Hello and welcome to The Compost Bin. I'm Compostwoman and I live with my family in rural Herefordshire. We have nearly four acres of garden and woodland, all managed organically and to Permaculture principles, which we share with Chickens, Cats and assorted wildlife. We also grow a lot of our own food, run courses in all sorts of things and make a lot of compost!

I am a Master Composter and have spent more than a decade as a volunteer Community Compost adviser with Garden Organic and my local Council.
I'm a self employed Environmental Educator so I run workshops and events where I talk about compost, veg growing, chicken keeping, cooking, preserving and sustainable living. I also run crafts workshops and Forest School/outdoor play sessions in our wood.

We try to live a more self sufficient lifestyle here, as best we can, while still having a comfortable life and lots of fun.

To learn more about us click on the About Compostwoman tab and remember to click on the photos to make them full size!

Saturday 7 March 2009

Sad news.

As some of you may recall, I mentioned in my Feb Chickenailia roundup post that Genghis Hen was poorly. Last Sat I had to treat her for sour crop and her abdomen was very swollen with egg peritonitis. This is something she has had for some time, it is something which is sadly common in ex battery hens due to their egg laying equipment being damaged by the excess number of eggs they are stimulated to lay.

Although she was OK during this last week and yesterday, this morning during my normal morning check of the hens (I let them out and stand there for about 10 mins with a mug of tea watching them while they eat some food and say hello to me...)I became quite concerned about her condition. She didn't look bad, exactly,..... but chickens mask how poorly they are (as a protective move) and so I just trusted my instincts that she wasn't looking as she had been earlier in the week. SOMETHING looked wrong, somehow... even though I knew she wasn't in the best of health anyway...

So I went inside and I called the vet and made an appointment for later today. My instinct was warning me that Cathy, too, wasn't quite right, she just looked a bit "off colour" to me, nothing obvious but.....so I took her down as well. Cathy is my other ex battery hen and is the same age and from the same place as Genghis.

Sadly, when I got in to the vets, Genghis Hen was found to have a high temperature, had obviously lost a lot of weight since Thursday evening (the last time I picked her up and cuddled her)and seemed to have a lump inside her which could be felt by internal examination, although she was not egg bound...Tamsin the lovely vet and I had a chat and decided that Genghis probably had a tumour ( or several) and the peritonitis and sour crop were secondary symptoms due to that. As Genghis was obviously poorly and had been poorly several times recently and then recovered (but each time she had gone down in condition a bit,) that the kindest thing to do would be to put Genghis to sleep there and then, which Tamsin did. Genghis Hen slipped into a permanent sleep while I stroked her feathers and told her what a good hen she had been.

And I was right to be worried about Cathy, she WAS slightly poorly, she was beginning to run a temperature and had a slightly rattly chest, so she is on antibiotics and I am watching HER for egg peritonitis as well....

So I came home and we made up a pen for Cathy and I then scrubbed out the Broody Ark (where Genghis had been living recently) the Eglu, all the feeders and drinkers, and inside Cluckingham Palace. And I MEAN scrubbed and sprayed with sanitiser as well as all the bedding and Aubiose removed and replaced..

I did this to be on the safe side, so as not to transmit any germs to the others. I don't think for a moment that Genghis died of anything contagious but Cathy DOES have a potentially contagious infection and I just felt happier cleaning everything.

Cathy is now in the clean, scrubbed out Broody Ark, inside a separate bit of fencing netting so she is away from the rest of the chickens but can still see them and be near to them. She will have to be dosed orally with antibiotics every day for the next week.

Everybody else has a very clean house (much more so than a normal clean!) and tomorrow I shall clean out all the runs as well. ( I ran out of daylight tonight.)

Genghis has been buried on the edge of our woodland, with some flowers placed on her grave by Compostgirl.

