We returned from our latest London trip on Sunday night and another of our chickens was "off her legs". This has happened before and we tried last time to revive the sad creature but soon realised that a swift end was better than a prolonged one and we arranged for her merciful dispatch.
Our chickens have not been a great success. Huge - really huge - and with constant runny droppings, they did not fulfill my image of cute hens pecking and scratching around our garden. They also did not lay any eggs and were costing us dearly in pellets, disinfectant and natural remedies to encourage them to full health. We tried hard: we fed and watered them, we swept up after them, we gave them celery and spinach and cooked egg-shells, but they remained cumbersome, lethargic and poorly birds.
Whatever infection they had wasn't clearing up which meant that we wouldn't feel safe eating their eggs, we wouldn't want to introduce new chickens and we couldn't give them away. Both seemed in poor health and, when the one couldn't stand up any more, we knew what we had to do - again.
We had a conversation with the children about the fate of the chickens a few weeks ago and they were understanding of the situation. We had worked since then at improving the state of the hens but had clearly failed. The children were sad, briefly, but quite excited about the prospect of new, small, cute, healthy, egg-laying birds. The lady from the village who had fed then chickens while we were away was willing and able to help us out with ending their lives as neither my partner or I felt we had the experience or stomach for the deed. Not only that, she will be providing us with chickens from her father's farm in the next month: hardy Scottish chickens from healthy stock, unlike the rather odd creatures we had hoped we were rescuing from a battery-farm but I now wonder if came from a more suspect background.
So we have cleaned out the hen-house and disinfected the feeder and reflected on all that we have learned about chickens. And I am looking forward to some cute, speckled hens.