“Hentirement”

When aquiring a flock of backyard chickens most people are excited about the farm fresh eggs they will be collecting from their own girls. Not much thought is given to what to do after they no longer lay regularly. Laying hens being associated only with egg laying has been drilling into our conscious by the factory farm egg producers.

The hens for production spend their entire life in small cages then are slaughtered between 18 months and 2 years of age because they are deemed unproductive at that point. It has become common knowledge that after the age of 2 hens no longer lay eggs and are worthless. I am here to challenge this presumption.

In this post I intend to prove that hens are worth much even beyond their laying years. A hen does not loose her wroth just because she no longer lays eggs regularly, I say “regularly” for a reason; I will expand upon this. But first let’s discuss the truth about laying hens.

It is of popular opinion that hens will only lay for 2 years. After this point they no longer lay eggs and are nothing more than chicken stock in terms of value. This is not true. The truth is that once a hen starts to lay eggs, she will lay dependably for the first two years. After that point, she still lays but maybe not to the tune of one egg a day as she did in her earlier years. A hen will lay eggs for as long as she lives.

Every hen is born with approximately 1000 yolk cells. These are all the potential eggs that she will lay during her entire life. The first two years of her life she will lay at the most “regular” intervals of her laying years. A productive laying breed such as the Australorp, Orphington or Rhode Island Red will lay about 3-5 eggs a week. That is about 156 to 260 eggs a year. So for the first 2 years of her life she will have laid approximately anywhere from 315 to 520 eggs. Assuming that she is born with 1000 yolk cells (as most laying breeds are), this mean she has only layed a little more than half of her total egg potential.

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Now, just because she is over the age of 2 does not mean that she will not lay anymore eggs. She will, she may lay 2-4 eggs a week instead of her initial interval of 3-5 eggs a week. She keeps laying eggs but slows down a bit. As she ages, she will slow down even more. If she makes it to 5 years of age you might expect to get 1-3 eggs a week. As she progresses even further in age you can probably count on 1-2 eggs a week.

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I currently have 5 Buff Orphingtons who are 10 years old. The life expectancy of an average backyard chickens is anywhere between 5-7 years. If well cared for they can reach 10+ years. For a backyard hen to make it past the age of 7 defies most odds. To reach the mile mark of 10 years and beyond is rare. This past May, my 5 “Golden Girls” officially reached this 10 year milestone. Even at this age my 5 Buff Orphington girls still lay. During the summer when bugs and other delectables are at the most abundant, I can  count on about 2-3 eggs a day from my 5 senior ladies. Some will lay that day, others will not. But as a general rule, during the time of the year when the days are long, warm and bugs are plenty, they will lay well. When fall arrives, the days shorten and the weather cools off. During this cooler part of the year they typically slow down to maybe 1 egg a day from the 5. During the coldest part of winter they will cease laying altogether, their bodies are using egg laying resources to keep warm in the bitter weather. This is just not observed by older hens but all hens. However, in the spring as the days warm again and the sun returns to our sky, they will pick back up the pace to 2-3 eggs a day.

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You see, even at their advanced age, they still lay eggs. The assumption that a hen will only lay for the first 2 years of her life is unfounded. She will lay eggs till the day she dies.

So really the question is not that they stop laying eggs but what to do after laying hens pass their peak laying performance. In the factory farm setting, after 2 years of age, the hens are sent to slaughter and a new batch is brought in. Although these girls still have plenty of laying years ahead of them, they are nonetheless considered expired and slaughtered. These ladies barley begun their lives when it was abruptly halted. For the backyard chicken keeper this is not the normal proceedings. We tend to hang on to our ladies well beyond two years of age.

The question then becomes, what to do with our hens that are so advanced in age that they no longer lay eggs. My 5 “Golden Girls” are not far from this point. I expect next year I will have collected the last egg from my Buff Orphington ladies. At this point I will consider them officially in “Hentirement”. Hentirement is the time in a hens life where she has officially stopped laying but still has much to offer beyond eggs.

