Jo Barlow has some new ex-bat arrivals – and they have done her the world of good

It is always a magical time when new girls arrive at Rosewarne, and our latest girls have proved even lovelier than we could have imagined. However, there are four new girls, not the planned-for three. Oops. Gary clearly didn’t believe my excuse that I couldn’t count but, after the obligatory mutterings, he was as enchanted by them as I was.

The M girls have been officially named as Margot Eggbetter (yes!), Martha Tilst-Hen after our favourite folk singer, Miffy and little Milly. They had been free range commercial girls and were in pretty good condition, but it soon became very clear that they had not been outside much (free range is defined as ‘access to fresh air’ and that can just be a cat flap-sized exit in a barn of thousands of hens). The first day they stayed in the coop, peering nervously at the sky, but, the next morning, they intrepidly ventured a few yards from the safety of their new home, tentatively scratching the grass. It wasn’t long before they were trashing Effie’s Garden as if they had been born to it.

Lavender decided she wanted to be first to meet her new sisters and soon hopped over the fence to say hello. None of the M girls were interested in establishing themselves in the pecking order and within days were happily settled in with the Big Girls. However, little Ingrid Bergman Frizzle decided she would be bottom hen no longer and took it upon herself to tell the M girls so, charging at them with all the menace of a fluffy bowling ball. The M girls calmly stepped aside and carried on with the more important tasks of foraging and hole-digging.

I may be biased but I think ex-bats have the biggest personalities of all hens – and my new babies are no exception. Margot loves me, she is a cuddler and flies onto the fence to be cuddled. Oh yes! Amazing for a hen who had no human contact until her re-homing. She is also very clever and finds her way inside the Human Coop with impressive regularity. Milly is bottom hen and very timid but I am delighted that she, too, seems to love me. She happily eats mealworms out of my hand and, occasionally, I am even allowed to stroke her tail. Martha is a quiet girl, but top of the little foursome in her own gentle way. Her most important job is to escort me from the gate to the greenhouse where the mealworms are stored! And then there is little Miffy monster! Still convinced I am trying to kill her, Miff gives me a wide berth, but I know I will get a cuddle one day!

In all honesty, my new girls were a gift to myself. Caring for poorly hens can be very draining, physically and emotionally, but watching these four girls enjoying their new life, with a sunshine-filled retirement ahead of them, has given me back my smile. Thank you ladies, I needed you as much as you needed me.

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