner who has built a chook pen of any kind will tell you all the things they would do to improve it next time. I have a list of things so, so, SO long. Some of them we have already done – you see the winged roof we added to protect the run a bit better from rain. There is just one thing I would never change..

That one thing I would never change is the type and colour of the paint we chose to paint it with – both the exterior and the interior.

I first heard about Taubmans Endure on the TV show Selling Houses Australia. I’m not usually one who follows recommendations but the folks on that show explained enough about how the paint works plus I read the tin when we bought it.

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Seven years later, this chook pen has been out in the weather 24/7 and we have only had to replace one door just a couple of weeks ago – due to our bad design water runs straight off the roof onto the nesting box lid and due to a poor choice of materials water collected there and ended up, eventually, after a heck of a lot of abuse, causing a small area of rotted wood.

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I chose my favourite shade of teal green for the exterior and a pale yellow for the interior. Here you see some recently painted batons which we used for the sarlon screens with my most recent manicure in the foreground. Is it coincidence that they almost match? Nope. Not even a little bit. I love that shade of green. ;)

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We have just replaced the door with a new one – this time we are using marine ply, and we are protecting it better with some plastic tablecloth material, instead of the leftover linoleum flooring we used from inside the chook pen.

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You really cannot tell the freshly painted door from the 7 year old painted parts. There are some areas where a good clean of the surface might be required however for the most part it looks as good now as it did when we first finished it.

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And that is quite a feat considering the amount of dirt, rain, dust, chook poop, and that one time Rosie tore off a toenail and splattered blood all over an interior wall. Lucky for me I already knew what to do after that one time I cut her toenails – you dip the toe into cornflour and it stops the bleeding.

That roost in the photo above is where the chickens sleep at night – you would expect it to be a lot more dirty from 7 years of chicken sleeping and pooping but this Endure paint is a bit awesome.

Anyway, if you have something you want to paint once really well and then forget all about it, I can’t recommend Taubmans Endure highly enough. They rather sadly are not paying me anything to say this.

If they happen to stumble upon this post and wish to offer me another tin of paint I will take it, in the exact same colour of green – and that is another point. We are still able to use the leftover green paint from 7 years ago. I’m sure that is probably a big No No and not supposed to be done, but it works for us. :)

Chickens

Delicate Nirvana Part 2 – 4Kitties

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One of the main reasons we wanted to build a Queensland Room was for the kitties to have a safe outside space they can visit when we are not at home. This is still our intention but we are not quite there yet, obviously the panels with shade cloth to screen the room in are still a future plan right now. Until they are built, outside time is mostly still supervised.

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I say mostly because we do have surveillance cameras out there, and if we need to go inside and do a chore or task, either one of us can fire up the cameras on our phone or tablet and keep an eye on these occasionally bad kitties. I cleaned the toilets while Grumpy remained napping outside, we’ve emptied and filled the dishwasher, cooked dinner, and various other things.

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Mainly the kitty to keep an eye on is Happy, because she likes to pretend stalk and chase the chickens, who are just one tantalizingly thin chicken wire fence away from her. Grumpy does not chase the chickens. She likes to watch them and have conversations with them, but she does not stalk and chase.

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We are not concerned with their escaping the yard. Our kitties are not jumpers. Grumpy cannot jump up onto our bed, she pulls herself up with her front paws and claws. While Happy is able to jump, she generally does not like to jump anything over 1 metre tall. She is able to get over the fence between the yard and the shed/mancave area.

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So what makes our delicate nirvana = kitty nirvana? Plenty of cardboard boxes placed in strategic positions. A lot of box swapping goes on as you can see in the first two photos of this post – same box, different kitty. But they have many boxes to choose from and you see here just a small selection of those –

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Plenty of kitty friendly chair sleeping options –

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The ability to watch chickens from the boxes and chairs – and for humans the ability to watch all of these –

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A large water container for kitty drinking at the perfect height so kitties do not have to bend down at all – turns out the Christmas lights containers are perfect for this purpose –

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Cat grass specially cultivated for kitty use –

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A kitty door so they can come and go as they please without filling the house with flies and mosquitos –

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Coming soon will be some shelves purpose built for kitties to climb on, and maybe a custom built kitty tower or two.