I feel very sad that Genghis is dead, I feel I should have done even more for her and somehow "made her better" even though I KNOW she was ill and I gave her the very best care that I could. I keep reminding myself I gave her a wonderful life for the last year and she was due to be killed a year ago, and got an extra year of life with us. BUT I still feel I failed her somehow.

I admit, took some time to warm to her and on several occasions (as you may remember me posting) I came close to dispatching her myself, especially when she was bullying everybody and eating eggs! and messing up the nest boxes daily with her pecked eggs.... She only laid a few misshapen eggs herself and she pecked her feathers out terribly BUT she was a challenge and I persevered with her and in the end she was a delightful hen, friendly, companionable and a very good "guard hen" to all the rest of the flock.

I know she ate the food I bought but gave me no "return" in egg form ( and I have had my continued toleration of her questioned because of this) , BUT she gave me a huge return in other ways. She taught me a lot, about looking after ex battery hens, about hen behaviour in general AND about patience and about seeing good things even in a bad situation.

I shall miss her following me around and chatting to me as I dig the garden. I shall miss her wanting to get in the Compost bins at any opportunity. I shall miss her invading the kitchen and pooing on the carpet and eating the cat food and terrorising the cats...

RIP Genghis Hen, you will be missed by all of us.


  1. CW I am so sorry to hear about Genghis hen, she was a beautiful lady and quite a character thats for sure.
    CW please do not feel you have let her down in anyway... you given her a wonderful year of freedom! She has been able to enjoy firstly and most importantly your love and devotion to her, something she had never experienced before... she has been able to scratch, look for worms, have dust baths and enjoy the warmth of the sun and by the sound of things create quite a bit of havoc along the way until she settled down!! lol!!
    You have shown such care and devotion in the last week or so whilst she has been ill and allowed her a peaceful, pain free dignified end so please CW no more reproaches!! I think she has a beautiful resting place on the edge of the lovely wood..... and she will remain in your heart forever!!
    Please keep us posted on Cathy's health and hope she makes a speedy recovery!
    You are a very special lady CW and my thoughts are with you at this sad time.... With All My Love, Jane xxxx

  2. "sniff" :-(

    I am not as hard boiled as I like to pretend.... I am actually really VERY upset..Genghis "got" to me in a very big way, probably just BECAUSE she was an ex batty andI feel "guilt by association"?at what other members of my species had done to her and all her kind...?

    also I have had SUCH a crap day today with what I had to decide and do, and have only just had the chance to stop to think about it all, that it has really only sunk in in the last couple of hours...

    THANK YOU Jane for your lovely(as always!) post, you have the skill of saying such helpful, empathetic stuff and I am eternally grateful for the things you post..

    I KNOW I did my best, honestly I do in my head .... BUT, I still feel bad, somehow...as if I should have somehow done more...

    but that is MY issue and I will just have to deal with it, I guess!

    Probably not helped by me having had a nasty D and V bug for 2 days and I really shouldn't have gone out to the vets today BUT couldn't expect Compostman to do it as he is not so well versed in the arcane art of hennery as me...and I couldn't expect him to make hard choices about MY hens, anyway...

    so just feel crap, AND crap now...

    Still...Cathy looked a bit better this evening...:-)and fingers X everybody else is OK tomorrow...

  3. Poor old Genghis but you gave her a chance of being a real hen not just an egg machine.

    Vet's here don't treat chickens which is why I had to guess on what was wrong with Sick Chick, the hen of mine that died a month ago.

    All the best,

  4. CW - so sorry to hear your news. The key thing to remember is that YOU gave Genghis a much better life than she'd had before. That's something that you really should be proud of - there's certainly no reason at all to feel that you failed her. You actually did quite the opposite.

    I hope Cathy shows signs of improvement soon.

    You've done, and continue to do, a fantastic job there CW. Thank you on behalf of all the chickens that you've helped.

    Mrs C

  5. I read your blog Deborah and it is really interesting! but couldn't decide if you had found a reason for Sick Chick dying?

