My Sister's Keeper

Published by: Caducean Whisks on 6th Jul 2017 | View all blogs by Caducean Whisks

Today is a special day. A day to celebrate the lives of two elderly ladies; maidens born on the same day who have never spent more than a couple of hours apart (not through choice) in all of their 187 years. 

Yes, today, the 6th July, is their joint birthday and they’re both still with us. 

Their great age has taken its toll but we won’t dwell on that, not today. Today, they’re sitting in the shade with a little sun, side by side, as they always have done, surrounded by an extended family of several generations who they’ve watched come and go, who treat them as part of the landscape, because they always have been. The younger ones busy themselves with day to day living, scurrying for food, taking a break to lounge in the warm summer sun, arguing, communing, chattering, jumping, being curious, adventurous, exploring. Miss Brendan and Miss Cobweb have seen it all before; they close their eyes and dream, content in each other’s company.

187 years old, I hear you ask? Yes. 

I’m often asked how long a chicken lives. 

My stock answer? 41 days if s/he’s bred for meat, 72 weeks if she’s destined for the egg-laying industry ( or 0 days if she’s a boy). 

Outside of that? Who knows. It’s a rare chicken who dies a natural death, at home, in bed, surrounded by clucking family singing hymns.

Traditionally, any backyard chicken having an off-day would have her neck stretched and end up upside down and naked on a dining table. 

I’ve had nearly forty chickens live with me over the last decade-and-a-half. I’ve kept a spreadsheet from which I can say that most were dead by three years old; only one made it to nearly-five. 

The fact that most had come from hard labour (‘spent layers’) may have something to do with it. They were bred to live fast and die young. Fed hormones to increase their egg production and blanket-bombed with antibiotics to prevent a plague sweeping through their cramped lives. 

Most, but not all. 

After three flocks of rescued hens, I took on three chicks - my Apricot flock - who had been hatched in a primary school and after a few days, were surplus to requirements; the first time I’d brought up babies and had total control over their lives. 

What would happen, I wondered, if I treated them well, took them to the vet if they were poorly, fed them good food, enriched their environment as best I could with stimulation and activity and points of interest. What if I guarded their welfare in winter snows and blazing summers? 

How long would they live then? And continue to lay eggs. 

So Brendan, Cobweb and the third Apricot chick, Sorbet, became my experiment.  

Sorbet died when a snarling dog raced into my garden when they were all out in it, created havoc, left death and destruction in his wake. Brendan was mauled in the same attack. I yanked the dog off her and literally pulled her from the jaws of death. She survived but has been terrified of dogs ever since. 

Spookily, Sorbet was three when she died. 

My next flock to arrive were also chicks (and guinea fowl) from primary school - the Jewels - and they could have been part of the experiment too, had they not all been murdered by a fox while at a chicken hotel (because I was away that weekend). Just as spookily, they were all three, too. 

Another chick arrived from school - Solo - and her death at twenty-one days was entirely my fault. 

The next year, Luna chick came from school - another singleton. At four years old now and healthy as the day is long, she’s still part of my longevity experiment. 

Then a couple of years ago, the Spice Girls joined our flock. As ex-free-rangers (Huh. Two hours a day of outside sunlight? Call that ‘free-range’? Sorry. Going off-topic), their lives hadn’t been as hard as my first three ex-bat flocks and I had more experience by now. Perhaps they’d make beyond the three-year point?

However, Clove and Ginger died recently. They were three. 

So whichever way you look at it, three years seems to be the yardstick. 

So by comparing a chicken’s three-year life span with a human’s putative seventy years, I am thrilled to announce that Brendan and Cobweb are eight years old today, which equates to 187 human years. Nearly three times the lifespan of anyone else. 

There are still people on the Cloud now, who may remember my blogs on my new Apricot flock, eight years ago. 


Back to Brendan and Cobweb, since this is Their Special Day. 

The pair are inseparable. Truly. They’re never far apart, and when one is temporarily out-of-sight round a corner, the other will call, ‘Where are you?’ And the disappeared hen will answer. ‘Just here. Back in a minute.’ The first one relaxes. 