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Here on The Kuntry Klucker Farm all may ladies and gents will live out their natural lives under the loving care of their keepers. Just because a hen stops laying eggs does not mean that she is worthless. Hens can contribute in many ways beyond the humble egg.

So, what can a hen who has reached “hentirement” offer you may ask. She can produce in many ways. For example, I have found that my older hens make excellent mothers. Since they no longer have to use their energy for laying eggs they focus their efforts elsewhere. I have found that when I bring a new batch of chicks to the backyard, my older ladies are the first to show them the ropes. Taking them to all the hot spots around the yard such as the dust bathing holes, water coolers, good sun bathing location, the feed buffet, introducing them to the best roosters and more. My older ladies have even adopted a few chicks and raised them for me. To read this story click here. 

Older hens although no longer laying still offer all the benefits of having chickens such as  providing compost for the gardens, eating the bugs on garden plants, tilling the soil and ridding the yard of all available weeds.

Additionally, I find that my older girls make the best lap chickens. No longer distracted by the needs of egg laying they become better companions. Instead of focusing on the necessities that go with egg laying they have more time to spend and bond with their keeper. Thus, my older ladies are the lap chickens of the flock. Not only is it adorable to be claimed by the hen, the younger generations see this and model their behavior. Thus my subsequent broods are friendlier and more personable towards their keepers.

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Finally, an older hen who has seen and lived through it all are the zen masters of the flock. No longer spring chickens learning the ropes of  life, they are the pros of what it means to be a chicken. My older girls are the calmest members of the flock, nothing surprises them. They know the dangers of life and help others avoid them, they know and roll with the changing seasons and weather patterns. They are the wisdom barring members of the flock.

Above all, they deserve all the honor and respect that is due them. They nourished me with their life during their laying years, it is my turn to nourish them during their twilight years. My older girls are the gems of my flock. They shine bright as they have been polished by the trials of life. For a backyard chicken to make it to the ripe old age of 10 is a feat that defies all the odds. I don’t know how much time they have left but I do know this, they will live the rest of their life grazing on bugs and bathing in the sun glistening like the gems they are.

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I hope you have enjoyed this post and possibly even helped you decide what to do after your ladies no longer lay eggs. It’s a personal decision for each and every chicken keeper. For me, allowing my ladies to live out their post laying years in “hentirement” is the decision I have made for my ladies.

The girls and I want to wish everyone a Merry Kluckmas and an egg-cellant new year!

Thanks for reading, till next time keep on crowing!

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

 

 

10 Joys of Keeping Backyard Chickens.

I’m almost about 10 years deep into my backyard chicken hobby and have loved it every step of the way. From ordering chicks, getting the coops set up, watching them grow, and collecting eggs, keeping backyard chickens has been one of the highlights of my life. Chickens are animals that require little but give back much in return. In this post I will highlight the 10 joys I have experienced as a backyard chicken keeper.

1. They are always happy to see me

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No matter how bad my day has been at work or other wise my girls are always happy to see me. In the mornings when I enter the backyard opening the coops for the day they are thrilled at my presence. They cluck with joy as I prepare their food, water, and clean their coops. They are genuially happy to see me. After a long day at work or just a bad day in general,  I can always go to the backyard and find happiness on their faces. They flock, running sometimes flying in from the far ends of the yard thrilled to see me. Their joy in response to my presences lifts my spirits and in return brings joy to my day.

2. Companions in the backyard.

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Dogs come to mind for most people when thinking about backyard companions. But chickens, can be just as much of a companion as can a family dog. For example, Tilling Day is a flock affair! Tilling up the garden for the upcoming garden season is a big deal . They follow in the path of the tiller gobbling up all the worms that were unearthed, all the while further assisting me in turning the soil over. It’s not just gardening that attract the flocks attention, the girls are alway eager to be involved in what ever I am doing. Anything from painting coops to mowing the yard attracts all kinds of “hen-help”. Chickens are very curious creatures, they want in on everything that I am doing. Sometimes they get rewarded with a big juicy worm while gardening and other times its dust bathing in the potting soil bag or eating fresh grass clippings Either way, no matter what I am doing, I often have a flock of curious girls wanting in on whatever is going on.