    Here, vets either treat chickens as "exotics" (like budgies...) OR as "farm stock"

    If they are exotics they seem to get really good treatment....and it also depends on the vet I guess.

    and farm stock DO get good treatment also, but I think it is influenced by economies of scale possibly?

    I don't have personal experience of the vet treatment of farm scale chickens BUT I do know that commercial stock get culled if anything goes wrong...and I DO know personally that it is very difficult to get stock in a small scale chicken keeping enterprise vaccinated against all the usual ailments, as all the vaccines are geared to HUGE numbers of chickens!

    and DO NOT get me started on trying to worm a small number of chickens....

  6. @ Mrs C "there's certainly no reason at all to feel that you failed her. You actually did quite the opposite"


    I know this bu it is very good to hear it from other people....

    @ Mrs C "I hope Cathy shows signs of improvement soon."

    She looked much better at bedtime, so we can but be hopeful...

    @ Mrs C "You've done, and continue to do, a fantastic job there CW. Thank you on behalf of all the chickens that you've helped."

    Oh THANK YOU !

    I DO feel I try, but today made me feel...sad...

    I am a soft old Compostwoman I freely admit...I CAN be hard when it is to defend our food supplies ( killing squirrels) or if it is to kill for meat eating...( chickens..)

    but an ill animal "gets me"

  7. So sorry to hear about Genghis Hen. You gave her a great life and much love. I second (or third or fourth) what everyone else has said. You gave her the chance to be a 'real' hen. Hope you will feel better soon.

  8. RIP Genghis Hen. You gave her a good life. Hugs to you.

  9. Aww, CW, I'm so sorry you've lost Ghengis. She couldn't have found a more caring, peaceful home to live out her retirement.

    Hugs and best wishes for Cathy.

  10. CW, I echo what others have so sensible said: without you and your care and patience, Genghis Hen would not have enjoyed such a peaceful and happy retirement, eggs or no. And you allowed her a painless and quick death, instead of letting her suffer in ignorance.

  11. Sorry to hear about your loss, it is heartwarming to hear that you care about your hens, and you have taken an interest in the welfare of battery hens.

  12. am sorry you lost Genghis and you didn't fail her. Sadly this happens (personaly hate it), but as others have said, you gave her the time with you the best she could of had, cuddles in all.

  13. The fact you feel so carp is BECAUSE you care so much and you probably feel that one year of true chicken life is not enough for a chicken. But as far as Genghis is concerned every day with you would have been worth a thousand of those spent as a battery hen and she died a happy hen - with attitude ;-)

    Rosie x

  14. Thanks, all, for your kind words, I am in total agreement with all you have said. After a sleep I feel a lot brighter this morning, yesterday was a hard day both emotionally and physically and I was feeling quite down about it all last night.

    Rosie, you are so right! One day of free life for a battery hen makes it worthwhile and Genghis had many more free days than that :-)

    I really wanted her to live to a VERY ripe old age and just be happy....but sadly that is rarely the case I gather with ex battys. BUT she certainly WAS a happy hen.

    And you are right about her attitude! When I lifted her up to be examined at the vets, she had a peck at my wedding ring...as she always had a thing for shiney things and used to pick them up and hide them away ( bottle tops, buts of foil etc)

    and always pecked hopefully at my wedding ring every time I put my hand down :-)

    so yes, a character indeed.

  15. I so sorry that poor Genghis has come to the end of her time. This is one of the difficulty when we rescue poor creatures that have been abused by humans. We personally have had sad times with a wee dog. But please try and look on the positive aspects of her life. What a wonderful and happy year you gave her. She, unlike many of her battery mates, had a happy and full last year. I mean how many battery hens have the fun of chasing and terrorising cats, diging in the garden, following their adopted Mum around and even, yes, pooping on the kitchen floor. Her life was so worthwhile, look at what she taught you. Sometimes our role in life is not to be productive in the material sense but to be a teacher. So that must be her epitaph - Genghis the teacher. Hugs, Margaret

  16. I'm so sorry to hear this.... Genghis is muchly remembered.

  17. Oh I'm so sorry to read about this :( Being an ex-batt owner I only know too well about EYP. Our hen Yoko has sterile EYP (she's had it for 2 years), and she takes quite a lot of looking after. Our hen Pattie had it last year - like Genghis I think it was secondary to something else. I also think CYnthia may have had it as a secondary sympton.

