She had been looking all hunched up and sluggish for a week or so. I knew the end was near. By the time a chicken shows signs of illness, she’s pretty much near death. I think its a survival thing, but chickens hide any illness or weakness as much as possible because the flock will notice and mostly likely go after her. So, when I found her dead in the pen, looking like she had just fallen over and died, I wasn’t surprised. But still sad.
Agent 83 didn’t really have a name. All of my chickens have bands, different colors for different years or parents, each has a number. Once a few years ago, one of the hens had the number 99. Agent 99 from Get Smart? My own private joke, I like adding the title Agent to the birds rather than calling them Number 99.
While my birds really aren’t just numbers to me, I don’t name any of them. OK I did once, with our first group of chickens. That was a mistake!
A few months after we had gotten the birds, the kids and I came home one evening to find one of the chickens dead in the driveway. No apparent predator, could have been an internal problem, could have been chased by something and died of stress. No matter the reason, Aunt Gergie was dead. Aunt G. had been named for my great aunt who had been dead for some years. I suppose better her than Gailita, another chicken named for my sister-in-law who was (and is) still very much alive.
My husband came home to the three of us sitting on the bed crying our hearts out. “Aunt Gergie is dead!” I wailed. That first death was heart wrenching. None of them are easy–especially the little chicks–but the first time I lost one was the worst. My husband got on the phone and called a friend right away looking for a replacement for Aunt Gergie. Yes, he was told, he could get another one. Same age, same breed. Yay!
We didn’t name the new girl and pretty much after that didn’t name any chickens after. The exception was a sweet bantam Brahma named Cutie that my son used as a 4-H project for many years. At the ripe old age of 9, Cutie lives on today.
But when you have so many, and when you breed and hatch many more, you just can’t name them all. Especially when most are destined to be sold or the featured dish of Sunday dinner. But I still have to know who each one is, their age, their ancestry, their show-ring wins. I keep records and I do band them, because while I’d like to think I know each and every chicken, I don’t. When you have nearly 75 of the same breed of chicken, it does get a little hard to tell them apart.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect them or care for them any less. I really believe there is a zen to chickens that bears studying, and they have brought me endless hours of enjoyment despite all the hard work. And just because I haven’t named them doesn’t mean I can’t tell many of them apart. I spend a lot of time walking through my chicken pens, observing the young ones to see who is the next grand champion or the old ones to see if any are exhibiting signs of illness. Just like Agent 83. I knew, and it was OK, she had a good life.
Rest in peace, Agent 83.