3. Collecting Farm Fresh Eggs daily.

There is nothing quite like collecting farm fresh eggs from the backyard. After eating organic pasture raised farm fresh eggs its hard to go back to store bought. The feeling of finding an egg or more in the nesting box never gets old. Chickens really are the pet that makes you breakfast. There is pure and simple joy that connects one to the days of old while collecting eggs from the coops.

4. Observing the complex social structure of the flock.

Chickens are very highly socially organized creatures contrary to what many people think. A flock of chickens are organized into a hierarchy, each member knowing his or her place. The term “pecking order” is derived from this complex social system of chickens and for good reason. At the top of the pecking order is typically the alpha rooster, under him will be the other roosters in the flock. The roosters determine who is the alpha by competing for the position. Following the roosters will be the alpha hen, this is the hen that has earned her right to be at the top of the order directly under the rooster. The alpha hen is usually a little bit bossy in regards to the other hens in the flock. As for the rest of the members, position is established by literally “pecking” another hen on the back indicating that the pecker is above the peckie. This behavior flows from the alpha hen all the way to the bottom of the order. Each chicken pecking someone else on the back indicating their position in the order.

Once the pecking order is established all activities of the flock revolve around the order. Simple things such as the order in which the flock exits the coop in the morning and the order in which they return. Watching this animal behavior in my own flock is very interesting. More importantly the pecking order is always changing. If a member of the flock is sick and needs to be separated for treatment, in the absence of the member the flock order will adjust. The same is true for when a member dies. In the case of a death of a member the order will usually take on an extreme adjustment. For example, when our rooster Roy died the flock was suddenly without its top member, a rooster. The remaining hens in the flock had to decide who would take his place at the top of the pecking order, claiming the position of the alpha hen. For several days the flock worked through this decision and finally come an agreement on who would be the head honcho. As a backyard keeper, this behavior is very interesting to observe. Furthermore, it brings home the literal interpretation and understanding of the term “pecking order”.

5. Watching a mother hen raise her young.

Let’s be honest, baby chicks are adorable. Whether they be wild birds or domestic, chicks are just about as adorable as a baby animal can get. What’s even better is having the opportunity to watch them grow. This is one of the simple joys of owning backyard chickens. I have several times throughout the years allowed a broody hen to incubate a small clutch of eggs. Each and every time it is an adventure and a pleasure to watch the process from egg to chick. This spring I allowed a broody Silkie to sit on a clutch of 7 eggs.

After anticipatingly waiting the predetermined 21-23 days for the eggs to incubate, they one by one started to hatch. Over the course of 3 days every single egg hatched into a beautiful healthy chick. The joy of watching this cycle of life is indeed an honor. Over the next several months the mother hen will teach her little ones how to be chickens. Such things as what to eat and not eat, how to dust bathe, where to find water, and where to roost at night.

If you are lucky enough be in the position to observe this cycle of life in person , it is indeed an educational and humbling experience. There is so much that we can learn from a mother hen and chickens in general. Chickens are amazing teachers, all that is needed is a willing soul to watch and listen. Below is a video of Miss Donna and her brood of 7.

 

6. The joy of watching a Rooster care for his flock.

Roosters are often unfairly stigmatized as being fearsome, blood thirsty, mean and nasty aggressive birds. While they do have a job to do and take it very seriously, they really are amazing and gentinle creatures. Personally, I love roosters I currently have 7 and value every one of them. Roosters, although not necessary in order to keep backyard chickens are an added bonus.

You see, when raised right, roosters are an asset to a flock of chickens. They preform many husbandry duties taking care of all the hens in the flock. If a flock has more than one rooster (such as mine does), they will divide the flock into groups each rooster taking care of a section of the hens.