Home, kitties

The Oldbies

Writing about the older girls always makes me worry I am putting a jinx on them somehow. But they deserve their moment in the sun just like the new girls.

Lizzy

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Lizzy was recently at the top of the pecking order – she seems to have been overthrown by Dark Comb now – and she is truly the mean girl of our chook yard. If she were human I would have nothing to do with her.

I understand why she is the way she is – anyone who has watched Wentworth or Orange Is The New Black knows you don’t get to be “top dog” by just chilling out and eating bon bons while your fellow chickens fan you with fern fronds. You have to work hard to be Top Chicken, and that means chasing the other girls away from the treats by pecking at them – though generally she never makes contact.

Lizzy can also be pretty nasty when she is broody, there are times when I have had to use a stick to push her out of the nesting box because she has pecked at me, but there are also times when I am able to pick her up and remove her with no trouble.

Kitty

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Kitty is Lizzy’s sister – they are both Pekins – and presently third in the pecking order. She also rules with an iron fist but slightly less meanly than Lizzy does. The two of them have been broody for a while now which does give the other girls a break from their beaks, and when they are not broody the newbies have been broody.

Both Kitty and Lizzy were brought up with Twiggy who had serious nutritional deficiencies – this we discovered when we sent Twiggy for necropsy as we were concerned about respiratory symptoms she’d had. Both these girls are not expected to live as long as a normal chook due to that – the damage was done before I knew them and it cannot be repaired now. However I suspect their diet since arriving here has helped them somewhat, and I do hope they will be with us for a while longer. Their time with us will involve as many treats as they can enjoy and they will be nutritionally excellent treats.

Dark Comb

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If I were allowed to have a favourite, Dark Comb would win that competition hands down. This chicken! Where do I even begin to explain all the awesomeness of this chicken? I do not believe there is a combination of words that will express it. She makes me laugh all the time, then she makes my eyes water thinking about how she is the last girl of our original flock still standing and how our time together is now limited. She is nearly 8 years old. That is like 100 in human years. There will come a day when she is no longer with us and just typing this is causing salt water to form in my eyes.

She loves blueberries more than, well, anything else on the planet. She also likes watermelon, spinach and strawberries, but if I arrive at the back door with the blueberry container she runs up to greet me and it is the cutest thing. I will have to try and get The Other Half to capture it on video.

She is extremely friendly to humans and loves to be near us. I think she believes we are her flock and if the rest of the chooks are out free ranging she will sometimes ignore them in order to be near us. If we are not in the yard she likes to sit or stand on the windowsill near Dust Bath Central where she can look in the house and see what we are up to.

It has surprised me greatly that she now is Top Chicken. I’m not sure whether it is because four of the newbies are broody right now, or whether it is because Lizzy and Kitty have recently returned from a long stretch of broodiness, or whether it is because 6 out of our 8 chickens are now English Game Hens, or if she just convinced them all to accept her as the leader. She is the only chicken to be found on the inside roost at night now. She does not rule in a mean girls way, more in a “I am your leader and therefore all the best treats are for me” kind of way.

She does spend more time sitting down chilling than she used to, especially on hot days. I try very hard not to completely freak out at this. As long as she fronts up anytime I appear with the blueberry tray, I will be happy.

Here is Dark Comb with her two English Game Hen duckwing sisters when they first arrived in Cluckingham Palace. Red Comb and Purple Comb sadly went to Rainbow Bridge in 2015/2016 and are now both buried in the garden near the lemon tree – . All of our girls at Rainbow Bridge are much missed but especially the last three as we had them the longest, that is Rosie, Red Comb and Purple Comb.

