Ruby, one of our senior under-gardeners passed away this morning. You may remember that I wrote about Tarragon the Lavender Araucana cockerel's bullying of Ruby; for the past couple of months Ruby lived in her retirement bungalow (aka rabbit hutch) in our porch. She had access to the courtyard outside my studio's office window and to keep her company, Phoebe – one of the other senior hens, moved in with her.
It isn't unusual for a cockerel, or even a senior ranking hen, to ruthlessly bully another bird, but there is often method in their madness, and I suspected that Tarragon had the interests of his flock at heart and that Ruby wasn't a healthy hen. She hasn't laid eggs since October last year, in fact most of Ruby's eggs were a little strange . . . rough shelled, elongated and sometimes bent, once she laid a conjoined double egg with a twisted middle! Her diet was always verging on carnivorous, she loved catching and eating frogs, toads and snails. She learned to ambush the cats and steal the mice they had caught and often sneaked into the kitchen to eat the cat food. In fact Iam's cat biscuits were the only thing she would eat in her final weeks. Hens self medicate if there is a nutritional imbalance due to illness – inside Ruby something wasn't right.
Over the weeks Ruby put on weight but her breast bone stuck out and she was wasting away. She waddled like a duck and spent time just sitting still. One day I found her under a bush cold and almost lifeless – but after a day or so she was perkier. I suspected egg peritonitis, a very serious condition which is difficult to treat. Ruby was very, very poorly this week and we had to make a very difficult decision . . . but we knew it was the right one. So RIP Ruby, in the shade of an apple tree and under a carpet of primroses.