last updated 6.8.16
Hatched: December 2006 (estimated)
Died : 8th April 2015
Weight: 4.70 kg
Total number of eggs: 400
Biggest egg: 94 g (double-yolker)
Smallest egg: 57 g
Average weight: 71.3 g
In the Beginning …
We bought her (with Venus) at the Ashburton Fancier’s Auction, April 15th 2007. (You can read details about the auction here.) We paid $75 for the two of them, from G & S Greenwood.
Originally we’d decided that we would sell one of them a bit later, when we’d gotten to know who seemed more like our kind of chicken. But first, we had to try and learn the difference between the two. Which took a while! Eventually we established that Ella was slightly taller, and a slightly slimmer build than Venus. She also had a different shape to her tail. And Venus had slightly odd eyes.
Despite being much much bigger than Bessie and Delilah, they never even looked like fitting higher into the pecking order. Bessie took one look at them; leaped on top of Venus; gave her a sharp peck; growled at Ella; and sauntered off to do her own thing. Delilah went in for the harrying pecking to maintain her position. Poor Ella. The only one she was dominant over (despite being by quite some margin the tallest and heaviest bird we owned) was Beatrice.
By mid June 2007, Ella and Venus had both started watching Bessie when she went in to lay. A couple of times I would see Ella go into the house and hear her making a funny little noise – a soft little “putter-putter-putter-putter” call. Very odd, and quite appealing. Sometimes she’d look into the nestbox, other times rootle about on the floor of the house, scritching herself a little nest in the sawdust. Then on July 2nd, Ella went in to the house, scooped a nest in the litter, and planted herself in the aesthetically pleasing position. I checked in on her a couple of times (which she didn’t seem to mind), but left her to her own devices. Then around midday she came out, and pecked poor Beatrice hard. Why?
I was quite worried by the size of it. It’s quite possible for a young hen to injure herself trying to lay too soon, too often or too big. So I went out and had a good look at her – no sign of anything untoward. No prolapse, no tearing, no bleeding. So I comforted myself with the knowledge that Ella really was a big girl (over 4 kg), and if anyone could handle it, she could.
And yes, she was fine. Laid a 68 g egg ten days after her double-yolker debut-egg. Then nothing until September, when she laid ten eggs, ranging from 67 g to 80 g. October was a bit more regular: 18 eggs, ranging from 66 g to 72 g. November was eleven eggs (67 g to a nicely symmetrical 76 g ) and December thirteen eggs (65 g to 78 g). She didn’t seem to have any discernible pattern either – sometimes she’d lay every day for a week. Then she might not lay again for a fortnight. Sigh!
Her eggs are quite easy to distinguish from Venus’s – glossy tan/brown with lots of speckles, and very round! They also seem to have the largest ratio of yolk to white of any of our girls, which makes them a super indulgent breakfast for Stewart …
On December 14th we noticed that Ella’s left eye was cloudy, verging on being totally opaque.
We whipped her in to our vet, and Veronika managed to establish that there was a definite injury to the eye. We didn’t know how deep it was, or how she’d done it. Or even if it had been caused by some sort of infection (although she showed no other signs of being unwell). She was put on antibiotic tablets – Clavulox (not so bad: grind to powder in mortar and pestle, mix with raw mince, scoffed down in two seconds flat) – and also some eyedrops, which had to be administered twice a day.
For starters, there were all sorts of warnings on the bottle about women ensuring they didn’t get any of the stuff on their skin (?!!). Then there’s the fact that Ella is a BIG chicken, and not exactly the quietest bird to handle. And she was not impressed at being restrained and having cold drops of yuck put into her eyes night and morning. It took both of us about ten minutes to do, and was fairly stressful for all concerned.
The following day the vet called to tell us that she was worried that Ella could lose the sight of that eye, and to suggest we bring her back in to have her left eyelids surgically stitched shut, both to prevent blinking from increasing the irritation and to keep the eye as free from dust etc as possible. We were due to bring her back in for another examination at the end of the week, so we agreed to fast her for 12 hours beforehand, just in case the surgery was required.
As it turned out, she didn’t need it. We’d completely cleaned the house and run out, sieved the litter to remove small particles and kept watering the soil to prevent dust from forming again. We also made absolutely certain that she got the antibiotics (drops and tablets). And it was working! Her eye was looking better!
Veronika got us to keep giving her the antibiotic eyedrops for another fortnight (argh), but by New Year was able to pronounce Ella healed. If you know about the injury, hold her still, and look side-on, it’s just possible to make out a slight indentation in the surface of her left eye. But it doesn’t seem to have any effect on her visual acuity.
Ella also has developed a bit of an issue with muscle impingement, which – added to her usual clumsiness (or possibly the underlying cause – along with size – of her clumsiness) – means that she is prone to bouts of stiffness. And to tripping over things. Or falling off things.
Ella, embodiment of Murphy’s Law
Did I mention that she was laying really well through all of her eye drama, and we couldn’t eat her eggs? She laid fifteen eggs that December, and we had to biff five of them, and the first dozen of January.
As soon as we could eat her eggs again, she went broody and stopped laying. This took care of February (1 egg laid).
She came back into good lay in March (20 eggs), and decided to start moulting. This pattern has repeated many, many times. And her egg shells have become increasingly brittle, so we almost need to be there to catch the egg when it exits – otherwise she tends to mash it into the nest litter (ew!) and her own chest feathers (ew!!).
Just as well we love her!
Ella died peacefully on the morning of April 8th, 2015. She was very old, very arthritic, very tottery, and very Ella. Still laying the odd egg. Still trying to go to bed in the main house if possible, although she had gradually been taught to use the Dower House, with its much lower steps and general better suitability. She died of old age, in her sleep.
We’ve buried her under a white mulberry tree in the paddock, next to Holly. (It was meant to be a black mulberry, and Holly’s the white, but when they fruited a year later, it became obvious that the labels were wrong. Sigh!) She had a good life, a good death, and won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Sweet Ella.