So every moment with Dark Comb is extra precious now, and she does get specially spoiled with blueberries. She knows me well enough when the blueberries are being fed, I will throw some off in another direction to send the other girls running, then drop a couple near my feet just for her.

Chickens

Dark Time

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On two recent nights, terrible indignities have been occuring to our chickens. Thursday night last week they were dusted with powder that prevents nasties like lice and mites.

One who does not own chickens might be curious about this process. First up you want to wait for the girls to put themselves to bed. That process begins around twilight and can take up to an hour or more to be completed. Especially when you have new girls who are still working out their place in the flock.

There are two times of day when you will notice who sits where in the scheme of things. Feeding time, where the “lower” girls will be pecked away from the “good food” by the higher girls. It is not usually actual pecks, just acting like they are about to peck is enough to send a lower girl running away. This time of day is easy to document with photos and video.

The other time of day is bedtime. Lesser girls will be told in no uncertain terms to get off the roost of the higher girls. The girls have three roosts to choose from. At present we have two roosts in use – one inside the coop where the higher girls sleep – one in the run where the lesser girls sleep.

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Apologies – I will not use flash at night if chicken eyes are aimed at me. So this is a dark time photo!

Once the girls have found their spot, they settle in and sleep. They usually remain asleep until about an hour before sunrise, at which time they start to wake up. Some early birds will be up and about, looking for food, water and early morning bugs to eat.

That is, unless they receive a surprise visit from two crazy lunatics who shake dust onto their feathers. In that instance there is much squawking and outraged clucking, some reshuffling of half asleep hens, and all the girls placed onto the internal roost inside the coop just so we know who has been dusted and who has not. I do not have photos for you of the dusting – that is a time when you need your wits about you and you can’t be trying to take photos.

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On Saturday night there was another surprise visit – this time to do some feather trimming. The new girls have been here with us for two weeks now and it was time to allow some free ranging. These girls can really fly and BeeGee, Queen and Diana are more flighty than our usual chicken so we wanted to make sure they would not take off over the fence into parts unknown.

We did not bother with wing trimming our older girls – they have been living here for a long time and also are less athletic than some of our newbies.

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On Sunday, the chicken enclosure door was placed in the open position, and we collectively held our breath hoping all would go well. AKA the girls would find their way back to the coop at the end of the day. Because Queen and Diana have been having a little trouble with that even inside the enclosure, often ending up on top of the coop rather than in it.

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The girls had a grand time wandering about and exploring new areas they had been gazing at longingly since arriving. The grass was a big hit and much enjoyed, but the garden beds were also a source of happiness. They also found the secret dust bathing area where the cats can watch them from inside the house.

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While the girls wandered, The Other Half got to work on building them a new way into the coop. He took apart an old fence we had lying around, and created something pretty awesome out of it – they now have an impressive ramp and they are enjoying it a lot. There are times when standing at the top is The Place To Be.

Chickens

Here In Snoskred Land

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Brussel Sprouts are either nowhere to be found or extremely Up Money. We’ve had to improvise. I decided to use baby spinach in our Meatball Mix the other night. The result was somewhat odd, as the spinach turned everything green, even after it was cooked.

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It was still delicious!

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The new girls have settled in well for the most part, however the flock layout has turned out totally different to expectations. At the very top of the flock are Dark Comb, Lizzy and Kitty. Dark Comb was clearly determined to be the Queen Bee. Just under them is Foo and Finn. BeeGee is next, followed by Diana, and Queen is at the very bottom of the pecking order.

When we took Rosie in to see the vet, who was not our normal vet, she was surprised to find how observant we are and how quickly we had picked up on Rosie not being her usual self. The vet said many flock owners do not notice anything is wrong until things are *really* wrong. This can be of great benefit to the chooks if something is wrong, but it can also be to our detriment.

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Foo at the front, Finn behind, then Queen.

