Even a few years ago, when we were just starting out with our chickens, it was difficult to find much depth of material on-line addressing our scale of a laying concern (ie one to four dozen hens). Most articles written to the organic/natural/sustainable audience were for ’boutique’ chicken operations of only one to five thousand birds. Suddenly, chickens are sexy. Suddenly, house-chickens and urban chickens and heritage breed chickens and homestead chickens are everywhere. I feel like I should be writing The Secret Life of Chickens to lay out the inside scoop we couldn’t find when we went looking.
Which brings me to Gloria. I’ve already addressed some of the more common characteristics of fully pastured (ie wholly unfenced) chickens. I’ve said before we don’t name our chickens (which for the most part we don’t eat); though we do name our pigs (whom we do eat). And my reasoning was based on my observation of chickens as possessing a flock mentality more than any individual sense of identity. While Gloria doesn’t necessarily sport more consciousness of the sort we mammals can recognize, she’s a loner.
Darwin has a name for chickens who model their behavior on Garbo and want to be alone. Evolution often calls such chickens ‘unsuccessful’. Chickens do better in small groups, they’re better able to evade predators by splitting up in a flurry of confusion. It’s not easy to confuse your hunter when there’s only the one of you. That said, some of the very old heritage breeds have distinct personalities. Amongst the chickens of ancient origin (say prior to the renaissance), is the Silver Spangled Hamburg.
It was only a few weeks ago I found a detailed breed description of the Hamburg chicken which extolled the regularity of their laying, but also cautioned that this species is stand-offish and doesn’t mix well with other birds–of its own type or another. Gloria, our Silver Spangled Hamburg, is by far the smallest chicken in our mixed flock. This assessment includes some of the streamlined modern layers, like the Amberlinks and Golden Comets.
Gloria is also at the bottom of the pecking order. She’s so far down, she even has some latitude in her movement between coops–she’s so pariah both flocks are ready to ignore her completely and any member of either group would lose status by acknowledging her. This may be why she feeds at the lower coop, with which flock she came on farm; but she roosts in the upper coop and lays her eggs there (smallish, off-whiter than eggshell). She’s distinct from every other chicken we have here. So much so I named her. Thus Gloria.
Gloria doesn’t seem to mind having a name. She runs from me as she runs from the cats, the dog, and every chicken on the farm. I put feed for her in new locations, as Gloria is excluded from group feeding privileges. She isn’t grateful or anything, but she does look for unusual deposits of chicken feed.