16 October 2014

Farewell to a feathered friend

Our magnificent black Orpington died last weekend. She was a heap of beautiful glossy black feathers, her body pushed out of the nest box by brown shavers who desperately wanted the space to lay their eggs.

Black orpington chicken feathers

No one saw that hen without commenting on how big she was. Only a week earlier my brother couldn't tear his eyes away when he visited. "That is a BIG chicken," he said. She was the size of a smallish dog, and probably weighed 4-5 kg.

Child feeding black orpington

She was one of our first batch of chickens, remaining behind when I sold her one of sisters for being too broody and the other for being too mean. She's had two batches of new flockmates since then, all brown shavers (Boring! Utilitarian! But oh, the eggs, the eggs.) The second lot she was mother to, and the third lot grandmother. I kid you not - that's how she behaved. I wrote the story of how she cared for her dearest daughter last year in this post, The old beauty lays again.

With her best pal.
The shock of her sisters and daughters leaving sent her into the nest box: it was her retreat during rough times. And there she went to die.

Why did she die? She was five and a half years old. Chickens of traditional breeds can live for 12 years, and I was planning on her being a well-aged beauty. Yet she hadn't laid one of her distinctive creamy, symmetrically oval eggs since last summer, in spite of coming into breeding condition, so I thought something might be wrong. I was about to worm her, for the first time ever, in case that was the problem. But her plumage was stunning and her comb red and erect, so she wasn't particularly ill.

She did have a swollen 'bumblefoot' again - it had troubled her for a couple of years, on and off. Maybe. Maybe.

I was away for the weekend, by the way, and a neighbour was caring for them. He hadn't realised she was dead!

Anna and I cried a bit, and stroked her still-stunning feathers. Then we plucked the bits of her that weren't wet and maggoty. Her plumes will go to a weaver I met a couple of weeks ago. Chicken feathers are some of the best for beginner weavers of Maori cloaks to use, apparently. When she sees these ones, her eyes will gleam. Never were there more beautiful chicken feathers.

Insulating feathers of black orpington hen
Her inner 'insulating' feathers.
Plucked feathers of black orpington hen for weaving a cloak
In a plastic bag ready for the weaver.
With sadness I dug a hole in the garden for her burial, and planted some peony poppy plants on top. She'll be pushing up poppies instead of daisies, or however the saying goes.

Peony poppies pink
Peony poppies. The image and
the seeds I bought are from
Kings Seeds.

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