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Over the Rainbow Bridge

Some years go by and the poultry garden changes with the addition of rescued and adopted birds, and new chick’s and ducklings. Younger members of the flocks suddenly mature and their characters form fully and relationships are formed and friendships bond deeper. Then the clock ticks and certain milestones arrive…three years, six years and maybe a sudden arrival of a hawk, an owl or even a fox.

This post is simply to honour four very sadly missed guys, who passed this year, who made a huge impact on my life and changed it course in many ways. I have written before of my unsteady start in France, changing career and finding my feet and this was in main due to having chickens, rescuing and adopting. When I sit with a poorly gen on my lap, giving injections or physio, or we make a run to pick up a goose or cockerel that needs a forever home, I feel my heart wants to burst. These little souls have brought me so much joy.

We adopted Heff from a friend. Apparently he was quite a naughty duck, nipping and chasing his owner. Heffs a big duck, a jumbo pekin and ducks I found out, have a serated edge to their beaks, their equivalent to Teath and a slight curved beak end, perfect to make a decent pinch if they decide to nip you! Heff was a cuddly lump from the day we took him in. I had huge respect for Heff as he bonded with my female ducks. He was very gentle and attentive and Daisy adored him. She would moon over him all day, while Darcey and Penquin were just happy to be near. Heff had a casanova reputation and certainly his ‘curly wurly’ popped out alot.

Heff and Daisy were my inspiration for my logo.

He didn’t like Penquin and often pulled her out of the shared swim basin quite harshly, returning to snuggle with Daisy and Darcey, with poor Penquin pottering off on her own. It was sad, but there is a hierarchy that they just had to sort out. Then a pine Martin attacked and killed Darcey and Daisy. We had closed up the small temporary pen due to a fox issue that week innocently thinking the ducks would be safe, forgetting some predators burrow. We learnt the hard way and shocking for a newbie like me, two headless ducks had me blubbing all day and clutching Penquin like a big snuggle pillow…I wouldnt let her go!

So there was the predicament….big amorous Heff and unloved Penquin…a match made in…..? Well you could hear the record scratch loudly. Somehow cautiously the two formed a bond. We had moved to the safer Farmhouse poultry garden and over the following weeks the little couple explored the orchard, wild areas and woodpiles, Penquin in front, and Heff following behind, just a few inches away, while she chattered and on occasion turned to scold him for being slow, bobbing her head and quacking in a rhythmic lecture. Heff was doting and never complained and for three years they stuck together like glue.

Heff being Dad to the little ones. He took the role very seriously.

Then Penquin declined. With just Heff, she never stopped laying. Laying eggs is exhausting and until now I had no idea we could get implants to stop egg production. It’s very costly and lasts only six months but it might have helped. You live and learn. Poor Penquin passed quietly one morning, sharing by now, the coop with five young ducks, bought in to keep Heff company and ease off his loyal companion.


Heff was far more quiet after Penquin had gone and although the new ducks really liked him, especially Lucy, our runner, he was a quite soul in the garden. His arthritis had set in harshly and every few days I would rugby tackle him into a thick towel, bandage his legs in supporting vet wrap and give pain meds, which were a little bitter and made him grumpy, but never a nip! Then one day he couldn’t walk, not a step. The joint of one leg had fused and although less painful and I had retrieved the little wheelchair to see if he would accept it, he passed. It was a shock to see him gone, this big character lying in amongst the straw with Lucy bobbing her head and calling for him, as she did every morning. Everyone was quiet that day and I packed up the medical kit and we buried loving Heff next to Penquin with a warning not to be laid over the Bridge and to not admit too much to her about Lucy! RIP Heff 🌈

Just this day and yesterday, we had a fox attack. Rarely we have them as the geese, dogs and layers of fencing seem to do the trick, but we had a weak spot, one section of wire that wasn’t secure enough. We found the characteristic scrapped earth under the wire and the branches pushed aside. A few bitter cold days had obviously triggered hunting and an unusually warm few days softened the earth.

Chester, Oliver and little Winston were adopted about eighteen months ago and settled in quickly, a little naughty batchelor gang who loved to get front row along the fence to watch the girl ducks. Lucy and Lottie didn’t like them and much head bobbing and quacking meant the boys were being very annoying…I mean how’s a girl duck to have privacy!

Oliver, Winston and Chester.

Then one night, checking on the boys and spending some time watching them pottering about, I noticed Winston seem to be the butt of a bullying session, with Oliver surfing on top of him and Chester holding his neck! That was it…the ladyboy Winston was scouped up and swiftly deposited into the girls coop. Well what luck was that…Winston was Heff in minuture and thought he was having all birthdays in one day!