    It's so hard. I wish they weren't 'engineered' the way they are. Because those of us that 'pick up the pieces' after we rescue them inevitably have these kinds of things to deal with. The people that hatch them out, the people that 'engineered' them - they don't care what happens beyond a certain age. It's so infuriating.

    But being able to give them a good life - for as long as they have - is a joy. It makes it worth it. I'm sure you feel the same. That's what endures after all the heartache and worrying.

    Hope you feel better soon xxx

  18. So sorry CW :( She had a LIFE with you. Not many battery hens get that.

  19. Sad news indeed. What a worry for you. Rest easy in the knowledge that she lived out her days happily with you guys. I hope Cathy is now on the mend. X

  20. I don't think I have anything to say that everyone hasn't already said.

    Be it only an animal in some eyes they grow on you and become part of your family and yes, loved.

    I'm sorry to hear this news.

    Your friend

  21. Ah, the guilt, the "Should I", "Could I", I know it well. Seems to me you did absolutely everything you could and gave her a happy time.

  22. I did leave a comment the other day saying how sorry I was to hear about Genghis Hen, everything went a bit squiffy when I hit publish, so I wasn't sure if it worked or not.

    Genghis had a fab life with you, she found out what it was like to be a freerange hen.

    How's Cathy doing?

  23. Genghis Hen was so lucky to come to your home where she was cared for so well an could experience happiness in her last year.

    We took in a stray kitten once who turned out to be a full-grown cat, but very small. Once she got used to not being a stray, everything she did was with an attitude of joy. We only had her for 8 months before she was struck down by a congenital heart ailment all at once in the course of one day and had to be put down. Although that was a very sad time, I was very glad to have had the privelage of giving her those eight months of carefree joy.

    And you are a very caring person to have given that gift to Genghis Hen.

  24. This is my first look at your blog - I came to you through VP - and I'll be back for more. I'm so sorry to find you on a sad one. I know just how you are feeling. We have had ex battys and understand the problems and also the joys.
    Our most famous one rejoiced in the name of 'Chicken'. We are nothing if not original in our naming. she was a real character. She would come in through the cat flap, I once found her upstairs in the bathroom. It was interesting getting her out again. She broke her lower beak so couldn't eat of drink for a while. We put her in intensive care and it healed up fine, although a bit twisted and she dribbled a bit. She would come in my barn with me while I was sewing (I am an embroiderer and patchworker) and chirrup at me. Of course I would chirrup back and have a hen conversation, not the most intelligent of conversations I've ever had but sooo sweet!
    What a long comment - I was just indulging myself by reminiscing about Chicken.
    You did everything you could, and more than most for Ghenghis - just enjoy the good memories.

  25. Just to let you all know that Cathy is well again, fully restored and allowed out in the 3/4 acre garden and mingles with the other chickens from about 4 pm until dusk...when I am sure everybody else has laid their eggs so I know Cathy won't add an antibiotic contaminated one....

    Cathy seems.....withdrawn? I hesitate to say sad...but she is certainly subdued and seems to be searching for something or someone....

    Genghis and Cathy were from the same cage in the Battery prison and were rescued together..so I *do* have to wonder if Cathy is somehow missing her fellow hen, whom she was with closely for 30 momths.....

    anyway..Cathy is sticking very close to us and is back to being a friendly, nosy, nuscience, funny, annoying, inquisitive hen....


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