Ebony’s third egg

Thank goodness the game girls are laying their eggs on alternate days or I don’t know how we would cope.

On the first day that Ebony laid she had been stressing for quite some time so I think that when I put the nest box in the run with a pile of straw in it she was so desperate that she went straight in and laid her egg.

The next time she was ready to lay she was behaving in the same manner and I herded her into the chicken shed and shut her in. She settled in the corner and laid her egg. I thought that this would mean she would now know that she could either lay in the nest box or the shed.

But no! On the third day that she wanted to lay she would stand outside the nest boxes and shout her head off. My goodness she was loud, louder than a cockerel. It was Saturday and sunny and we started to worry about the neighbours. Even if they weren’t in the garden they would have their windows open and we could hear her from indoors.

I had to resort to shutting her in the shed again where she settled and got her egg laid.

I have been thinking of what made their previous nest boxes different from ours. At first I thought it was that they were used to straw. I then thought that they liked deep nests. I then realised that it was probably the height of the nest box position.

At the farm they were in a barn. There was a wooden shelf at about table height with a row of wooden nest boxes on it. We decided to try putting one of the nest boxes on top of the wooden shelter.

We need to solve this problem because we can’t always be here to watch over them and we can’t have this amount of disruption every day. We have to keep trying different things until we find a nest box that they are happy to use.

New nest box position

It will now be a matter of waiting to see if this works. I really hope so.

Meanwhile I was surprised to find the chicks on top of the other shelter for the first time.

The chicks are on top of the shelter

How did they get up here!

I was surprised that they could get up there. In the meantime both Ebony and Flame have investigated the new nest box position so I am hopeful that this may work. At least they know where it is. Time will tell.

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The drama of Flame’s first egg

We had even more difficulty with Flame finding out where to lay her egg than with Ebony. This a problem that I had never expected.

Chicks or point of lay hens just seem to find the nest boxes. I am always amazed that the girls’ first eggs have always been laid in a nest box or a corner of the chicken shed. They just seem to find the right place to go quite naturally.

I am now learning that this isn’t so when you take an adult hen from one environment to another. These game girls have been used to their set up and seem to be finding it really difficult to get used to our set up when it comes to where to lay their eggs.

By late afternoon yesterday I realised that Flame wanted to lay her first egg since joining us. She was stalking around the run and was making a melancholy sound almost as if she was crying. I recognised that sound from Toffee every day when the corn had been consumed and she realised that it had ran out.

I herded Flame to the patio area. I showed her the nest boxes with the lids open and with the lids closed. I put her in a nest box but she ran straight out again. I herded her into the shed but she came back out. I shut her in the shed briefly but she was crashing about in distress so I had to let her out again.

I put a nest box in the run but Flame wasn’t interested. Dandelion liked the nest box in the run. Dandelion kept settling in there and I would move her to the nest box on the patio but she would march back to the one in the run. I felt this would deter Flame from using it so we played this game for a while. After four times I gave up and moved the nest box back to it’s usual spot on the patio.

Dandelion was not pleased at me spoiling her fun and proceeded to shout and then laid her egg in the run. What has got into these girls!

Meanwhile Flame  kept exploring the wooden shelter so I piled some straw in there. I put the cat box in the run with straw in it. I put a washing up bowl of straw in the run. I put piles of straw in corners. The problem with this was that if Flame did sit briefly on any given heap of straw the other girls would come along and turf her off.

All of the girls scratched in the straw and soon had it spread over the entire run. We tried closing off the triangle part of the run with the wooden shelter. I heaped straw in there and shut Flame in on her own. Once again this distressed her and she spent her time pacing up and down the wire.

By now it was nearly bedtime so I opened up the run again. I knew that the little girls would soon go in the chicken shed and Speckles and Ebony would perch on the branch perch and then Flame would be free to settle.

Sure enough she settled on the straw in the wooden shelter. When I went back a bit later her egg was on the straw and she was perched on the perch above the hatch. Phew! What a drama.

Flame lays an egg

Flame’s egg is on the left and is lighter in colour than Ebony’s egg next to it. Next is Cinnamon’s egg and on the right is Dandelion’s tiny egg. Dandelion laid after a weeks break and her egg is even smaller than usual.