It was a winter of seemingly good relations, until I noticed Toffees feathers getting damaged. Difficult decision, but Winston had to go back to the boys and try his luck. Oliver chased him for a few days, but Mr lover boy had grown bold and very soon all three were getting on fine. So we settled into a quiet time of happy ducks and then in early summer, Dottie was born. Molly hen hatched Pea and Peach and then a duck egg that I had tucked into her nest. Three eggs were removed but this one seemed a good egg and when Dottie matured, she had her dad’s head shape…Winston you done good!

The boys with the boys…our cockerel batchelors.

Returning home yesterday, little Winston was missing. I scanned the garden and then hunted with a torch. No sign. It was late and therefore went to bed. Chester and Oliver were asleep in there outdoor house, cosy in their straw bedding. Next day was a busy day and I wasn’t back till four, I checked the garden again and found the signs of the fox. Both ducks were gone and a small pile of littke bloodied feathers manifested along another bordering fence. But it was worse….Willow, one of our toulouse geese was missing too. (Later I found her….she had likely been scared and jumped the fence…my relief just sent me into tears again!)

I hope the boys had a swift end and they join Heff and watch girls for a very long time up above the 🌈

Ronnie was adopted from the same home as Heff in mid 2019. He too didn’t get on with his owner and would hide and then run at her. He was suffering from scaly mites on his legs,making him sore and grumpy, and without treatment, as the owner couldn’t hold him, they cycle continued. So we took him in and as the girls had to cockerel, he seemed ideal.

Ronnie Rooster

For the first few days he hid in our wooded area and spied on the girls as they clucked and foraged about. On day three, I enticed him closer and grabbed him. Ronnie was a softy. I wrapped him in a blanket, soaked his legs in warm water and slathered them with anti-mite cream and bandaged. With his now very colourful socks, he started to mix in and even started to crow a little.

After many weeks of treating his feet, removing his spurs, initially twisting off the old, dry and damaged outer casing, to allow healthy ones to regrow, his legs were better, but one toe was going black. The scaly mite had damaged nerve endings and so Ronnie went off for surgery, to the amusement of the vets, as in France you cook roosters, not treat them!

The toe removal was great and Ronnie returned full of beans, crowing, organising his flock as we moved to the Farmhouse. He had a bed on the floor for a time and then a ramp to help him wobble up onto the perch. The night he finally made it up, unassisted by me, was tangibly emotional, with him crowing and puffing out his chest feathers and the girls seemingly impressed and jostling to gain the best spots next to ‘The Big Man’.

When he first arrived. Bad right foot all knarled from mites.

Settling into a routine, Ronnie was a very gentle rooster, treating the girls very respectfully, occasionally trying to have some fun, but with one toe missing he was always wobbly. Getting the girls in at night wasn’t easy either. He rarely crowed and couldn’t chase after the late returners to the coop …..a second in command was needed and Billy Bantham was the man.

Billy was adopted and being a bantam he was tiny and very, very noisy. From day one he and Ronnie was as thick as thieves. Billy would climb to the highest post of the coop and crow at bedtime and then race round the field rounding up any hens who were thinking of stopping out. Ronnie waited patiently at the coop door, almost as if counting them in. Finally Billy woukd arrive and snuggle down with his favorite hen, Ronnie in front position and the hierarchy of hens beside him. Billy knew his place and it worked perfectly.

I have written a post about Billy and sadly he was taken by a hawk trying to rescue his girlfriend. Ronnie grew stronger and later managed the flock with Mr Chicken, now Billy was gone and continued to just a couple of months ago. Ronnie had started to wobble a little and hunch. I gave him meds to help digestion, breathing and for a few weeks he seemed his old self. We noticed little grey feathers round his eyes and beak…Ronnie was getting old. When you adopt birds and they have not such a good start in life, it really impinges on their length of life. Ronnie was just turning six but he should have lived longer.

After a few quiet days spent mostly with our oldest hen Doobie fussing around him, I found Ronnie had started sleeping on the floor again but in the small coop where Bovril, our guinea and his girlfriend liked to perch. It seemed he wanted quiet. I piled straw bedding up and put food and water down and made him comfy. The next morning he had passed. No struggle, just a rooster asleep…likely a heart attack.

I miss my gently rooster. Ronnie was liked by everyone and the other cockerels saw him as no threat. The dynamics of the flocks change with every loss and there is a reshuffle of leaders, of hen hierarchies and the crows change, the favorite spots change in the poultry garden. Mr Chicken also passed just two weeks after Ronnie. He was seven and adopted from a farm and I will post about him too. Now Bovril our guinea runs the flock with our semi blind cockerel Napoleon and they are working well together and a sort of contentment has filled the coop, with much of the flock now heading for six to seven years old…old ladies who like the quiet life.

RIP Ronnie. 🌈

2 thoughts on “Over the Rainbow Bridge

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