Honestly, I watch these exchanges with awe. One speaks, the other answers. Time and time again. Brendan has a high little voice, the piccolo of the orchestra, while Cobweb booms the bassoon. 

Cobweb is a huge, juicy melon of a girl. She weighs 3.34kg, so she really is my ten pound chicken. 

Mostly Buff Orpington breed with something else mixed in - I think it’s Shetland Pony. 

Last time the vet saw her, she was stunned. ‘Large breeds don’t live long at all. They’re like Great Danes - their hearts give out.’ 

Cobweb’s not very bright, she’s the Dobbin of the chicken world, and she’s easily spooked and then everyone hears about it.

But she is a stalwart. Oh boy, is she a stalwart. She’s very clear on what everyone else is allowed to do and what they’re not. When new girls arrive and ask to come sleep in the Big House at night, Cobweb’s the one who gets out of bed and blocks the door, with a booming, ‘No. Away with you. You are not yet part of the family. Access Denied. Verboten. Be gone.’ 

So the newcomer slinks off to the Little House; banished. For now. Until she’s earned her place. 

When Cobweb walks up to a food bowl, the waves part. Other girls who had been happily feeding, just melt away. 

She’s also the clumsiest person I’ve ever known. She knocks over things with regularity, steps through them, in them, trips, barges. A tub of millet goes flying. 

I despair. ‘Cobweb, watch where you’re going, lovey. Millet doesn’t grow on trees.’ 

And, ‘Take your mucky foot out of Brendan’s waterbowl, Miss!’ 

But does she? No, she does not. Most likely when she choses to step away, the bowl will be over-turned. And since Brendan is on regular medication now, it often contains medicine.  

‘For heaven’s sake, Cobweb! That cost £20 a bottle!’ 

Cobweb wears the fluffiest knickers you’ll ever see. So soft and luscious, you want to sink into them - except they’re, yanno, knickers. Being worn. She doesn’t like to be touched which is a pity, and if she is, she yelps as if she’s been goosed. However just lately, she’s started to come stand underneath my chair when we’re out in the garden, and occasionally allow me to stroke her. It’s only taken eight years. 

When the Apricot chicks arrived, I had a resident flock of ex-bats: the Flower Flock. 

Several of them had a noxious infection that’s rife among battery birds: Mycoplasma. 

It causes a form of bronchitis - chestiness, wheeziness, mucus. 

A chicken can live a long time with impaired breathing, and as long as they survive their allotted 72 weeks in the egg industry, who cares. 

It’s also the devil’s own job to get rid of. Birds don’t have lungs like we do. Instead, they have air sacs - six of them. Two in the chest, two along the wings, two in the legs; for buoyancy when flying. So when they get a ‘lung’ infection, there are lots of pockets where the infection can hide, far from the reach of any drug. Added to which, the drugs that are available, are targeted at large commercial flocks of, say, 11,000 birds. The instructions are something like, ‘Dilute 6g per gallon of drinking water.’ Scale this down to treat a single bird - who perhaps drinks a tablespoon of water a day - and the dilution is at molecular level. Can’t be done (I suppose a homeopath could do it!). 

I’ve had two deaths from Mycoplasma, and they’re the worst death I’ve ever seen. Little Eveline (Matriarch Flock) and Crocus (Flower Flock) both couldn't breathe. For days. If you’ve ever seen someone with emphysema and without oxygen, you’ll have some idea. I called time on both of those.

The point of all this, is that at some stage in Cobweb’s early life with the Flower Flock, something must have upset her. Her immune system dropped its guard, and in came the invading army of mycoplasma pathogens.

So from time to time, especially when startled, she gets breathless. Her comb turns purple. I know her heart’s pounding. 

Mycoplasma is always worse in the winter when it’s cold and damp. 

I’ve tried various vet-prescribed medicines over the years and nothing’s worked. Add in the awkwardness of working out the dosage, I’ve given up allopathy for Mycoplasma.

