We swore we wouldn’t name the six chickens given to us by Dana, Mary, Vicky and Charles last December. The theory is, if you don’t name your birds, you won’t get so attached to them as pets. Ha. First of all, when you have a total of only ten hens, how can you not name them? And besides, named or nameless, as their distinctive personalities start to develop, so does your inevitable attachment to them.

The name game started with one of the Buff Chanteclers. From the beginning, she was the most slender, the most long-legged of all the others. She reminded me of a supermodel – in stature as well as aloofness – so I started calling her Gisele. Farmer John looked at me kind of sideways when he heard me doing it…but soon enough, he was calling Gisele by name too. At that point, there was no stopping it.

The other Chantecler is called Blondie; we refer to the two Cuckoo Marans, who are almost always together, as The Maran Sisters; and the Black Sex Link hens are, respectively, Miss Wattles

(for two obvious, floppy red reasons) and Crazyneck.

Granted, christening a cute little hen with the name Crazyneck verges almost upon animal cruelty, yet we couldn’t really help ourselves. Shortly after this diminutive girl arrived at the farm with the other five newbies, we noticed that a clump of her neck feathers were bent outwards like a cowlick (probably with the help of one of the other hens while scuffling over favorite nighttime perch positions).

She doesn’t seem to mind the bent feathers. Nor does she care much about her name. It’s a good thing, as I feel certain that after she molts for the first time this coming fall, the Crazyneck moniker will stick even if her new feathers don’t…stick out.

When these six new hens came of age in February, John and I found ourselves in egg heaven. In addition to the young’uns’ daily gifts of golden ovate goodness, our four older hens – Miss Red, Marty, Daisy and Lylie – got back into the egg laying biz too.

Then the rat snakes woke up from their winter slumber.

The battle has begun. We don’t kill these non-poisonous snakes (as evidenced from this photo, we only frighten visiting children with them); instead, John dons his beekeeper gloves, pulls the five-to-six-foot snakes out of the henhouse boxes and relocates each one to a spot more conducive to our needs. Like in the immediate proximity of a known rock squirrel nest out in the farm.

Still, the chickens have seen the marauding (and egg-sated) snakes. Although none of our hens have become “broody” yet – so far, each one is satisfied to deposit her egg and immediately walk away – instinct tells them it isn’t safe to lay their next potential offspring in a nest box recently occupied by a snake. They must find a new spot.

Thing is, the finding part can sometimes be problematic.

Eventually, all of the hens, including this Maran Sister, discovered an old makeshift nest just outside the door of our walk-in cooler. For years, this little pile of straw was hidden beneath the clutter…er, the pile of stacked up junk…I mean, alongside unrealized treasures like the blown-out tractor tire that might surely of be of use to someone, somewhere, sometime.

Until voracious snakes discover the nest – and they will – the hens think this is the absolute berries, as proven by the pretty eggs the Maran Sisters deposit there: one of them light brown similar to those laid by many brown-egg breeds; the other a signature Maran “chocolate” egg (though we consider the color more akin to café au lait).

Having only one prized nesting spot isn’t ideal. Even in the henhouse where there are ten nest boxes for ten chickens, the hens still fight over a preferred two or three. But that’s nothing compared to sharing just the one. Earlier in the week, poor Marty, our Americauna who has always valued her privacy, was surrounded by several of the other hens – all of them wanting their turn at the nest – while she tried to lay her green egg.

See her in the corner there, beside the tractor tire? After growling at the others for quite a while, she finally gave up and scampered away. Miss Wattles immediately settled into her place,

which didn’t suit the Maran Sister one little bit. Having tired of waiting in line, she decided she’d just go ahead and lay her egg on top of Miss Wattles.

Because sometimes, when the urge hits, there’s simply no other choice….

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Here’s what we’ll be bringing to the farm stand on Wednesday:

Oodles of snow peas; lots of sweet white turnips; garlic scapes; summer squashes (zucchini, yellow squash, Zephyr and Cousa); lettuce mix; Euro salad mix; Green Butterhead lettuce; Romaine lettuce; Red Leaf lettuce; bulk kohlrabi (aphids finally managed to ruin the greens); bunches of chard; spring onions; bags of arugula; bunches of cilantro; the first pink radishes from the new crop; and anything else we might find ready for harvest.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)