last updated 8.11.10
Hatched: December 2006 (estimated)
Died: 26th October, 2010
Weight: 3.97 kg
Buried: under a Mother apple sapling
Total number of eggs: 373
Biggest egg: 104 g (double-yolker)
Smallest egg: 53 g
Average weight: 68.4 g
Venus was bought, along with Ella, at the Ashburton Fancier’s auction in 2007. We hadn’t intended to get two birds, but there were no single Australorps to be had. The original plan was to keep one and sell the other. It just didn’t quite work out that way …
For a while, we toyed with the possibility of naming the two girls Serena and Venus, after the Williams sisters. But I’ve known a few Serenas who I didn’t much like, so I didn’t want to name one of our girls that. To cap it all off, one of the few ways we could tell the two girls apart was by shape – Venus was much more voluptuous looking than her sister. So Venus she became.
She did have one oddity about her appearance – her eyes. Rather than being a solid colour, there was a hint of weird marbling, almost as though someone had dipped a paintbrush in some dark amber paint and swirled it around her in her eyes. Very strange!
It was the day before the winter solstice – June 21st, 2007. There was a huge amount of cackling going on outside, and when I went out to check, it turned out to be Venus making most of the noise. I had a look around, but couldn’t see what it was that had stirred the girls up, so I just leaned in to collect the breakfast dish. That’s when I saw it. It was a super frosty morning, and there was a small area in the litter that had steam rising from it. A brown egg! Longish, with both ends quite blunt (rather than one pointy and one rounded). 59 grams. Venus had started laying!
It took quite a while for Venus to get it in to her head that eggs should be laid in the nestbox. She began making herself little nests on the floor of the house, which wasn’t ideal. We got some nesteggs, to encourage her to lay in the appropriate place. Didn’t seem to make much difference. She’d look in the nestbox, maybe even play with the eggs a bit. And then just lay her eggs wherever. And cackle extremely loudly, for up to an hour afterwards.
One of her more frustrating laying habits was to carry on as though she’d laid her egg, then suddenly get caught short and lay it out in the run. Not so bad if we found it before it got covered in scritched litter, but … on one occasion I found her egg by kneeling on it. Ugh. It was mid-July before she started using the nest properly. And even now, a year on, she’s still prone to laying in the run.
Having said that, she was a good layer in her pullet year. She laid 179 eggs in 253 days, with an average weight of 68 g. And started in the middle of winter, with no supplemental light. From 1.2 to 1.8 kilograms of eggs, every month. Not bad. That’s why we referred to her as “the machine”.
She’s been prone to laying the odd soft-shelled egg – not uncommon in pullets, but possibly a sign that she doesn’t metabolise calcium as well as the others. On one particularly memorable occasion (27.6.07) she came out, did her “I’ve laid an egg! I’ve laid an egg! Oh hang on, no I haven’t” routine, then squatted, did a big poo, squatted again, and ejected an egg with no shell or membrane. Yolk and white, straight out on top of the poo. Sigh!
But on October 16, 2007, she went even bigger – 104g. Ouch!
The Transit of Venus
Venus started molting for the first time in March (2008). Her last egg was on February 29th. She looked absolutely awful – there were big clumps of fluffy black feathers piling up in the house and in the run, and she looked like she’d gone three rounds with a feather-plucker. Poor girl. But they grew back reasonably quickly.
That’s when we noticed something quite weird. Some of her feathers had odd little white flecks in them. (The full post about this can be seen here.) So for her second year, she was mainly black, but with white flecks and speckles in odd places. Quite strange! But apparently it can happen.
We were quite curious as to what would happen with her colouration when she moulted for the second time, in early 2009. Would she get paler, or go back to black, or stay the same?
As you can see, she got paler. Hard to believe that we used to be almost unable to tell her apart from Ella. Her 2010 moult left her essentially white, with the odd fleck of black in her fluff and around her neck. Eyes are now very pale, and her legs pretty much white. There’s always the slight concern that this might be some kind of degenerative thing that manifests most strongly in pigmentation – she has the worst low-light vision of all of them, and occasionally seems a bit near-sighted. But on the other hand, she seems to be in the rudest of rude good health, and manages to weight in at around the 5 kilo mark pretty reliably. And did I mention she’s growing spurs?
On Monday 25th October 2010, we were weighing the girls. Venus was last. I thought when I lifted her up that she felt a bit lighter, but given her wriggling I didn’t think too much more of it. Until we lifted her back out to do the monthly toenail-and-leg check.
And noticed the smell.
You can read the full post here. The short version is that she had a massive – we’re talking avocado-sized – putrid swelling between her cloaca and the base of her tail. Monday was a public holiday, so we did a rough clean-up job with cold water and an old towel, and let her spend the night with her flock.
The following morning we took her in to see Pauline, who confirmed our fears. The infection was only a minor part of the problem – Venus had what looked like a huge tumour in her lower abdomen. There was nothing that could be done, other than giving her a quick and painless death. So we did.
We’ve buried the poor girl in the orchard of the new place, and planted a “Mother” apple tree over her. She’s within sight of her old flock, and eventually they’ll be able to come and sit in her shade. We still catch ourselves saying her name, and it’s hard not to look for the big white fluffy girl when we go talk to the other chooks. We’ll miss her.