Last Saturday around lunchtime, Foo separated herself away from the flock and was standing inside the run on one of the roosts. By 2:30pm we were starting to get quite worried as this was not like her and it was contrary to the usual chook routine, normally Foo and Finn are inseparable, or sometimes they split up a bit to hang out with some of the other chooks but they are usually within each others sight line.

We suspected she might be egg bound, and thus we tried the spa treatment. She hung out by the laying boxes for the next hour and a half, with Finn coming in to check on her pretty regularly. Finally to our great relief she laid the larger than usual egg around 4:30. More than likely this would have happened quite naturally without any intervention or worrying on our part at all. But who knows, maybe the spa treatment helped her out. ;)

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Most days the girls get at least one treat. In the past week they have had a variety of awesome new things to try. They pecked some cauliflower into a new alien landscape.

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They were unsure at first about yoghurt but they soon discovered it was brilliant. It has to be lactose free for chickens. You also want to make sure to have at least two separate feeding stations so if the girls lower on the pecking order get chased away from one container they can visit the other one. I can cut these egg cartons in half so they have 4 locations to choose from.

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BeeGee has discovered blueberries – she has one in her beak there, it is a bit hard to spot – and they are her favourite treat so far. She used to run away from us whenever we went out to the enclosure – now she waits to see if we have her most favourite thing. My expectation is that she will eat them out of my hand within a couple of weeks.

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Last weekend was a long weekend here. We’d been talking about our fire plan and also preparing our home. The dry leaves were all raked up and placed in the chicken pen where they will be an endless source of amusement until they compost down.

The house gutters were cleaned out. Gutter guard was installed on some of the house guttering, this job will be completed next weekend as we ran out of gutter guard.

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The cats enjoyed plenty of outside in the yard time, where Grumpy was fascinated by the moving leaves in the small birdbath pond, and Happy spent some time getting to know the new chooks. We did not get out for any Jervis Bay walks over the weekend, however plenty of exercise was enjoyed right here at home. Everything is much tidier now.

Chickens, Home

The New Girls

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BeeGee – After the BeeGees, and also because she is black and gold. She was named by The Other Half at the petrol station in Batemans Bay, while I went to the bathroom. This is a terrible photo, I will get a better one. However BeeGee is the least approachable of our new girls and she is speedy. Most of the photos turn out as a blur. I might have to try the bigger camera.

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Foo – after the Foo Fighters. Foo is facing the camera.

Finn – After Neil & Tim Finn AKA The Finn Brothers. Finn is looking away from the camera. Finn has a floppy comb at the back. That is not dirt on their chest, that is their colouring.

Foo and Finn are the most approachable of our new girls and not at all afraid of humans. One of them spent quite a bit of time under my chair while some of the first flock jostling was going on, just happily scratching and chilling out. When I go out there, they walk right up to me and peer at me curiously, do I have a treat for them? I do not think these girls have any ambitions to be Queen of the Flock. They are happy being part of the flock and do not wish to lead.

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Diana – After Diana Ross initially, but after observing her she is more like Princess Diana. Determined and persistent. She saw there was green grass on the other side of the fence, and spent at least 2 hours trying to work out how she could get to it.

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Diana has a green band on her foot which helps us to tell her apart from Queen. She has been very busy working on her grass project which has kept her distracted from the flock positioning. In the photo above she has progressed from walking the fence line to standing on things, trying to see if there are any gaps in the mesh. There may have been, but seeing her determination, The Other Half got out the staple gun.

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Queen – After the band Queen, and also she is the largest of the new girls and extremely perfect looking. She’s had a couple of run ins with the older girls and it seems she has been the winner of those runins. I think she wants to be Queen and has the same level of determination to get that job as her sister Diana has to get to the grass. These two girls are incredibly graceful, how they walk around is a thing of great beauty. Almost like ballet dancer chickens.

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Lizzy (our Black Pekin), Kitty (our Grey Pekin) and Dark Comb who is keeping an eye on Queen.