I’ve experimented and the only thing that does give it some respite, is a homeopathic concoction I’ve come up with myself. But even that, it’s still only respite. Sooner or later it returns. 

So she lives with it; and I monitor her. 

I wonder too, if she's losing her sight. Cataracts, maybe. If the light's not good, she struggles to aim properly for a small item - a raisin or grape - and peers at it sideways. She'll stab at it and miss. Nothing to be done in a chicken so old. 

Now we come to Cobweb’s overriding feature: her devotion to Brendan. Both are Cancerians with Moon in Capricorn conjunct Pluto and a Venus-Mars conjunction. Some will know what that means. Looking out now on this sunny day, I see the pair have moved round into total shade into the cool dust bath, where they’ll probably stay - together - until going-out time, a couple of hours before sunset. 

Cobweb has been a true mother hen to her sister; and her sister’s needed it, as Brendan has chronic bad feet and now can barely walk. 

Be nice if I could get glasses for Cobweb and a wheelchair for Brendan.


Brendan has always been feisty. The smallest of the Apricots but the bossiest and brightest, she has apricot threads running through her glossy black feathers. 

Along with a surprisingly tiny and sweet voice, she has a surprisingly tiny comb - more of a ruffle. But Brendan in her early years, was destined to be a leader. 

She’d lead the way, wherever they were going, with Cobweb as her trusty lieutenant and Sorbet keeping up.

She’d try out new things, while Cobweb would wait and see. Alert and quick-witted, she’d leap to a new perch first, react quickly when a moth flew up from the grass, and more-than-likely catch and gobble it up. Brendan was always sparky. She has never taken prisoners. She won’t take nonsense from any chicken, even today when she’s totally disabled. Someone tries to pinch a grape from the bowl in front of her? They receive a stern peck on the head. Everyone defers to Brendan, despite her invalidity. 

It’s quite funny watching someone try. First they’ll get near and lock gaze with Brendan. See what she’ll do. Brendan also locks gaze. ‘Just try it.’ This stand-off can last a while. 

The hopeful chicken may surrender and save herself a sharp smack around the comb. Make do with some old food left in another bowl. She may run away. 

But sometimes, she’ll chance it. ‘I can do this,’ you see running through her mind. ‘Yes I can.’ 

But her reactions have never been quicker than Brendan’s. Like a lightening bolt, Brendan strikes from her wheelchair. You don’t see it happen, but the upstart bird flees, shrieking. 

As a youngster, Brendan always flew to the top perch at night; her rightful place as a Top Shelf bird. Cobweb, before she grew so huge, would follow. 

Just before their first birthday, I noticed Brendan was limping. I didn’t know as much as I do now, and took her to the vet-of the-time, who proclaimed, ‘Bumblefoot!’ and gave her a shot of antibiotics. 

Well, we went back and back to the vet. More antibiotics. Anti-inflammatories. All helped a little bit for a little while. Her toe joint started to swell. I queried, ‘Not arthritis?’

‘No. Bumblefoot.’ Sometimes he’d give her an injection, sometimes (usually) he’d give me some potion to get down her neck. 

This led to a long and sorry saga of Brendan and the Syringe. She hated having something forced into her mouth (who would?) and I hated doing it. There was also the danger if it going down the wrong way and I’d kill her. She began to cringe when she saw me. Try to duck out of sight. 

It made me feel like a torturer.

I changed vets. No better. Changed again. Years go by like this. 

Another vet gave me huge tablets the size of a 2p coin and twice as thick. 

Try getting one of those into a chicken’s tiny mouth, three times a day. I had to break each into eight mouth-sized pieces, and try to make her swallow each piece - multiple times, as she’d spit it out, multiple times. Those were very long days and there was no noticeable difference in her feet. The middle toe on the other side started to swell. 

It wasn’t until she was about six, that a new vet finally gave me a diagnosis that made sense. 

Since she was limping on both feet now, and the swellings mirrored each other and she’d had the condition most of her life, it was a congenital bone deformity: the joints hadn’t formed properly and they’d tried to make a false joint, hence the swellings which were really bone. i.e. arthritis. 