They are much more than just merely protectors for the hens, they serve the flock in ways beyond this. For example, a rooster will hunt for his girls. He will actively look for food, things such as a big bug, juicy worm, or vegetation for them to eat. Once he finds something of value he will call his girls over to eat it. He will only eat what is left, he is self sacrificing looking out for the welfare of his hens. It’s as if by evolutionary design he knows the girls need the extra nutrition for the procreation of the flock (laying eggs). As the girls eat what he has found he will keep watch, sounding the alarm if there is a threat and if needed sacrificing himself for the safety of the hens. I have witnessed this first hand with my Buff Orphington Rooster, Roy. One afternoon while out in the backyard he sounded the alarm, I heard his cry from the house, rushed out the the backyard in time to see a hawk fly away. All the girls were safe under a large tree, Roy on the other hand was injured. Lucky, he recovered from the hawk inflicted injuries and lived for several more years. I learned on this day the true value of a rooster. You can read his story here.

A rooster will serve the flock in other way as well. He will lead the girls to the coop when time to roost, help raise young, break up any squabbles among the hens, and of course mate with the hens to propagate the flock. All these things and more make roosters a very valuable asset to the flock. As a backyard chicken keeper, I have peace of mind knowing that when not around the guys are on duty. It gives me great joy to hear my roosters crow in the morning and watch them interact with the flock.

7. Beauty a flock of chickens bring to my property.

There is just something soothing about a flock of chickens happily hunting and pecking on a lush green lawn. Their feathers contrasting with the surrounding greenery like little yard ornaments. Chickens when free ranging are a very welcoming sight, watching them as they search for delicacies to dine on. I allow my flock to free range in the backyard only confining them to their pens during periods of inclement weather. I love go to the backyard and see my flock busy at work, ridding my yard and gardens of all available bugs and pets. My evenings are usually spent sitting and watching them as they go about their business, taking in the ascetic pleasure they bring to my property. They really are beautiful, the different breeds together in the yard adds a diverse contrast to the evening setting. So for me, one of the joys of owning backyard chickens is simply sitting and appreciating the beauty they add to my homestead.

8. Observing the diversity of their personalities. 

Many people think that chickens are void of any personality or individual characteristics. This is so far from the truth. Chickens are a very social creature and with that comes  distinct personalities. They all have preferences of nesting boxes for which to lay they eggs. Some are more outgoing while other more reserved choosing to reside on the sidelines. Some want to be held while other prefer to be appreciated from afar.

Chickens are very complex creatures with individual personalities to match. I have a few girls that love the camera and will pose at any chance they get. Two of my flock hams are above Aphrodite (White Crested Polish: left) and Miss Sweet Pea (Buff Orhpington: right). These two girls are the standouts among all the flock members. They love attention and will do just about anything to get it.

Chickens are much like dogs in the fact that they love to interact with their care takers. Some members may be more upfront with human interaction while others more distant, but all my girls at one level or another want to feel appreciated. It was not until I had chickens that I realized how much of individuals they really are. It’s these characteristics that make them easy to identify and name. People often ask me if all my girls have names, I say “yes”. All 50+ chickens that I have are all named and often are assigned names based on their personality traits. It’s not as hard as you would think to name 50 or so birds and not get them confused. They make it pretty easy to keep all their identities straight. Which bring me to my next point.

9. Constant comedy in the backyard.

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Chickens are without a doubt constant comedy! They are one of the funniest animals that I have had the pleasure to keep. Whether it be something funny that an individual does or something that whole flock does, chickens are the comedians of the barnyard. One of funniest interactions that a flock can engage in is something I call “the chicken keep away game”. When a hen finds something such as a juicy bug or big worm she will announce to the whole flock with glee that she has found a prize. With the object in her beak she will run around the yard while the others chase her wanting to get a piece of her find. Depending on how large the trophy bug or worm is, this could go on for quite some time. Changing beaks several times till finally someone eats the morsel or looses it. It’s just about as close as a flock of chickens can get to touch football.

