Yes, by any other name a rose would smell as sweet, Mr. Shakespeare, but when it comes to chickens, it’s a different story. When we first kept chickens they didn’t have individual names. They were just “the chickens.” We had a rotation system. We started our chicken enterprise with 25 straight run baby chicks. (Straight run means the birds have not been sexed, so you end up with both hens and roosters.) That year, when the roosters were beginning to crow (they were six to eight weeks old) we butchered them and put them in the freezer. That left us with a dozen laying hens. We didn’t care to repeat he butchering experience, so the next year we bought a dozen Plymouth Rock pullets. The third year we gave away the Rhode Island Red hens and bought a dozen Buff Orphington pullets. And so on. None of our hens was more than two years old and it was easy to identify the oldest ones. We always had plenty of fresh eggs.
Then, when Laurie became our chicken partner, everything changed. Instead of ordering chicks from Murray McMurray, she and I went shopping for baby chicks. Laurie was so enchanted by the different varieties that we bought an assortment of breeds. By the time the babies were six weeks old, Laurie had named and could identify every chicken. Instead of talking about “the chickens” we talked about Lucy, Matilda, Rhoda, and so forth. By giving them names, we had turned them from a flock into a group of individuals, each one a distinct personality.
Objectivity went out the window. We no longer rotate the flock and some of our hens soon will be five years old. We bought a dozen new pullets this summer, but only one of them has started laying eggs and one turned out to be a rooster. Egg production has plummeted to two or three eggs a day, sometimes none. We separated the hens we thought weren’t laying and dubbed them the “B team.” They just hang out and eat kitchen scraps.
So, what’s in a name? When it comes to naming chickens, you will end up running a chicken retirement home and buying eggs at the grocery store. Still, I love old Lucy, who survived a viscous raccoon attack. Lucy recovered from her wound and lived to rule the roost, and I wouldn’t condemn her to death for any amount of eggs.
Copyright 2016 by Shirley Domer