All those years of traipsing back and forth to a vet who knew less than me (by now). Often with Cobweb take along for ballast in the catbox to steady Brendan, and because she became so distressed at the separation. All those injections, pills, syringes, and the money. All those wasted eggs that couldn’t be used because of her medication which made no difference anyway. I was at least relieved to have a diagnosis at long bloody last, and could now set about managing the pain of her chronic condition, rather than curing an illness she didn’t have. 

So Brendan’s mobility has become increasingly impaired. Despite this, she’s still ruled the roost with her trusty Cobweb by her side. When Cobweb does move away a little, Brendan’s eyes follow her where her body can not.

For several years, I’ve thought that Brendan in particular won’t make it through another winter, but she carries on carrying on. The recent bird flu curfew nearly finished her off, but was lifted on the very day I was going to put her to sleep.

Now Brendan and Cobweb sleep together in a nesting box, since neither can manage a perch. I get Brendan up in the morning and carry her to where she’ll spend most of the day. This has long been under something or next to something. Few prey animals like being out in the open, especially when they feel vulnerable and know they can’t run or fly or escape when needs be. So I prop her up by a ramp, or the wheelbarrow, or under a chair, so she can get her balance. 

She can move a little, using those wings to fly or ‘swim’ along’, but lately, she can’t do more than that. Her feet have become twisted, her knees and hips are now swollen and all out of alignment. Her wing-tips are frayed and bare.

At bedtime, I put her to bed and Cobweb climbs in beside her and they snuggle up. 

A few weeks ago, I was out and the heaven’s opened. What a downpour! 

I knew Brendan wouldn’t be able to get back into the house. I belted home and sure enough, while all the other girls were sheltering inside (with Cobweb pacing the verandah and calling), Brendan was lying flat out in a muddy puddle, head outstretched, eyes closed, sopping wet.

I picked her up, ran indoors and towelled her, turned the hairdryer on (which she didn’t mind a bit), and sat her on a heat-pad until she’d come back to life.

Brendan’s favourite support has always been Cobweb. She’ll burrow under Cobweb’s downy feathers like a baby and Cobweb will stand there, guarding her sister nestled underneath her, keeping her safe. 

When we all go out in the garden, I carry Brendan from place to place as the flock drifts. She’s always included and I give her regular pedicures to trim those toenails which grow so painfully and don’t wear down since she doesn’t walk.


The pair are so inextricably entwined, I dread to think what will happen when one of them goes. 

I expect Brendan to go first, but she really is the come-back kid. So often I’ve thought, ‘Any day now.’ 

I’ve wondered if I’m being cruel, keeping her alive when she’s so often in pain. But then I think, we don’t put down our disabled humans, so what’s the difference? As long as she has quality of life and wants to keep on living, then she should live. 

Quality of life? She watches the world go by, she chats to Cobweb. She still has opinions, favourite foods. Yes, that’s how I know she wants to live - because her comb - that barometer of the inner chicken - is still pink and perky, and she still eats. That, to me, has become the measure of when an animal has had enough - when they stop eating. 

Brendan has her own small bowl of food placed in front of her, and Cobweb’s the only one she’ll allow to share. And because she can no longer get to the water drinker, she has her personal bowl of water, too; and if I think she isn’t drinking enough, I syringe her. She knows I watch her drinking, and it’s become something of a battle of wits, a power struggle. 

I find it so frustrating: ‘Drink you stupid bird, just drink, will you? I'm trying to save your life.’ 

Often she’ll only drink if she thinks I’m not watching. She wields power from a position of weakness, as other invalids may do. She always liked to be in charge and is very determined when it comes to food. A grape? Don’t mind if I do. A mealworm? Nope. Millet? Oh yes. Cheese and tomato? Porridge? Yup. Apple? Nah. And when she’s had enough or doesn’t fancy any of it, she will literally turn her back on the table - struggle round until she’s facing the other way, stumbling though all the bowls I’ve surrounded her with. Drives me mad. 



