The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Keeping chickens – the flip side

Florence as a young hen

Florence as a young hen

“There’s something wrong with Florence. She’s looking odd, not eating or drinking. She’s isolated herself from the others.”
“Let’s put her in The Emerald Castle – with food and water of course. Away from the rest of the flock she can relax and concentrate on geting better.”
Wise words from Danny that apply to any ailing chicken.

It’s strange but it usually seems to be my favourite birds that keel over. As in any group there are some that have more attractive personalities. I still miss Mrs Boss, Carol and all the others that have gone to the Great Meadow in the sky. Most of all I miss Lightning – a pure white guinea fowl that I adored. This was the first Big To Me loss.

Lightning  has a little part of the garden dedicated to him. He was buried in a nest fashioned from moss and herbs and placed under the satyr seat.  I know that it’s sentimental but I think of him every day as I pass his resting place.

Florence was much admired by a visitor on Monday – the sun made her greenish black glossy feathers look as lush and inviting as a deep pool on a hot day. She seemed content as she snuggled up with her friends on the roof of the Emerald Castle.

She was fine then. First in the queue for the feeder and, as usual, trying to do a Houdini and exit the run with me to the lush grass beyond the pen.

Her eggs were large and dark brown. She was a friendly hen – easy to pick up and cuddle. Intelligent too. She also reminded me of a wonderful trip to Florence that I took with my mum when I was in my early twenties. Shoes, museums, coffee, fantasy stories and the Boboli Gardens.

This morning Florence looked hunched and dirty. No preening is a sure sign that a chicken is ill or unhappy. Do you remember how straggly Baby looked before he moved into his own studio flat in the run? Away from the bullies he preened and looked great in just a week or so.

It was warm today so I washed Florence gently with an old tea towel soaked in warm water. She seemed to like that. But when I put her down she hobbled away and banged into the side of the pen. As D had advised the EC was the perfect place to put her. She lay down almost immediately. But her neck was odd.

This evening I’m pretty sure that Florence won’t make it through the night. I have a strong suspicion that she is suffering from Marecks disease. Chicks are inoculated against this at a few days old. It’s easy to miss the odd one. Why did it have to be Florence? I just need confirmation from The Chicken Lady.

If you keep livestock you will always eventually have dead stock. Although losing my bird friends is getting easier over time, this is the side of animal husbandry that I find very hard indeed.

Update: I just went down to check on Florence and she had died. RIP Florence – now in that great sunny meadow in the sky.

  Leave a reply


  1. Hi there, I know it’s a bit late to know, but have you ever had a chicken come up with a blocked crop? that happened to one of ours and the syptoms you mentioned such as not eating or drinking and being weak in the legs sounds very similar to what happened with ours. sadly we took her to the vets and he said our chooky wouldn’t make it through the operation she had to have as she was already very weakened. From now on I always give their crops a bit of a light squeeze to make sure they’re in good shape :). Happy chicken-ing. and this website is excellent! I’m going to make the apple jelly.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Thank you everyone for leaving your comments. I had a chat with the Chicken Lady and S – they had a hen with Marecks last year. we came to the conclusion that it was not Marecks that killed Florence – she died too quickly. Marecks is a longer more drawn out illness.

    So the reason for her quick death remains a mystery.

    Your comments gave me great solace and are much appreciated.

    My plan is to build the new chicken house – using an old and heavy slate crate that I picked up from the penultimate house that I decorated. That was nearly 2 years ago! I have broken the crate up and will construct the house inside the hen run.

    Once that is finished I’ll buy two or three new hens to introduce to the flock. This means that the new ones will have ‘mates’ of their own age, can move around as a group and will be less likely to be bullied.

    Incidentally some of our hens stopped laying for a few days after Florence died but now are all back laying again.

  3. Norma

    So sorry about Florence. It always hurts when animals die.

  4. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    Sorrow in the barnyard again. And, again, a reminder that what’s important in all this is that we treat our livestock well, that they live good lives in our care. And your chickens do.

    Here’s to Florence’s fine chicken life, and to the hens who come after.

  5. Frogdancer

    My condolences. A blogging from from New Zealand put me onto your site and this is the first post I read. I too have chooks. Mine are all still young – a year or less – so I’m hoping it’ll be a while before mine get old and decrepit.

    They’re endearing little things, aren’t they? Buffy and Jane take any chance they can to come into the house to look for me, I have Willow with a gammy foot who hobbles gamely everywhere, Jane is the smallest but bossiest and the two purebreds who like to keep to themselves.


  6. The way your post flowed, I got engrossed, but was already feeling the pangs of love of a favourite pet, be it a cat, dog, fowl.. does not matter. They are dear to us and bring great comfort to us. Then when I reached the end of your post, I had a sinking feeling.. knowing what was coming. I am really sorry about your loss. I’m sure she had a wonderful life, safe with you.

  7. Chris Vinson

    So sorry, Fiona. It is hard to lose one, that’s for sure.

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