I hope these girls soon get used to our nest boxes because we are worn out by all this drama. I never imagined it was going to be this difficult. It’s as if they are making up for settling in so well by causing mayhem with their egg laying antics.

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Flame has also settled in beautifully

At the moment I can’t quite believe how easily the new girls have settled in. Ebony briefly chased Flame but I think that was just to show Flame that she is below Ebony in the pecking order. Now that that has been established Ebony is taking no notice of Flame.

At bedtime last night I used my usual strategy on the first night of waiting until it was almost dark before putting them in because Flame wouldn’t know where the chicken shed was. As I expected Flame perched on the branch perch next to Speckles and Ebony.

The three girls on the branch perch

You will have to excuse the quality of these photos. I didn’t realise until I looked at these that I had a spot of dust on the lense.

It was easy to pick each girl up one at a time and put them on the back perch of the chicken shed. Tonight I will move on to the next stage of herding them in so that in the future Flame will know where to go.

The three girls in the chicken shed

Today Flame was having a lovely dust bath but when I went back out with my camera she was just shaking herself. I decided to keep this action shot.

Flame has a shake after a dust bath

As you can see here these two girls are no longer bothering each other.

Flame is quite calm when I get close to her

I think that Flame looks younger than Ebony. All we need now is for her to find the nest boxes and then she will be completely initiated into her new surroundings.

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Another new girl

When I collected Ebony I was very tempted to take another girl too as the other variety of game bird the farmer had were so beautiful. We decided to stick to the plan though as we felt that two girls coming in together would already have a bond and Speckles would still be left on her own.

The farmer and ourselves agreed that we could come back later for another girl and taking another one about a week or so later would put all three on a more equal footing.

As it has gone so easily with Ebony I started thinking of adding another one sooner rather than later. I rang the farmer today and he said that he was away Friday and Saturday so we could either go today (Thursday) or Sunday. My impatience kicked in and I opted to go today.

I am so glad that I did because our new girl is so beautiful. I have called her Flame. I went with the same strategy of putting Flame straight in to the run. To my surprise the only one that chased her was Ebony.

All the other girls accepted her but Ebony had obviously had enough of five days as bottom girl and was going to be bottom girl no longer. Flame is the new bottom girl, not counting the chicks, as they too young yet for joining in with the pecking order.

New girl, Flame

Speckles and Flame are quite comfortable together

Her shape is identical to Toffee, our past brown game girl, but there is a lot more gold in her. She is a stunning girl and has the game girl gentle nature. Toffee was bottom girl for a long time and I think Flame will be the same.

She also has a red face so we should be getting eggs from her too. Extra eggs are just an added bonus at the moment.

After a lot of sadness in my flock recently I feel uplifted by the addition of the game girls. The flock feels as if the joy has been put back into it.

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Fine tuning the bedtime routine

Last night I decided to herd Speckles and Ebony in to the chicken shed half an hour later so that it would be a quicker process. I went out at half past nine.

As soon I walked towards to their branch perch Speckles jumped down and Ebony immediately followed. I am sure that they know I don’t want them out there at night! Herding them in was a much quicker and easier process as they are more receptive when it’s a little later.

This time Ebony jumped straight to the spot she had perched on the night before on the end of Dandelion and Cinnamon’s perch. She is obviously a creature of habit. I decided to take charge this time and lifted her to the back perch but not too close to the corner. It will be better for her to get into the habit of perching on the back perch because it is wider and more suited to their bigger feet.

Speckles then jumped to her usual spot in the corner and they very quickly settled.

Speckles and Ebony at bedtime

This is a much better arrangement and I hope that tonight Ebony will automatically settle here.

Ebony has settled in so quickly which is amazing. She has very quickly grown in confidence and now runs to greet me and knows the rattle of the treats and also that the patio area is where the greens and fruit will be. She loves the morning spinach and the afternoon apple.

It is almost as if she has been with the flock for ages rather than just four days. I do have to stop myself from calling her Emerald though.

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Ebony is settling in beautifully

I am amazed at how easy it has been for Ebony to settle in to the flock. The first night she perched next to Emerald outside as I suspected she would and at dusk I lifted them down and put them in the chicken shed.