A couple of years back, I only had a threesome - Brendan, Cobweb, and Luna who is four years younger. Brendan wasn’t very nice to Little Luna (who is the smallest chicken I’ve had). She was too pecky with Luna. But Cobweb eventually warmed to the little girl and the three of them reminded me of Anne of Green Gables living with her elderly relatives. As Brendan walked less and less, Cobweb would take a turn around the grounds with Luna by her side, Little and Large, big powder-puff bottoms swaying in unison. Not for long, mind. She always needed to get back to her sister. It made me smile to see them - and was a relief that Cobweb would have a friend after Brendan. 

I fear Brendan’s time is coming. She’s getting more and more crippled, cares less about living; but not yet. Not just yet.

It could be that Cobweb goes first. Often happens, doesn’t it: the long-term sick outlive their outwardly healthy carer. 

Either way, I dread the day; the survivor will be inconsolable and I doubt she’ll survive long, lost without her sister. 


But for now, I’m very happy to have my pair of old ladies. They watch the world go by, and much of it has gone by. Flocks have come and gone while they remain, like Prime Ministers have come and gone for the Queen. Seasons come full circle. They’ve seen changes of house, dog attacks, stood up to foxes, witnessed many deaths, welcomed new births (well, not exactly welcomed), but the latest addition, the Queens, need keeping in line and the Ways of the Flock explained to them in pecks they’ll understand. 

Both old birds have been through the menopause - twice - and come out of it briefly when a new flock of virile young things arrive. Pheromones stimulating them to lay a few more eggs? Probably. They’ve sweltered over many summers and cuddled up through many winters. Been knee-deep in mud, basked in the sun. They’ve had full lives and long lives. Sisters, best friends; together forever.

Yes, their eighth birthday is a day to celebrate indeed. 

Happy Birthday, my gorgeous Brendan and Cobweb.



I have so many photos. Here are a few:



Cobweb and Brendan a few days ago, sharing a breakfast of melon and seeds:




And lying together in the dust bath: 



Brendan burrowed under Cobweb, two years ago (Tabitha disturbed in background): 




Three years ago, Brendan stands her ground when she could stand, while a fox cub fancies her bread: 



Strolling through buttercups (Luna in background): 




The Apricots on my shoulder. Brendan disappearing under Cobweb’s voluminous petticoats even at 7 weeks: 



Brendan, Cobweb and Sorbet at a month old: 




The Apricots at one day old: Brendan (Little Black One), Cobweb (Little Brown One) & Sorbet (Little Yellow One): 








  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 11 months ago
    Remarkable, Whisks. I don't know how you do it. What wonderful ladies. They are lucky to have you
  • Jill
    by Jill 11 months ago
    Agree you are remarkable, Whisks and so are your long-living sisterly hens. Happy birthday, girlies. :) I'm sure you will be getting a few treats today.

