Goodbye to a special hen - 26th February 2010

Milly was a special chicken, the most devoted and loving pet you ever saw.

Bought from a local farm store when she was only a few weeks old, she was the only chick out of thousands that ran towards the farmer instead of away! Scarlet immediately fell in love and that's how Milly chose us as her new family!

Her first few weeks at hencam consisted mainly of her getting scolded by Tilly (who was making sure she stayed at the top of the pecking order), and if anyone walked down onto the bottom lawn, it wouldn't be long before a little white hen ran over and stood on your foot (to stop you walking off!), and "cheeped" until you picked her up - she seemed to love human interaction from day one!

It was around this time that she discovered that if she waited until we let the chickens out to free-range in the garden and after we went to work, Milly could fly over our garden wall, across the neighbours garden (avoiding their dog!), and then cheep at the back door she would be invited in by Mary & Rob, who fed her breakfast cereal and invited her into their house without us knowing! It wasn't until they brought pictures around to show us some months later that we discovered her secret house-visits!

As she grew up she integrated into the flock and became especially close to Scarlet - they seemed to have an understanding that you rarely see between humans, let alone animals.

When Milly went broody, we bought some fertile eggs on ebay and drove for hours to pick them up. Milly proved an absolute perfect mother - she hatched 3 gorgeous chicks and looked after them around the clock, apart from when she allowed Scarlet to babysit - she would check that Scarlet had the chicks close by, then leave Scarlet with them whilst she went and dust-bathed in the garden, or ate some treats, keeping a close eye to make sure Scarlet was doing a good job!

When Scarlet went to University, Milly did notice but obviously looked forward to the holidays and time together, and even allowed me to give her cuddles occasionally!

It became obvious something was up with Milly a few weeks ago when she looked depressed and withdrawn - head tucked in, not eating or scratching around, basically not doing what chickens do. The problem with hens is that although they are normally such hardy little things, this goes against them when it comes to pinpointing what is up with one, as often it's too late by the time you notice something is up.

She had endured a course of antibiotics a couple of months ago when she looked a bit down before (and she really detested those squirts of the baytril antibiotic - I never realised a chickens' beak was so powerful!), so we assumed another vet visit was in order soon if other courses of action failed (a new sprinkling of Diatomaceous Earth to prevent mites, worming etc), but unfortunately we never got that far.

Last night I received a couple of emails asking why Milly hadn't gone to bed, and if someone could go check on her.

When I went to see her, she looked ok, but as she came to see me, I saw that she was unsteady on her feet, and couldn't walk over the low fence in the coop, which immediately made me fear the worst.

I took her in, and gave her a warm bath to clean her up - she was absolutely lovely and didn't complain whilst I cleaned her up, she even fell asleep in the bath!

We then wrapped her up warm towels and held her whilst she dried off, she slept again and didn't seem to be in any pain.

Shortly before we went to bed, Helen gave her some chopped up grapes which she seemed to enjoy, then we put her to bed in a large wooden box with several blankets wrapped round and towels placed - it looked like a huge warm nest.

We stayed up for another hour with the lights turned off and the TV turned right down to make sure she was sleeping, then went to bed. Part of me wanted her to go peacefully in her sleep, but when I checked in the morning she was still with us, but didn't make any effort to get to her feet.

We took her to the vets, I think already knowing what the outcome was going to be, but it still hit us when he said there was nothing they could do for her, we said our goodbyes as he made preparations for the final moments, and we found ourselves stood outside the vets crying our eyes out like idiots, ringing Scarlet to tell her the news.

Helen and Scarlet have decided that she shouldn't just be buried, she will have a proper cremation and then we'll scatter her ashes in her favourite spot in the garden.

I wrote this to make sure that she's not just missed, but also remembered as the brilliant little thing that she was. She could be loving, mischievous, even downright jealous if Scarlet's affections were elsewhere, but she never stopped trusting and loving us, and for that all we can do is thank her.

I've decided that I'm definitely going to replace our old tree with a new one, and that it will be in memory of Milly.

She helped raise awareness of chicken welfare to countless thousands of visitors to hencam, which is quite an achievement for anyone, let alone a little white hen. Goodbye Milly, enjoy that great free-range field in the sky.

Here's a quick snapshot of Milly's time with us...

We didn't want to just bury Milly as we wanted something to remember her by, and thought she deserved a little more than this. So Helen searched around and found a really nice place to have her cremated, run by very kind and understanding people (thank you Sue!) They are called Halifax Pet Cremation Services, and they didn't bat an eyelid when we asked them to cremate our chicken (or make any jokes about cooking!), and they are based in a lovely woodland area plus the service we received from them was great. We were even given a commemorative box with her ashes in, and a certificate and label saying that we'd meet Milly again on the rainbow bridge... They come highly recommended by us so if you find yourself in a similar situation, we'd not hesitate to use them again. Incidentally, we had a slightly worried phone call an hour or so after we left Milly with them, and Sue was letting us know that there was quite a lot of 'gravel' or small stones, in the ashes, and this wasn't normal. It took me a moment to realise that this will have been the small stones that chickens eat and store in the crop, to help grind their food down (as hen's don't have teeth)!

Due to the kind generosity of our lovely visitors (Nanny North and a mystery donator), we were able to put some money towards a replacement tree in memory of Milly. It's a white flowering cherry tree with beautiful fragrant blossom, and although it's a thin 7 foot stick at the moment, it will grow into an impressive and hopefully lovely tree, with white blossom to remind us of Milly's white feathers every year. We also got a smaller white cherry tree which is more shrub-like, again with white blossom. CC has very kindly offered to engrave a simple stone plaque to commemorate Milly too. Thank you to everyone for your kind thoughts, emails and help.

Here are a couple of pics:

Milly's ashes

Milly's flowering shrub

Milly's tree

Click here to return to hencam.