Sadly this week, Ivy one of our two remaining chickens, passed away. It is so sad to think that chickens can live up to 10 years but that the rapid egg production of our rescued, commercial hens takes such a toll on their little bodies that Ivy, Gwen and Ruby only lived for a short 2-3 years.
We got to know our chickens so well, we knew them all individually by their characters, so losing them has been very upsetting for us. We see them as part of the family just like anyone would see a dog or a cat. We are so happy to have given them the chance to live half their lives outdoors, running around (yes they love to run, Veronica was always running around with them and they all followed her around endlessly in circles!), digging for insects and worms and having a good dust bath. So with Ivy’s passing I’d like to share with you how we got to know her and how she found (pushed) her way to be top of the pecking order and what that meant. Of course I’ll tell you about the others too!
Before we rescued our four lovely hens, we were actually a bit worried we might not be able to tell them apart. At first glance, they all look the same, brown and chicken-like…
When we had got them settled into their new home in our garden we easily named them all, finding they all had distinguishing features that helped us tell them apart.
Gwen the hen here, looked in quite a state when we got her. She was easy to pick out with her clipped beak and missing patches of feathers. Beak clipping is often done in commercial flocks to prevent them doing damage when the peck at each other. Done without anaesthetic, it was actually banned in the UK in 2011, infra-red trimming is still permitted which still seems pretty cruel to me! Chickens peck each other for a number of reasons but in commercial situations it is normally because they are over crowded and bored. Once Gwen settled in with us we found she had a lovely and gentle nature, it just shows the stress she must have been under that she pecked so badly at the other chickens.
Gwen looked like a different chicken once her feathers grew back and she turned out to be such a lovely hen, you can see her on the right there looking for insects in the leaves. She was pretty clever that Gwen, she didn’t have to hear the rattle of the corn tin to run over to you, she would recognise the tin as soon as she saw it.
Ruby is always easy to spot from a distance with her white tale. She was the most adventurous one to start with, very eager to explore the garden and find some worms. Her and Gwen were happy in the middle of the pecking order, part of the gang, huddling up together at night to keep warm.
That’s another thing to note about chickens, they do not like the cold, or any bad weather. They don’t like wind, rain, or snow. They just like the sunshine! But they do look very cute all puffed up in the snow.
Rosie looked quite different from the other three when we got her. She was much quieter, more calm and still, with paler feathers and a very small comb. We instantly took a liking to her shy personality and it was no wonder that her quiet nature got her pushed to the bottom of the pecking order.
Sometimes it was very difficult to watch her being pushed around by the others. She would get pushed out of the dust bath and shoved out of the way of any food, we stepped in a few times when things got nasty but it is just part of chicken life. We found Rosie to have such an inquisitive character, always happier to be on her own or with us than the others. Its not surprising really, considering how they treated her, and because one of us would distract the others and then secretly feed Rosie treats : )
Now Ivy, you could never miss Ivy. Not only did she have a beautiful collar of dark feathers to distinguish her, she would always push herself to the front and would not hesitate to start squawking if she felt it was time to be let out of the coop.
As top chicken, Ivy had a lot to say. Always speaking for the flock, she particularly would make several, very distinctive noises. Ivy would jump up onto the perch in the coop, peer down the garden to the house and squawk and crow and call like a cockerel. Shouting out of the window for her to shut up would only quieten her temporarily. She would go on until you’d let them out into the garden. Then there was her danger call, she would stretch right up tall and start crowing loudly, probably having spotted next doors cat. Then there was the, “I’ve found food” call. If she found her way onto the grass or knocked a stone over and found some woodlice she would make a clucking noise over and over.
I love this picture of her, it shows her boisterous personality. “Who are you, what’s this, what are you doing, don’t you know I’m in charge!?”
Ivy pushed the others around, pecked at them, took food from them, all in attempt to show them she was boss. It was easy for us to get annoyed at her behaving this way, but establishing and maintaining a pecking order is just part of flock life. Last winter however she did temporarily lose her place as top chicken. She went through a very heavy moult of her feathers which chickens do each year as the days get shorter. Her boisterous personality disappeared and her shabby, balding appearance left her feeling very sorry for herself and very quiet.
It was actually at this point that Veronica stopped eating chicken (her first step towards veganism). Having seen Ivy losing all her feathers and resembling a chicken on the supermarket shelf, she promised Ivy she would never eat chicken again.
We were glad that Ivy’s feathers grew back and she went back to her normal self and re-established herself as boss. Veronica never did eat chicken again and a few months later, made the full jump to being vegan.
We’ll miss Ivy and her funny ways. But Ivy, Gwen and Ruby can all rest in peace knowing that another chicken will never have to suffer or die so that me or Veronica can have scrambled eggs or chicken pie, and that we’ll do everything we can to let others know the suffering chickens endure to put eggs and meat on our plates.