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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.