They were living in pens of 5 girls and one rooster – three of these girls are from different pens. Foo and Finn were in together and were already good friends. They are all a year old and were raised by a human so they are friendly and easy to handle once you have picked them up, they will calmly sit and accept their fate, which is good for medicine and health checks.

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Out in their new pen they have so much more space – and height – than they did previously. They were not at all sure about the arrangement of the coop and run. It took them a while to get the confidence to explore it and figure out where the roosts were, and the nesting boxes, and a couple of them originally tried to sleep on the roof before they found their way to the roost.

They received blueberry treats and kale yesterday. Kale they understand. Blueberries they have never seen before and they are clueless, and slightly scared of them. It will not take them long to understand that these are a treat. In the meantime the older girls run around picking up all the blueberries before the other girls get a chance.

On Tuesday, after I got home from my walk I spent some time watching the girls just to see what was happening in the yard. Queen found herself a huge spider – I think I saw it while I was raking things up on Saturday – and all the other girls both new and old chased her around the yard trying to steal it from her.

They have settled in nicely and they are dustbathing up a storm out there as I type. I’m not allowed to have favorites as you all know, but Foo and Finn did not have to work very hard to steal my heart. Plus I love if you call them together you get “FooFinn”.

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At night there is still a little uncertainty about how to get into their sleeping area, but I expect by the end of the week they’ll remember exactly where to go. It is still a bit hard to tell who is where in the flock positioning. The girls have so much room out there, they do not need to encounter each other if they don’t want to.

It seems like there are three groups forming – Foo and Finn are usually not very far from each other, Diana, BeeGee and Queen hang out together a fair bit, and the older girls are sticking to their group however Dark Comb is often letting the newer girls know they are below her with a peck or two.

Chickens

Spring Cleaning

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Our Grande Dame Rosie and Dark Comb were the best of friends. Dark Comb is the official Survivor, she is the last girl standing of our original 2011 flock.

The day after Rosie went to Rainbow Bridge, Snoskredland awoke to find the two Pekin girls had gone broody and poor Dark Comb was out there all by herself. I went and kicked the broodies out of their nest, and Lizzy stayed out instead of going back in, which made me feel slightly better.

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However I know those two will be in and out of broodiness all spring and summer and the sight of Dark Comb by herself was breaking my heart. Chickens cannot flock when they are all alone.

Our mixed flock originally had several different breeds of chicken – three Old English Game hens, Rosie Rosecomb, White Sussex and Ancona. Out of those breeds our favourite has been the Old English Game due to their large personalities and very happy natures.

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I did some digging and found an Old English Game breeder on the South Coast who was willing to part with some girls as his incubators are full and chicks are just hatching out now – it was a bit of a drive, down past Narooma. A bit of a drive is a bonus for us. We have that song project.

Let it be known, though. This was not our original plan. We were planning to re-do the chook pen in spring this year, then hatch out chicks once we had completely enclosed the pen, safe from rats, mice, snakes, etc, yada yada. Also, normally, one would quarantine girls before introducing as we did with our last lot of auction hens. In this case, we are far more knowledgeable in the health of these new girls than we would be in getting chooks from an auction.

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On Saturday I cleaned out the chook pen in preparation. Of course I picked the hottest day of spring thus far to do it. I raked up all the leaves and branches which have fallen in recent winds, and made a nice pile for the girls to dig through.

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On Sunday we left early, we had a great drive stopping for a quick breakfast at our favourite pie shop in Ulladulla – Hayden’s Pies – and back on the road for another couple of hours. On arrival there were literally gale force winds, making it difficult for us to hear the breeder describe his different girls to us, the colours and his Old English Game breeding projects.

We initially intended to get two girls, we ended up with five. At our first stop on the way home, the first chook was named – BeeGee because she is black and gold. That has inspired a musical theme. By the time we got home all of the girls had names, and we sat out in the chook pen for a couple of hours enjoying our new girls. Now the sun has gone down, the roost squabbling is over for the time being, and everyone has settled in for the night, including us.