Last night my husband suggested that instead of this I should herd them into the shed at nine o’clock like I used to with Emerald and Speckles. That way she would learn the way in and learn to perch there without my help.

I thought this was a good idea. I herded Speckles in first and waited until she had settled on the back perch. I then set about herding Ebony in. This was quite easy but once in Ebony wanted the spot Emerald used to perch in, right in the corner. There is a long expanse of perch but she wanted the tiny space between Speckles and the side of the shed.

This was too close for comfort for Speckles and she would peck her down. She will tolerate Ebony next to her on the perch outside but not in such a close position inside.  I resisted intervening as I felt it was important that they sorted it out for themselves.

Eventually Ebony chose to perch on the end of Dandelion and Cinnamon’s perch. Just like when Speckles did this, I thought the narrower width of the little girls’ perch was probably less comfortable, but I thought it best to leave her to it for one night. At least she had chosen her position rather than having me putting her in place.

Ebony perches on Dandelion and Cinnamon’s perch

You can see how Ebony wanting the space between Speckles and the side of the shed was proving unacceptable to Speckles. There is loads of space on the other side of her but for some reason this wasn’t where Ebony wanted to go. I am sure in time they will sort it out.

I knew that the next problem would be Ebony finding the nest box. If she was anything like Emerald she would lay every other day and that meant today. I tried to herd her towards the patio to look at the nest boxes but it spooked her. I don’t want to move the nest box again as she needs to get used to the patio area being home to the nest boxes and the chicken shed.

As she had laid late afternoon last time I thought I could keep an eye on her when I got back from delivering my lunches.

My husband got back before me and said that she had been in both nest boxes and the chicken shed but he thought that the problem wasn’t so much the straw but the depth. The breeder had a really deep layer of straw in his barn and Ebony had made a huge well in the nest boxes and the shed and seemed dissatisfied.

I deepened up the pine shavings in the nest box. I don’t usually have them too deep because it encourages the girls to fling the shavings out. The shavings in the shed are pretty deep but I pushed them back to form a deeper ridge at the back of the shed.

Sure enough Ebony went into the chicken shed and settled down. She obviously likes to have a deep nest.

Ebony settled in the chicken shed to lay her egg

Ebony soon got her egg laid and it was slightly bigger than her last one. Her eggs are almost the size of a standard hens.

Now that she is aware of all the possible places to lay her egg I feel that she is settled and I don’t need to worry about anything else. I will do away with the straw and deepen the shavings in that nest box but I think she will probably be happier in the chicken shed  which is fine.

One of the things that is the most different between Ebony and Emerald is their position within the flock. Emerald had started out at the bottom but over time and with many girls leaving the flock she had risen to the position of top girl. This meant that she strode around the run with absolute confidence and of course was used to being in close contact with me.

Ebony is so shy and runs from all the girls other than the two chicks. The chicks are too young to face up to any other chickens but Dandelion and Cinnamon can just look at Ebony and she moves away. If they chase her she runs. She is also very nervous of me. I am hoping that over time she will gradually get used to me.

Ebony also digs really deep dust holes. She had dug one under the ladder and while she was in the shed laying her egg Speckles took over her dust hole.

The chicks dust bath together in their shallow dust hole

Speckles dust baths in Ebony’s deep dust hole

I feel that the flock has very quickly settled down once more and I am very happy with the way Ebony has settled in so smoothly.

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A momentous decision and a new start

This has been a long day and I must warn that this is a long post. I had so much to say that I couldn’t help this being a long post.

Blue

I have been doing quite a lot of research on google about cockerels. I asked how many hens you should have per cockerel and it said ideally you need ten. I have four, that’s a long way to go to get to ten. Less than an ideal number can end up with girls getting harrassed and ending up with no feathers on their back from the constant attention.

It suggested that you need to handle your cockerel from early on to tame him or he could be aggressive. I have been handling Blue every evening from when he was in their box in the little coop and have continued when lifting them to the perch in the evening and he always pecked my hands. Not too bad while little but could be worse in time to come.

Blue has long been harrassing the two silkies, chasing them and standing over them and pecking their heads.