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Another funny chicken oddity is the Polish chicken. Pictured above are two White Crested Polishes, Aphrodite and Apollo. Out of all the breeds that I have, this breed holds the crown for comedy. Due to their crests their vision is limited, not able to see what is above them. For this reason just about everything spooks them, simple things in their environment can get a rise out of them. They have a tendency to be flighty and high strung for this reason. Additionally, they are a very curious breed always getting them selves in trouble, then not being able to see well enough to get themselves out of it. They will often time call for other flock members to rescue them from their predicament. Typically one of the roosters will come to their rescue if I am not there to physically lend a hand. I have around 13 polishes in my flock of various colors all of them possess this particular niche for comedy. They are one of my favorite breeds to keep. They require a bit of special care but are well worth the trouble just to have them around.

10. A connection to the past: A lesson in simplicity

There is just something about keeping backyard chickens that brings us back to our roots. Times of old, days gone by when just about everyone had a flock of chickens to supply eggs for the family. A time when gardening was not just a hobby but a way of survival. A time when your land was how you ate and your animals were how you survived. Getting out of bed putting on my boots and heading out to the backyard opening the coops after the night bring a bit of that nostalgia. Cleaning the coops and collecting the days eggs has a feeling of purpose and self sufficiency that many are seeking today. In a world where we can buy literally everything we need at the store, being able to supply your own food has a purity that money cannot buy. Knowing that I am eating a product that is not only organic but supplied by animals that are well cared for and happy brings happiness to my soul.

In our busy and hectic world today, it’s nice to come home and just watch my girls as they forage in the backyard. To be able to escape the chaos of life and just simply be. Chickens are simple creatures, they don’t ask for much but give back much in return. They are content just to be able to hunt and peck their way through life. They don’t worry about much but instead are just happy to be given this day. It’s a lesson in simplicity that I think we all need. For this lesson and more I am ever grateful for my chickens. My chickens give back to me in many way,  but one of the best thing they give is a lesson in keeping it simple, a lesson in simplicity.

With this I bid you ado. I hope that you have found value in this post. If you are just staring out with chickens, I would love to hear from you. It is my goal and mission to help others with their adventure of keeping backyard chickens.

For those that are seasoned chicken keepers, I would love to hear the joys you experience in keeping backyard chickens.

Thanks for reading!

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

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Standing in the Shadow of the Moon

Hi Everyone, welcome back to the Kuntry Klucker Farm. Today the girls experienced an astronomical event that has captured the attention of the nation. At 2:30 pm this afternoon the sky darkened in the sky over our little farm here. I set up time lapse cameras on both coops and captured their reaction to evening setting in on their afternoon. I am not able to post those videos here due to platform issues right now, if you want to see them you can catch them on my Facebook page, the link is in the “contacts” section of my page.

So without further ado, allow me to tell you how the girls took to the sky darkening during their afternoon. As they were enjoying their day of hunting and pecking in the gardens something spectacular was about to unfold over their heads. As the sky slowly started to darken they did take notice to the early approach of evening. I could tell that they were starting to wind things up for the day. As they continued to graze in the backyard their heads looked around trying to see if everyone else was getting ready for bed. As they continued to peck at the ground more and more of the girls looked up to see what everyone else was doing. They seemed to look to each other as if there is some kind of que they were waiting for. The pure confusion as they stood it the shadow of the moon was nothing less than entertaining. Sadly, the totality did not last long enough for them to actually roost but they did make their way to the pen and got their last sip of water and bite of feed before they would go up the latter for bed. I wished that totally would have lasted a bit longer but it was funny watching them be rather confused as to why bedtime was coming so early.

Below are two photos taken from my time lapse videos that I took recording their response to the eclipse. As you can see it got quite dark for a few moments, but not long enough for them to make their way up the latter to the coop. Instead they just froze in place as all of a sudden darkness fell on them as they were doing their rounds in the garden searching for delicious bugs to dine on.

