last updated 1.6.13
Hatched: 10th October 2007
Died: 2nd March 2016
Weight: 4.23 kg
Breed: Rhode Island Red
Total number of eggs: 532
Biggest egg: 73 g
Smallest egg: 43 g
Average weight: 62.4 g
Poppy began her life as Rhode Island Red Yellow – in other words, she was the RIR Sammie with a yellow leg ring. This soon became “Big Bird” – she was very very yellow and fluffy. And also the smallest of the Sammies (yep, some Aussie humour).
It took quite a while before we were certain she was female. She was almost as stroppy (with the other chicks) as Buster was – we had to take her and Basil away from the rest for the first week of Sammie/Peep integration, as she and he made Frida’s life utterly miserable. But eventually she did settle down into the expanded flock in the Summer Palace.
We finally decided at around ten weeks old that she and RIR Blue must be female after all. Buster had been obviously male for quite a while, and Sky and Basil were also starting to show obvious sexual characteristics (like big combs and wattles) by then, whereas she and RIR blue (aka Barney/Jenny/Gytha) had full feathering, but no combs or wattles to speak of. Female she was!
She was always a very people-oriented chicken (as was her big sister). I think it’s a bit of a Rhodie characteristic. When the Sammies was being brooded in the house, she was the first of the bubs to make regular attempts to fly/leap out of the box when the lid was removed. (Not to go anywhere, just to get up to our level and talk to us!)
It persisted even after they were all installed in the Summer Palace – if either of us were doing poo-collection duty, she would attempt to climb onto whatever horizontal surface presented itself. She seemed to be happiest of all when seated on a human. (Or eating, although this was usually followed by a return to the human.) It was always going to be very difficult to see her go. So when Nicola decided that she wanted to begin her chicken-keeping with at least one Dorking, the pressure to keep our little lap-chicken became quite strong. And became irresistible when Delilah became so sick, and then began to lose her battle.
And while no-one could ever replace Delilah, Poppy is definitely a bird in the same mold. Again, our sort of chicken. Fluffing and armpiting are just two of her specialties …
When we decided that we were definitely unable to part with her, we had to come up with a more appropriate name. Believe it or not, she chose it herself – we came up with a shortlist of six names that fitted with the rest of the flock and which seemed vaguely suitable. Then Jo wrote them out onto small index cards, and laid them out in front of her. She choose Poppy, so Poppy she became! (Not quite as mad as it sounds – for a roundup of various chicken-based divination methods, see the Folklore page.)
She laid really well to begin with – 24 eggs averaging just over 51g in her first calendar month of laying. No fuss. Just in and out, job done. Quite a stealth-layer! And this continued until after we combined the two flocks into the Winter Garden.
Poppy was the undisputed Top Chicken in the pullet flock. So we were a bit worried about what would happen when we put the two flocks together. Bessie had never been challenged before.
They had one fight, and it was a dingdong battle. They jumped on each other, grabbed each other’s combs, and were at it for a good five to ten minutes. We were seriously worried that Bessie might a. lose and/or b. drop dead. We had to hold Claire back out of it. But just as we were starting to think that intervention would be required, they stopped. Bessie gave Poppy a couple of sharp pecks; Poppy hunched her shoulders and gave an “all right, ok, yes, you win” squawk; and that was pretty much that. Ella and Venus didn’t even try to argue, and Poppy slotted in to Number Two – coincidentally, the position that Delilah had always held.
Possibly as a result of the stress of the integration, after a month or so Poppy decided to go broody. We’re talking from nothing to full-on fluff-monster overnight. And stayed that way for ages. It took about three weeks before she snapped out of it – we’d tried zero tolerance, we’d even put her in the sinbin (until she developed a sniffle, which meant a trip to the vet, a course of antibiotics and an abandonment of that method). It wasn’t until we stopped trying to do anything that she finally relented and went back to being a normal (?!) chicken.
Unfortunately the stress of all that triggered a premature moult, injury and a lot of drama, leading to Poppy’s tumble all the way down the pecking order to the very bottom. To call it a convoluted saga doesn’t even begin to come close.
And then, when we thought things had settled into their new configuration … she went broody again. She seems to have a broody cycle of about thirty eggs. Argh!
The big question: how will she perform as a Mama Hen?
And then …
Poppy has proven to be a magnificent mother. Possibly a little neurotic, but careful and reliable. She has raised six clutches of chicks, and never shown any inclination to be anything other than attentive. Having said that, she is still a complete sook. Once she decides her babies are old enough to leave the nest and venture out onto grass, she tends to make a beeline for Jo (if she can see her) and dive into her armpit for a cuddle until the chicks make worried noises. Then she is back to being Über Mama again. As a result, all her chicks tend to look upon humans as their personal servants …
Her last group of chicks were, appropriately, her own. (Well, hers and Lily’s). She raised Jeannie, Stan, Freya, and Remy in the summer of 2013/14, and never went broody again. Or laid another egg. So we got lucky! And Poppy got a well-earned retirement.
Poppy died on March 2nd, in her sleep. It wasn’t quite the peaceful death we’d hoped for – there was a period of 24 hours when she was obviously slipping, and when we had to intervene. But then again, she spent most of her last day being cuddled and cosseted, and we got to say goodbye to her. So maybe that was her choice, as much as such things ever can be. Whyever it happened, I’m grateful for it.
Dear, sweet, wonderful Poppy. She never did anything by halves. And she has left a enormous void in our lives.