    This was a lovely, inspiring read first thing on a Friday morning. Coincidentally, it is my older sister's birthday today! We are not close physically as your sister hens are, as she lives in Belgium, but we are 'close'.
  • Jill
    by Jill 11 months ago
    Whoops! Thursday morning, of course. I'm getting ahead of myself...
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 11 months ago
    Dear Whisks. What a fabulous blog, although I'm reading it on Thursday morning!! I had to go and check however. I hope I am as well looked after when I am as old as Brendan.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Thanks Daeds, Jill and Jane. Yes, I had to go check the day, too :)
    Jane, I doubt any of us will get to 187 years old :(
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 11 months ago
    You're right, Whisks.
  • Newbie
    by Newbie 11 months ago
    A lovely heart-warming blog, Whisks. Happy birthday Brendan and Cobweb.
  • Seagreen
    by Seagreen 11 months ago
    Lovely blog, Whisks. Happy Birthday to your girls :-)
  • Mezz
    by Mezz 11 months ago
    Lovely blog, Whisks. I can imagine their personalities and relate them to people in my family.
  • Noodledoodle
    by Noodledoodle 11 months ago
    How very wonderful to read, Whisks, as are all of your blogs. Happy birthday to Brendan and Cobweb and thank your for sharing :D x
  • Dolly
    by Dolly 11 months ago
    Lovely Whisks, you and your hens are very special!
  • Aonghus Fallon
    by Aonghus Fallon 11 months ago
    What a lovely piece, Whisks. I see what you mean about Cobweb - she is a big girl, isn't she? I've known some really dense people who've lived to a great age, so maybe what's true of Cobweb is true of certain people? The simpler the mechanism, the more long lasting.
  • Jenni Belsay
    by Jenni Belsay 11 months ago
    Great blog. Belated Happy Eighth Birthday to Brendan and Cobweb - what a beautiful pair of old birds.
  • Jenni Belsay
    by Jenni Belsay 11 months ago
    Not belated. It's still Thursday. Huh.
  • Giselle
    by Giselle 11 months ago
    You're amazing, Whisks. You've inspired me, for the first time in my life, to say "Happy Birthday" to the girls. All the pictures are beautiful, very happy-looking birds !
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Thank you, everybody. I'm glad I've written up the retrospective while all is still as well as it can be,
    Out in the garden shortly for a special birthday meal of soaked raisins. Mmmm. Possibly with sardines on the side. Double yum.
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 11 months ago
    Clucky birthday to the two old dears. Or a quick round of 'Ain't nobody here but us chickens.' Love the fluffy babies pic!
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Ta Prop and Spi, I'll pass on your appreciations.
    Happy to report that the birthday dinner went as well as could be expected - both birthday girls were perky and both stumbled through their special dinner several times, overturning it on to the lawn. I did swear.
    The raisins were a hit, but I didn't open the tin of sardines in the end. Too much.
    Prop, it is my mission in life to put you off KFC, so I'm pleased it's working.
    I'm baffled why you envy me and my menagerie (or whatever you envy).
    I envy people who's house works, who's plumbing produces hot or cold water at the swish of a tap, who's light come on when you flick the switch, who don't spend significant parts of their day shovelling shit.
    Who can find things because they put them in the right place last time they used them, who's life isn't Heath Robinson chaos.
    I know that next time I put my jacket on, I'll find a tin of sardines in the pocket and wonder what the hell it's doing there. Few people will know the answer to that.
  • mike
    by mike 11 months ago
    Dear Whisks,
    You have a great empathy with the natural world. Your tales of foxes are just as well described. Each fox has a personality of its own.
    My house and myself are in a terrible mess but some builders set to work on the house and the garden has been divided into two parts divided by a fence and a patio has been built, The area behind the fence is forest and the area in the fronta lawn.
    Foxes can thus inhabit the rear of the garden. They can inspect the house from their living quarters, while people folk can inspect the foxes's home from a conservatory,
    You describe animals in a way that comes close to human - just giving them names, for example.
    If this garden plot gives you any ideas, you are quite welcome to come round and look, mind you, you will have to wade though the rubbish etc. But I do not have a working phone,
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    That's kind of you, Mike. The farther end of my garden is also woodland, although the foxes see no demarkation. Why would they? :)
    Sweltering today.
    Discovered that Katherine (chick) has extra toes that don't look as though they're supposed to be there.
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 11 months ago
    This is all so improbable that you should wonder if it's all true. I wonder if readers of this stuff might realise how unique this all is. Or even doubt it. Let me tell you, I doubt there is anywhere quite like this and it is all true - and more besides.

    I mean, chickens living well beyond their artificially determined life time, and frankly beyond what they should live even naturally. In a suburban garden, and with personalities, plus old persons ailments and a carer looking after them.

    So, here's a reveal, sorry Whisks I hope you don't mind. This all real. I can confirm it. I have, on a small number of occasions, visited the garden where these magical things occur. The girls interact, they banter, they argue and push each other out of the way until they reach a compromise in the dust bath - on top of each other. Brendan is that old lady with a walking stick you wouldn't dare to get the way of. And she gets her way. She gets warmth and cleaning dust from her family. They don't seem to mind much either. It's probably love.

