Our Brood Grows – How we Introduced and Named New Chickens

After the sad loss of our lovely hen, Lady Catherine de Bourgh a few weeks ago, we decided pretty quickly that two chickens weren’t enough and that we’d add to our brood.

We’d been wanting for a while anyway – I call it ‘succession planning’ – as chickens get older their egg production slows down so I knew a while ago I’d want to bring in younger girls at some point, so that the older girls could slow down peacefully, without pressure. I have long had visions of them growing old, becoming the matriarchs of the coop.

Bringing in the new girls really happened a little sooner than we thought it would – the original chickens are still laying happily and are only two years old. But things being as they were, the time seemed right.

A week ago, we went from a brood of two to a brood of five and it was traumatic for everyone involved. This scene below of five chickens clucking side by side took a week to achieve. A week with a lot of worrying, a lot of feather loss and very few eggs. Oh yes, make no mistake, introducing new chickens to your flock is not at all easy.

chickens in compost

The early days were strained, full of social disharmony and a whole lot of belly-aching from everyone, not least of all the original chickens, Shirley and Miss Mattie. If you’ve never introduced chickens to an existing flock, it’s fraught. There can be violence – we had some of that – I had to keep the two flocks separate for the first few days – as the social order is dramatically changed there is infighting, jealousy, crazy tantrums and, yes, violence. I’m lucky that I escaped it with minimal damage. There are stories of blood shed amongst chicken keepers. We avoided that. I escaped violence, but like any group of women, the bitchiness was inevitable and boy was it mean.

The only way to cope with afternoon free ranging is with loamy layers and a hot cup of tea. #freezing

The original chickens, when I had them separate from the new girls for everyone’s sake, would pace around the yard voicing their discontent with long, mournful and I have to say quite pathetic noises that I was sure were driving the neighbours mad. If I tried to put them near the new girls, there was pecking and there were attacks – sudden rushing to peck a new girl’s head with ferocious tenacity. It was awful.

under a shrub

For about two days I regretted bringing new chickens in. I really couldn’t see how this would get better but we persisted and in bursts of brief exposure, we got everyone used to each other.

Slowly, surely, harmony has been restored.

Spring buds. With chickens.

I wouldn’t say they’re best friends but there’s a certain amount of peace now. Once in a while, Miss Mattie, who is the new head chicken in Lady Catherine’s sad absence, will look up and realise one of the new girls is beside her, eating (can you believe it!) from the same bowl or pile of food. She’ll assert herself with a burst of squabbling, chasing down a new girl, just so that we all remember she’s Head Chicken.

It’s both funny and strange. Alarming and oddly reassuring. It’s nature. It’s how it works. And I love it. I could sit among them for hours and take it all in. Ok, I do. When I can.

A big first today. First time all five girls have free ranged together!

So, to the names. (Yes, MadMad Rachel, I know this is the bit you’ve been hanging out for.)

I thought i had it sussed. They were going to be named after the three lead women on Mad Men. Joan, Peggy and Betty. My sister Adele suggested it and it was such a good idea but early on we just felt the names didn’t stick.

Then we were going with 19th century literary names, just like the original chickens (Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Miss Mattie and Shirley) but I couldn’t decide which 19th century heroines. I love so many of them.

In the end, we’ve chosen names that have, we think, a 19th century feel without being tied by any particular theme. It’s been a job, let me tell you. I keep sending Sean emails at work with lists, whittling the list down to the names he seems to respond to best.

You’ve got to get to know them. You’ve got to be able to identify them! That’s not straight forward when they’re all varying shades of rusty brown but after a while, after a week of girls walking towards you like this lovely photo below, you get to know them and their individual markings and characters.

Flora

I can’t come at novelty names – there are people who gives their chickens names like Satay, Burger and Curry. I just couldn’t. I like a bit of dignity.

So we have, after much deliberation and a some time today spent addressing each of them by name, three new girls called Winifred (she’s top chicken, at least amongst the new crew) and is a little nod to my Great Aunt Winifred who taught me to crochet; Rosamund (who will no doubt become Rosie in due course) and Flora (the smallest one, although why I would think of Flora as a small, quiet girl when the name is lifted from the assured character, Flora Poste, in Cold Comfort Farm, is unclear to me).

But there you have it. Three names, with no particular theme, except that we liked the sound of them. Winifred, Rosamund, Flora. Our new girls.

Who knew there was so much to think about and know when it comes to raising chickens? I certainly didn’t two years ago and I’m like a sponge, soaking it all up and loving every minute, even the strain that came with increasing the brood. It’s wonderful.

Bells

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15 thoughts on “Our Brood Grows – How we Introduced and Named New Chickens

  1. Pingback: Hug A Chicken Day 2012 | Bellsknits

  2. Congratulations on your successful new flock!!! We have ‘Chook Talkback” for an hour once a month on our local ABC radio. It is meant to be sustainable smallholdings but everyone wants to ask about chooks!!! I was shocked to learn they were so violent, as you wrote too.

  3. So sorry about Lady Catherine but glad to hear that there are plenty of clucks coming from your coop with these new girls on the block. Lovely to catch up with you and all these beautiful FO’s especially Alice’s quilt. I remember your disappointment with the quilting first time around and it’s real inspiration to this non quilter watching from the sidelines and wondering about another craft to see such a pretty end to the tale.

  4. I had no idea it would be so traumatic. I’ve introduced new cats to each other and the same kind of thing happens. It’s almost like, “well, you’re not going away so I’ll make the best of dealing with you”. I’m glad your new girls are getting along. And their names fit in so well. That kind of helps make them feel like a flock. They’re all so beautiful.

  5. Oh, how fun to hear the deets! As you know, I’ve been waiting and waiting to hear how it all went. It’s all so fascinating! LOVE the names – they’re perfect, and they go with the original names, too.

  6. This is so familiar – we have had our chickens for just over two years and lost one a couple of months ago – leaving two. We decided to add two more and experienced exactly the same kerfuffle that you did as the new hierarchy was established. Now, after six or seven weeks all is peace – Esmeralda is firmly established as head-hen and Aliss as the bottom of the heap. Apart from an occasional squabble over a slug, all is harmonious.

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