He recently started crowing and his crow was steadily getting stronger and louder and more frequent. Sunday morning he woke us up just after five o’clock and crowed until six o’clock. Now we were really worried about the neighbours.

It’s hot and everyone has their windows open. Three of our neighbours have young children so they are at home during the day. If someone was to complain to the council we might have to give up keeping chickens.

I couldn’t re home him because of the mycoplasma in my flock and I knew there would be a heartbreaking, difficult, decision to be made soon but  I would have to take responsibility for it. For now it was constantly on my mind but I just didn’t know what to do.

Ebony

We were going to see the breeder of the wyndottes and the game birds next Sunday because my husband was going up north to see family this weekend. He set off on Friday and wasn’t sure how soon he would be back but in the end he came back on Saturday.

I suggested on Sunday morning that I could call the breeder and see if we could go right away rather than wait another week. The breeder said that would be fine. I took photos of the current flock to show him to help him understand why on this occasion I would only be taking one girl. I thought if he could see Speckles size compared to the little girls he would understand why I wanted a companion for her.

When we had talked  a few days earlier I had told him how I loved Emerald’s glossy feathers. Black game girls have either black or white faces and I had said that I liked her white face because it was red in summer whereas black faces (like my Butterscotch) stay black all year round.

When we arrived I said that I would show him the photos on my phone first so that he could see why I wanted a companion for Speckles. I showed older photos of Emerald and then the new photos of our two groups of three. I explained that the chicks were sold to me as hens but that as he could see one was a cockerel.

I said that that morning he was crowing just after five and the neighbours would not be happy and it was going to be a real problem. He said that as a farmer and a chicken breeder he has to cull cockerels as part of his job. He said if we couldn’t keep Blue then he would do this for us if that was the decision we came to. We said we would think about it.

He then showed us to the game girls and said according to what I had said on the phone he had picked me one out. She had the glossy feathers I had mentioned and the red face. He said she had proved herself to be a gentle mother so had all the qualities I was looking for.

He caught her and put her in our cat box and then showed us round the farm. He showed us his wyndottes and his game chicks. I named our new girl Ebony. I mentioned that her comb was very different to Emerald’s and he said it is more of a wyndotte’s comb as they are hybrids. This is why they live longer than pure breeds.

Integration

When we got home my husband suggested we try something different. He said we could put Ebony in the run and see what happens. If there is a problem we could soon separate her and close off a section of the run.

To our amazement there was no hassle at all. Ebony walked the entire run exploring everything. She checked out each food dish and water dish. She had some pellets and some water. She checked out each perch and each shelter. Speckles followed her around but didn’t make a sound or show any aggression.

Cinnamon was the only one who made herself as big as she could and chased Ebony a few times. Ebony who is four times the size of Cinnamon just ran from her. It must be so ingrained in their nature to be gentle that there was no retaliation from her.

Ebony

The decision

My husband said that we needed to think about the breeder’s offer sooner rather than later. If we get complaints about Blue and we have to give up keeping chickens we would lose the entire flock and with myco in our flock that would mean culling the entire flock which would be heartbreaking for both of us.

I have to be responsible and this may not sit well with everyone but we felt we had to make this decision. The downside of keeping this blog is that I have to be honest and I worry about how this may be received but I also have to be responsible. I rang the breeder and asked if my husband could take Blue to him.

I didn’t go as it would be too heartbreaking for me but my husband said it was time he learned how to dispatch a chicken humanely and he got the breeder to show him what to do although whether he would actually be able to do it himself we are not sure.

I will never have young chicks again as I can’t ever risk this happening again. If I can’t get adult seramas in the future I may give up on having more seramas and just add game girls to flock.

Another surprise

My husband settled to watch football and I took the Sunday paper to the top patio to sit in the shade and watch over the flock.

I soon realised something was going on with Ebony.  She was looking stressed and manic. She was pacing the run as if she wanted to get out. She was jumping on top of the wooden shelter and scratching then jumping down again and starting the whole process again.

I recognised this behaviour from Emerald. Emerald is the only girl I have ever seen showing this manic behaviour and it was when she wasn’t happy about where she wanted to lay her egg.  I suddenly realised that with her red comb and face Ebony must still be laying whereas my previous two game girls stopped laying at the end of May. Another sign of the hybrid between game girl and wyndotte.