    Last time I was there they were chattering away and I am fairly sure that they were saying "You again? Lunch and playtime always late when you appear. Don't know about you, best if you just ****ed off". Really, they speak. You can understand.

    And Foxes. Yes Chickens and Foxes in close proximity. There's this rotting garage where feral foxes rear their, is it, brood, and a pen where rescue foxes heal and send out their smells. And it works.

    Then that moment. The one where the proud parent plops the baby in your hands and you crap yourself. "I just need to have a moment - you're in charge". And Whisks is off. The new, young ones sense your weakness and scatter all over. Fox nightmares! You jump all over, prepare for battle. Thankfully it doesn't happen and a nicely relaxed Whisks emerges. "Sure, no worries, good as gold". Smile reassuringly.

    There was Henidorm. The incident mentioned, the incompetent holiday home and the pointless slaughter. Henidorm got my shoulder the biggest drenching in history on a bench in York. Woody caused my first visit. Woody? Buy the book.

    It's been a privilege, Whisks. Thanks. I have seen something few will ever see.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Thank you so much Alan, for that independent witness statement.
    I often wonder if peeps think I'm making this all up, so I'm thrilled to be vouched for.
    Sorry for leaving you alone with, 'You're in charge.' Just I'm so used to it - been chicken-herding for nigh on fourteen years, so I know where wild foxes may appear from, which sounds mean which thing - and crucially, I know the meaning of different sorts of cluck.
    Birds have phenomenal eyesight and different clucks mean different things. They notice everything that goes on. Trick is to know which clucks mean, 'Fox approaching' and which mean, 'Not sure about the freshness of this worm.'
    Anyway, a stranger's presence usually safeguards everybody, since the wild foxes know I'm a pushover. So just by sitting there, you kept them safe.
    You were - and are - very welcome.
    Just one thing. 'Rotten' garage? It might have a few holes in it, but, er, *rotten*?
    OK, perhaps it may possibly be a little rotten just a tad. In a few isolated places. Sort of.
  • Seagreen
    by Seagreen 11 months ago
    I would very much like to one day find a tin of sardines in my jacket pocket and wonder how it got there. Just saying.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Alas or Hooray, the tin of sardines is no more .
    Twas a strange day today. Burst water main meant no water all day (just come on now, gone 11pm). Which - in turn - meant no mucking out, no washing up of food bowls, no boiling, steeping, soaking, or anything requiring water. 15 of us had to eke out whatever was left in in the hot tank. And since it was a Very Hot Day, we wanted to drink it.
    So a tin of sardines was deployed as an instant protein/oil hit. Lucky I found one in my jacket pocket.
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 11 months ago
    I suppose I might have been a bit judgemental with the garage. More of a Curate's Garage, to be fair.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Indeed :-D.
    The foxes, hedgehogs, spiders and other residents think it's perfect just the way it is.
  • Hilly
    by Hilly 11 months ago
    Again, a beautiful story of two fine old ladies. Lovely. Thanks, Whisks.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 11 months ago
    Whisks, there is something very, very special in your relationships with your girls and the foxes...and something even MORE special in how you tell their stories. Love it. x
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Thanks Hilly & Squidge. It feels odd receiving compliments on what to me, is only my own observations on my own real humdrum life and those who share it with me. But hey. Not knocking it. Very nice. So thank you again :)
  • bazbaron
    by bazbaron 11 months ago
    Truly the words of a modern day, Hugh Lofting, or rather a modern day, Dr Domuchly. Magical, Whisks. x
  • mike
    by mike 11 months ago
    Dear Whisks,
    The plot has remained in my mind and developed some sort of life. What do you send to a writer as a return for a kindness received? It can only be a plot. There's another plot for you!!
  • Kate
    by Kate 11 months ago
    What lovely girls and what a beautiful relationship. Makes me glad I turned vegetarian years ago but you've put me off free range eggs now. I thought free range meant free range!
    The girls still look lovely and glossy. Happy birthday to them.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Baz I had to look up Hugh Lofting - and thank you. Quite a compliment!
    Mike, kindnesses done with hope of gain aren't pure kindnesses so don't worry about it. Best if we all do our bit to make this a kinder world and nicer to live in. :)
