I have sad news to report. My favorite hen, Henrietta the Black Australorp, has passed away at the age of 8 years. She hadn’t changed into the normal red, swollen comb and wattle of spring, so I knew her estrogen levels weren’t normal. I thought maybe she was going through “henopause.”
But then she quit eating and became listless. She perked up for a couple of days, but then she went off her feed again. She didn’t come out of the coop one morning last week. She was the only one still sleeping in the coop. The other four hens preferred roosts in the enclosed run for their sleeping quarters. Henrietta was old and preferred the indoor shelter of the coop.
Henrietta was hunkered down, alive but not moving. I petted her and left her alone. I checked an hour later, and two other hens were with her. One was gently grooming her neck feathers. Another hour passed, and so had Henrietta. I buried her under my fruit trees and put a paving stone on top to keep the night critters from digging her up.
She was my favorite hen because she was the only one that let me pet her. I have since learned that the Black Australorp was developed in Australia from the Orpington Breed. Orpingtons are known for their docility. I thought I wanted to replace Henrietta with a Buff Orpington, because they are the best pet breed. But they don’t lay as well as other breeds and tend to go broody. Also, other chickens tend to pick on the Buff Orpingtons because they are so docile. On the other hand, the Black Australorps are great layers, and are docile and friendly as well.
Since the rest of my flock is three Barred Rocks and one Black Sex-linked (cross between a Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock), I think I will seek out more Black Australorps. But not just yet. Even though my two youngest hens will be three in July, egg production has picked up after the winter hiatus. We are getting all the eggs we need for now. Frankly, Henrietta wasn’t pulling her weight in the egg-laying department the last couple of years anyway. Hens enjoy an unlimited vacation and retirement package here on our urban mini-farm, especially friendly hens that let our grandkids hold them. On factory farms, the entire flock is slaughtered at age two when egg production slows down. They have to do that to keep their operation cost effective. I have the luxury of letting my chickens enjoy full lives.
I really enjoy having my own hens. I know that the eggs I eat were laid by hens that have plenty of room to move and flap their wings, lots of sunshine, and nutritious food, plus scratch and organic greens to keep them busy. They have ample pine shavings in their coop to keep it smelling nice. No ammonia build-up or stressed out birds in my flock. And no battery cages. My girls get to scratch in the dirt and duff. I even toss autumn leaves in their run to give them more to dig through. Chickens love to look for their food. It gives them something to do other than peck each other. Nothing but happy hens in my little flock.