I knew that she wouldn’t know where the nest boxes were so I put the little coop nest box in front of the shelter. Ebony went in and out a few times but I could see that she wasn’t happy with it. Her beak was open showing her stress.

Light bulb moment! The breeder uses straw and I use pine shavings. Ebony was used to straw. I rushed to the pet shop and bought a small bale of straw. I put the straw in the nest box and Ebony went straight in and settled down.

Ebony in the nest box

She casually came back out a bit later and I checked the nest box. Sure enough there was her egg. She was now calm and went for a long drink of water.

Ebony laid her first egg with us

On the left a shop bought egg for size comparison. Next is Ebony’s egg then Cinnamon’s egg. On the right is Dandelion’s tiny egg.

 Bedtime

The next interesting thing would be what happened at bedtime. Emerald and Speckles always perched in the run together in summer and I would put them in at dusk. I knew that Ebony wouldn’t yet know where the chicken shed was. The question was would she perch with Speckles or at the opposite end of the run. There are four perches to choose from and she had explored them all.

To my utter surprise and joy Ebony had chosen to perch next to Speckles. This just could not have gone any better. The chicks had also put themselves on their perch by themselves.

The chicks have put themselves on their perch

Dandelion and Cinnamon on their perch

Ebony chose to perch with Speckles

This was such a familiar sight!

I picked Speckles up and put her on her perch. I then picked Ebony up and perched her next to Speckles. It was an odd moment because Ebony felt exactly like Emerald to hold.

I am feeling relief all round and this morning I went up to the girls and Ebony was relaxed in the flock as if she had always been there. She is going to fit in perfectly.

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Garden lovelies

The anemones in our garden seem to get bigger and bigger each year.

The anemones are amazing

They nicely frame the corner of the chicken run

The chickens’ strip is looking lovely this year

The tomatoes are coming on

I have had an idea. I am already planning on hopefully getting some older seramas in September when my breeder says they usually stop selling and she usually has bigger girls available.

But I suddenly thought that I could get another black, game, girl from the breeder that I got Toffee and  Emerald from.  I know that there is no way another girl could be a replacement for Emerald but it would be lovely to see that wonderful colour back in my flock again and it might be company for Speckles.

Speckles looks so sad perching on her own at the back of the chicken shed. She doesn’t sit with the little girls like she did with Emerald. I know that they may not get on to start with but I feel that over time if they are the only two bigger girls amongst a flock of little girls I would hope that they would form an alliance.

I ran the idea by my husband first and once he had agreed that he was okay with it I rang the breeder. Luckily I keep all my breeder’s details just in case I ever need them again.

The breeder said that he had some girls and we have arranged for us to go and see him next Sunday. My husband asked me if I should consider more than one but I am going to stick to just getting one. I know of people that have successfully integrated one girl and mixing with smaller girls should make it easier on the newcomer.

If I got two or more they would be bonded because of coming in together and Speckles would still be left on her own. I hope that by bringing in just one they will settle together once they are used to each other.  After such a sad time recently it is giving me something to look forward to.

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A tribute to my lovey Emerald

Emerald is the first of our girls that I have felt really reached old age. It took me ages to collate these photographs of her because they go back over five years. We think she was six years old or maybe even a bit more as she was an adult bird when we got her. She has always been a firm favourite. She was a beautiful girl with a gentle nature and is very much missed.

A young Emerald in the new chicken shed

Emerald and Toffee share a nest box

Toffee and Emerald came in together and were firm friends. We lost Toffee two years ago so Emerald has done really well. A lot of girls have come and gone during her time with us.

Emerald checks out the store cabinet

Emerald was a curious girl and she also knew that this is where the treats are kept.

Emerald getting ready to lay

Emerald had the most beautiful glossy emerald green and purple feathers, hence her name.

Emerald in the pellet bucket

This is one of the funniest photos of Emerald. It really shows off her game bird shape and her long neck.

Emerald and Speckles on the, inner, gate

Emerald and Speckles had a habit of greeting me on the inner gate whenever I was about to go in. This was a habit every summer when they were both egg laying but something they dropped the rest of the year.

Apricot watches Emerald having a dust bath

Emerald would really throw some shapes when she was dust bathing. This is her dead chicken pose.