    Kate, you know that marigold colour of free-range eggs that make them look so 'healthy'? It's from dyes in their food.
    When I collected my Spice Girls from a free-range facility and asked why 5,500 birds were all crammed indoors on a nice sunny day, the chappie told me they didn't want them eating too much grass as then they didn't lay so many eggs. Go figure.
    (I blogged this, under, 'Introducing the Spice Girls'.)
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 11 months ago
    Whisks, is there any way of knowing if free range means free range? Apart from visiting the facility. We mainly buy our eggs at the local organic veg farm. He gets the eggs from another member of the organic group. I'm going to question him about how the hens are kept but I'd like to know the right questions to ask...
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Good question Jane. 'Free range' doesn't mean much, tbh - only that they're not battery (which is something, I suppose).
    Regulations vary from country to country and time to time.
    When I last investigated several years ago, it meant they had to have at least two hours of access to outside in 60 days. Note: 'access' - not necessarily 'out'. Of course some days, nobody wants to be out - snow, rain, etc. That's fair enough.
    During the recent bird flu curfew, you may remember that free-range farmers got twitchy as the ban was extended beyond 60 days, as they then couldn't claim that status for their eggs and the price would drop.
    To be fair, some are very ethical but some are not. Some farmers do try to be humane. But with such a lot of hens, I'm sure they become a commodity rather than sentient beings.
    If you look EU regs up on Wiki (, there are statements like this: "A maximum stocking density of 9 hens/m2 of usable space" (in the shed) - that's Not Very Much. 9 per square metre? Crikey. There's barely room to move. Although I note that regs have moved on, since it also says, "at least 2.5 m2 per hen must be available at any one time" of outdoor range (that's still a high density to my mind).
    And, "Several popholes extending along the entire length of the building, providing at least 2 m of opening for every 1,000 hens." 2m openings per thousand hens? Pardon? It probably means some hens don't get outside at all, given the difficulty of moving through a flock of several thousands and the limited time available.
    There are a couple of pictures on Wiki and the indoor one was the kind of thing I saw. It had a slatted metal floor - presumably so droppings could drop through - I don't think they're ever cleaned out until the annual cull and re-stock.
    As for what questions to ask?
    Be best if you went to see the sheds yourself - not just hens skipping through daisies, but the actual sheds. And see the state of the birds.
    I'd ask how *many* they had, as well. The larger the flock size, the more likely they are to be treated, er, 'commercially' (being careful here). And ask how much time in reality they spent outdoors.
    The one I visited housed 11,000 birds in two sheds of 5,500 each. The grass outside was lush. Which told me quite clearly that they hardly ever went out. Crumbs, with my little flock, they chomp through a lawn in no time.
    But it's a business. I realise compromises have to be made (by the hens). If I charged for my eggs what they really cost, nobody would pay it.
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 11 months ago
    Thanks Whisks but I am now feeling depressed and angry and considering giving up eggs altogether. I should have looked up what Free Range actually means. There should be some sort of law that prohibits such reinvention of the meanings of words.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Jane, I don't want to do a disservice to those who may be nice poultry keepers.
    I haven't made a comprehensive study of it - I just found out enough to make me want to keep my own hens and treat them well.
    I haven't eaten more than a dozen eggs in the last decade-and-a-half that I didn't grow myself. Although I've had them in shop-bought cakes and so on. They just don't taste right. I love my eggs.
  • stephenterry
    by stephenterry 11 months ago
    How do you grow an egg?
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    I'm writing a book about it, Stephen.
  • stephenterry
    by stephenterry 11 months ago
    Look forward to reading it, then. And I forgot to say, a really interesting blog - keep them coming.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 11 months ago
    Thank you, Stephen. I'm into the second volume already, but am not even trying to get it published. The market for animals isn't there, I'm told. So I'm just writing, writing.
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