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They will remain in the pen for the next week, and likely before we let them out to free range we will do some wing clipping because we have noticed these girls are enthusiastic and excellent flyers. You will get to meet them properly on Wednesday!

Chickens, country life

Vale Our Grande Dame Rosie

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It is 2:35pm on Tuesday and I’m sitting here waiting. I already called the vet and made the appointment for late this afternoon. I know Our Grande Dame Rosie is unwell. I took them out some tuna as a treat and Rosie did not even try to move or show any interest. That is how I usually know the time is nigh. She perked up a little, not enough to eat, but enough to follow the flock down to the dustbathing area, and I had a tiny nugget of hope for a minute there, but she is not dustbathing.

I’m not going to completely stress her out by trying to catch her right this second. Rosie is not into that kind of thing. She keeps her distance from us humans and she expects the same courtesy in return. I have a post scheduled tomorrow where I talk about our fire plan and the one issue with it is trying to catch Rosie. When she is healthy, she is very hard to catch. She is incredibly speedy. And she can fly!

So now I have the luxury of a couple of hours to sit here and think about how much we have loved having her as one of our chooks, and how much she is going to be missed by all of us. Dark Comb has not left her side since I got home from my walk and noticed she seemed off.. We’ll wait till she gets up on the roost this afternoon, it will be less stressful for her.

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Sometimes so speedy she was just a blur in the photo.

Rosie was originally named Blackie, when she first arrived here. She also had the nickname of Nugget for a while. I found her at the Goulburn chook auction in July of 2011. She was maybe 6 months to a year old when we first got her. She was a show chicken and her sister was an award winner, but Rosie was deemed unworthy for whatever reason, and I bought her for the expensive price of $10.

Nobody else was bidding on her, and had I not bid my $10 she would have been taken home and culled. Because she came home with me, she had 6 extra years of chicken life and she truly had an excellent chicken life, once she learned how to be a chicken. She was spoiled regularly with treats and her most favourite treat was strawberries cut into little squares.

I believe Rosie had spent her entire life prior to arriving here in a small chicken box, similar to the pens they use at chook auctions. She had no idea how to be a chicken. Here you can see her first experience with grass and learning how to dustbathe. She was always the lowest girl in the pecking order, and after Red Comb was attacked by a hawk, they became great friends.

At one time, because she is quite small, she became our escape chicken. She also flew over the fence as a surprise to herself one Saturday morning when it was a bit windy out. The amount of effort and time it took us to recapture her.. I think if Rosie had not been quite so terrified and upset at finding herself in unfamiliar surroundings, she would have been laughing at us.

She has always been a great friend to the English Game hens, and Dark Comb is the last one left. So I am a little worried about what happens once Rosie is no longer with us, with so few chooks left in the flock now. Though the main reason we did not add any more girls was because I felt Rosie would prefer to live out her years without having to go through another reshuffle of the pecking order. The girls we have left will handle it a lot better, if we chose to add more girls.

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Update – Rosie is now with her bestest chook friends in Rainbow Bridge. This was a tough one for us especially when our normal vet was on holidays. Our Grande Dame put on a decent show this afternoon, pretending to peck at the ground like she was eating when the other chooks were about, but she wasn’t picking anything up. When no chooks were looking, she would just stand completely still.

Once we got her to the vet away from the flock, she felt like it was ok to show us exactly how unwell she was feeling and we then knew that we’d made the right decision. We are not sure what caused her to feel this way, more than likely it was just old age and her time. Chooks are not built for long lifetimes.

As I always post when this happens – there are 3 other chickens in the yard for whom life continues. They live minute by minute, sucking the most joy out of each and every moment, whether it is a dirt bath, finding a bug, eating a treat from the humans.. all we can do is love them while they’re here, protect them the best we can from predators, know when it is time to let them go, and remember them when they are gone.

We will miss you, our sweet Grande Dame. We loved our time with you.

Thank you for being such a great chook.

Vale Pets