Sunday, 29 June 2014

Dotty's Decline

Dotty at the bird bath
When you love your livestock as much as I do you find that all your animals earn a place in your heart regardless of their destiny or disposition. The cute and affectionate amongst them are easy to bond with but from time to time the fleeced and feathered members of my farmyard flocks pose more of a challenge.Yet despite their occasionally extreme or unorthodox behaviours, they are often all the more endearing because of it.
Dotty the Wyandotte bantam

That's how it was with a little barred wyandotte bantam I had called Dotty. Dotty had a visual impairment from birth which made it difficult for her to accurately peck up food. The others would grab food from under her beak while she frantically pecked away, frustratedly missing her target about 4 times out of 5.
This used to make her very agitated and she would try and block the other hens with her body by stepping sideways round the food source while lunging and gulping, desperately trying to get what she could. Occasionally she would loose her temper and lunge at the others or try to chase them away. In the meantime another hen would seize the opportunity to eat the food that she had momentarily stopped guarding which only added to her distress.

Her poor eye sight also meant that she could easily be taken advantage of by the young males in the flock who would if given half a chance, sneak up on poor unsuspecting Dotty and pounce on her in their enthusiasm to breed. So I had to keep her separate from them once they had reached a reproductive age. Her vulnerability meant that she soon learnt to lash out first and ask questions later if any hen (or cat) invaded what she considered to be her personal space. Despite her proactive defense though, she was far from an aggressive hen.
Dotty's frantic pecking puts Buffy's feet on the menu!

My other hens tolerated her occasional frustrated outbursts however she only ever managed to form a real bond with just one hen friend and not until she was about 3 years old. Sadly a little blue hen who was her constant companion had her little life cut short by a bout of infectious bronchitis brought in by the wild ducks that nest here in Spring. Unfortunately Dotty never quite managed to make another friend. She seemed happy and healthy enough though for most of her life but was always a bit of an outsider.
Dotty enjoys a long as it's at eye level
We accommodated her special needs by always giving her treats separately from the others and in a concentrated heap or in a dish so that her pecks were more productive.  Ruffus the resident cock took great care of her, accompanying her on foraging trips and displaying the patience of a saint when it came to finding food for her and guarding her while she pecked it up. If any of the younger males ever showed a romantic interest in her, then Ruffus would chase them away and she quickly learnt to seek him out for protection. 

 Her unusual behaviour and uneventful little life continued much the same for years, with all of us making allowance or ministering to her needs. But when it was finally Ruffus’s time to go we lost a gentle, patient little cock and Dotty too lost a little something which never returned.

Dotty takes a break from her lonely sunlit spot
So while the other hens ranged happily, Dotty took to standing in the coop all day in a little pool of sunlight which shone through the pop hole door. She would occasionally venture out into the run to peck at a little food and sip some water before returning to stand, patient and alone in her solitary sunlit vigil. It soon became apparent that this was probably a sign of further deterioration in her sight exposed by her loss of Ruffus as companion and escort. So with much sadness we decided that it would be kinder to to let her go too than to leave her to slowly fade away into a world of loneliness and gloom. 
Farewell Dotty our special little hen

We opted for a quick if sad end to our little hens life as an act of helpless compassion on our part, for a much loved hen with a wonderful character.

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