Last week, we lost our dear Dotty – the last remaining hen from our very first flock of ex-bats.We rehomed her via the marvellous people at The British Hen Welfare Trust in February 2011 and brought her home to our little patch of garden in the London suburbs. She had an enormous pale comb but – what she lacked in feathers – she more than made up for in personality and it soon became obvious that she was our ‘top hen’.
This role has had a few contenders over the years with Minnie and Primrose both vying for the position but Dotty reigned supreme for the two and a half years she was with us – a very fine captain across three different flocks.
Out of all our hens, I’ve never known one that has had so much to put up with. Within a month of bringing her home, she developed something known as ‘sour crop’ which necessitates massaging the crop (and another procedure which non hen owners would probably rather not hear about!) Dear Dotty sat patiently on my lap whilst I massaged her – gentle and obliging – perhaps knowing that I was trying to help her.
Then, just a few months later, she became raspy – gasping for breath. We rushed her to an avian specialist, spent two hundred pounds and were given three tiny bottles of medication. Now, let me tell you, it is no easy thing administering three separate syringes to a hen – twice a day! Poor Dotty. The medication did her no good at all and she continued to rasp until the end of her days. Is it possible that hens have asthma? It didn’t seem to affect her general disposition and it wasn’t contagious but some days must have been difficult for her as she wheezed and sneezed her way around the garden.
Shortly after this, we left the London suburbs for rural Suffolk and Dotty travelled in a cage with her two companions, Minnie and Alice, in the back of our car. What a journey that was but how the hens embraced their country garden and I couldn’t resist writing about our little adventure. Dotty, of course, became involved in the publicity campaign. She was an old hand, after all, having already appeared in the book trailer for The Perfect Hero.
Poor Dotty also had the misfortune to lay the occasional troublesome egg. Every so often, she would waddle around the garden, her wings scraping the ground. It was an awful worry and I would try and help with a warm bath or holding her over a bowl of steaming water. Once, she laid an eye-wateringly big egg – it would have made an ostrich proud!
During her last summer, she slowed down, spending more time snoozing in the flower beds, keeping out of the sun and going to bed nice and early. I remember watching her climb the little ladder into the coop on her final evening. I observed the slow, careful movement and her distinctive white tail feather as she disappeared inside and I remember thinking that it was a little earlier than usual and worrying in case … but I’d been worrying about Dotty from the moment she’d started sneezing over two years ago, hadn’t I? She was going to last forever, wasn’t she?
My husband had also been watching her on her last day and saw this private hen moment. Little Flo had been picking on Peggy and causing a right kerfuffle. Dotty – calmly and quietly – stepped in and gave Little Flo a single warning peck as if to say, ‘Keep the peace or else.’ Firm but fair – that was our Dotty.
We will never have another top hen as sweet as you. You will be missed so much here at Mulberry Cottage. Goodnight, sweet Dotty.