Their response to the eclipse was that of dumfounded confusion as evening came on so suddenly that they did not have much time to really react. I was hoping that they would go to roost just to have the sun come out again to finish their day. Although I did not get the pics of the girls that I would have liked to had I did get some good pics of the Eclipse. Below is a chronological order of the Moon over taking the Sun.

Thanks for stopping by and spending a little time with the girls and I. Till next time, take care and keep on crowing.

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

 

The girls go shopping!

Hello again! Well, here we are in the last few waining days of late summer. The girls so far are weathering our 90+degree heat well. They spend a lot of time in the shade and scavenging in my gardens for grubs. The flock is adjusting well after the loss of our resident rooster Roy. I still think they miss his presence but they have decided to move on with their lives and carry on with their chicken antics. As my gardens are expiring the girls are taking this opportunity to clean all the plants of remaining bugs, fruit, and other edibles. They are having a great time tending my corn and pumpkin gardens which remain their favorite destinations. I was out today doing my daily morning chores with the girls and discovered something rather interesting about my fancy ladies, they love to shop!

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Yes, my girls like to shop till they drop. You see, I have several small coops in my spice garden that I use as hospital or isolation housing for when I have a girl that does not feel well or a broody mama that just needs some privacy or space from the flock. When they are not being used for these purposes I leave them open for the girls to explore and lay there eggs in while they are about and about. I am afraid that if I leave them shut up till I need them wasps and other insects will set up house in the dormant coop. So to ward off these intruders I just leave them open for the girls to inspect and maintain while they are out in the yard for the day.

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Since it is hot I make sure they they have water and feeding stations all over the yard. I don’t want them at any point to be too far from a water source. It does not take a chicken long to dehydrate so I keep hydration stations very accessible for them.

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One place the I put these stations is in coops in my spice garden. I also set treats in each of the coops to keep things interesting for them and to give them a variety of food sources. Should we get a freak afternoon shower I am assured the the food will stay dry in the coops and not spoil. So for this reason the coops are a great place to keep their feed/snacks/water and so on. Additionally they will also lay their eggs in these coops. I do not find their eggs in the large coop anymore they prefer the smaller ones in the spice gardens for laying their eggs.

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So this is how I have determined that my girls like to shop. As I was spending my morning with the girls getting their stations set up I noticed something. As they made their way into the yard they one by one started inspecting all the coops, seeing what was in “store” for them to munch on today. First Betsy inspects the larger of the two coops, she goes in takes a look and exits the coop. Next Bossy does the same, and so forth as the girls made their way into the yard.

They would then go over to the other coop and see what was in “store” there. Betsy would enter the coop take inventory, exit then make her way over to the first coop she inspected and enjoy the snacks in that coop. As I watched I said to my self, “my girls are going shopping”! They are comparison shopping between the coops to see which has the best deal on the grub. I was just amazed at how they were taking inventory of the treats/food/snacks and so forth in the coops.

 

It just blew my mind! I just sat there on my hammock amazed at their antics. My girls like to shop! Even funnier, if one coop contained something that they preferred over the other coop, a line would then start to form. Not only can they shop, but they can wait in line waiting to check out. How funny are these ladies.

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Funny thing is, when they were chicks I staged a photo shoot of them I took some really cute pics. One of them was of them standing in front of a country store front, it appeared as thought they were shopping.

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Well, now that I know this I think an update in their outfits is in order. They wear their dresses but now I think they are going to need some little purses to go along with their ensemble. Not too sure how I am going to pull that off but it would be the cutest thing if I ever found a way to make it work.

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So there you have it. My girls are indeed backyard divas. They wear the latest in hen fashions and now they enjoy the art of shopping and finding the best deals. My girls amaze me more and more everyday. Keeping backyard chickens it truly the most fulfilling hobby I could ever imagine.

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Well that is all for now. I will post an update on the girls shopping spree a I find new things to put in the coops for them to discover.

Till then, thanks for stopping by and spending a little time with the girls.

~The Kuntry Klucker Crew~

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