Emerald about to lay her egg in the cat box

I put a cat box in the chicken shed as an extra temporary nest box when the entire flock were laying. Emerald had to try it out and laid her egg there a few times.

Emerald with a very red face

In summer when Emerald was laying her face and tiny comb would go a lovely red colour. In winter her face and comb were a pale grey, the same colour as her legs.

Emerald leading the way with the frozen peas

Although I have been giving the girls frozen peas recently this photo is from last summer. Emerald was always the first girl to try the frozen peas. I guess she has seen it all many times before.

Emerald looking magnificent

Emerald had a very distinct game bird shape.

Emerald sun bathing and showing her, now, white wing feathers

As the years went by Emerald’s, underneath, wing feathers gradually came in white.

Emerald and Speckles share a nest box

Once Emerald and Speckles became the only two bigger girls left they became firm friends and were inseparable.

The last photo of Emerald and Speckles perching together

This photo was taken the evening before she lost her battle with life. She has left a huge hole in the flock and will never be forgotten. Goodbye my sweet Emerald.

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Emerald has gone

I have been struggling to write this post as it’s been so upsetting. Yesterday morning when the girls came out of the chicken shed Emerald stayed put. I thought it best to leave her be. There was a green splodge below her. She has been doing liquid green poops which I knew meant that something was badly wrong inside her.

Emerald stayed in the chicken shed

I kept checking in on her and just before nine o’clock I found her collapsed just inside the pop hole. The chicken shed had become too hot for her and she had obviously tried to leave. I picked her up and put her in the shade of the wooden shelter. I gave her a chopped grape but it was painstaking waiting for her to very slowly take a few bits.

I rang the vet to make an appointment to have her put to sleep. I couldn’t let her suffer any more. I got an appointment for three o’clock.

When I returned at lunch time after I had done my deliveries I went to check on her. I felt so sorry for her. She had made it out of the shelter and was between two dust bathing girls. They had absolutely covered her in dust and she didn’t have the strength to shake it off. She looked so sad. I set her down on the patio area and gently brushed the dust off of her with my hands. I then put her back in the shelter and offered her the chopped grape once more. She only had a couple of bits and refused to have any water.

I explained to the vet that Emerald was elderly, was moulting and had been showered with dust by her flock mates.  I thought that she would think I had her in terrible condition.

She was very good and did a thorough examination of Emerald. She said that her heart was actually strong but that she was struggling with her breathing. She felt her all over and said that she had a large, hard, lump, behind her abdomen. She asked when she had last laid and I said at the end of  May, when she started moulting, which was usual for her.

The vet said that it felt like a tumour and would be pressing against her organs which would have weakened her. She agreed that Emerald needed to be put to sleep and said she would look after her, that it would be quick and painless.

I struggled to leave her and stroked her for a last time as the tears started to pour. I felt better about it being a tumour because I knew that there was nothing I could have done for her and I have read that elderly hens often have tumours at the end of their life.

I felt glad that I had managed to get her to old age and yet I still felt more upset than any other girl I’ve lost. She has been my all time favourite for such a long time. She was so beautiful and had such a lovely nature. I will miss her so much.

At bedtime I expected Speckles to go into the chicken shed without Emerald being there but instead she was outside on their favourite perch. I felt that she was waiting for Emerald. I lifted her down and steered her towards the chicken shed. The chicks had gone in and were in their usual heap in the corner so I lifted them to the perch.

I put the chicks on their perch

To my surprise Speckles perched with Cinnamon and Dandelion. She has never done this before. It seemed like she didn’t want to perch alone.

Speckles perches with the little girls

I swept the patio area and then checked in again and she was still next to the little girls. The perch width is smaller so probably less comfortable for Speckles but she clearly didn’t want to be alone so I left her there.

I will be doing a tribute to my lovely Emerald but it may take me a few days. I have a lot more years of photos to look through for her and she deserves a proper send off.

I said to my mum (on the phone) and Sophie (by e-mail) that writing these posts is actually very difficult to do because it makes me cry all over again and I have to write through a blur of tears and with a lump in my throat but I owe it to her memory to do this.

Goodbye my lovely Emerald.

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