Working Title: The Pearl of Great Price
by Cactus Eater Bear
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (quote from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, CA. 1600)
We left the city to try our hand at self-sufficiency, or at least to have a little food that we didn’t buy in the store. Step 1: garden. Step 2: chickens. The idea was primarily to have egg layers, with the distant option of meat birds.
Step 2 began with nine little chicks; three black Australorps and six Rhode Island Reds. They lived in an oblong cow tank in our guest bathroom. They were cute, funny, and I was obsessed with them. The most common questions from friends and family were “Are they gonna be meat birds or just egg-layers?” and “Did ya name any, yet?” To which I always answered: “Egg layers. My heart’s not ready to raise meat birds, yet.” And “I don’t want to name them because I don’t want to get attached.” Besides, what good is a name if we can’t tell them apart?
Sunrise, sunset… the chicks started to look like Skeksis, with their pin feathers and awkward bodies. They were still quite sweet and happy to hang out with us. Two of the reds battled to be lap-chickens, but I never knew which two they were until I sat down. One of the Australorps started looking and acting more rooster-ish than the others. We named him Tyson to keep him humble and to remind ourselves that he was just a chicken. He must have taken it to mean the boxer because he grew up to be a big, aggressive jerk.
The chickens were a couple months from being full-grown before we moved them into their coop. *Outgrowing their cow tank and free-ranging our guest bathroom while we finished the coop is a whole ‘nother story.
One morning when I went out to sit with them, I noticed one of my lap-chickens was limping. Her knee was swollen, hot, and bit janky. We figured it was bumblefoot even though there were no visible cuts. Of course, this also meant that we started calling her Mrs. Bumblefoot. (Thanks, Big Bear.)
If a person is new to this kind of life, there isn’t a definitive line between pets and farm animals. So, to the vet we went. When Dr. Honey was examining her, Mrs. Bumblefoot stood tall and started to “sing” to her. Dr. Honey decided that ‘Mrs. Bumblefoot’ was too grim a name for such a nice hen. “She needs a name of a gentle, elderly lady.” We settled on the name ‘Pearl.’ Dr. Honey suggested a level of care somewhere in between pet and farm animal: two x-rays (which were plenty expensive) and “go from there.”
The x-rays didn’t reveal any broken bones or irregularities, and Dr. Honey diagnosed it as a staph infection. The antibiotics were to be administered via water. We decided not to fully separate Pearl from her flock and came up with a solution to avoid issues with the pecking order. We fenced off a little area for her near her flock and let her go in the hen house with them at night. The routine was; put her in the pen every morning, add fresh antibiotic water, put her in the hen house at night. This lasted two weeks, and there was little improvement in her knee.
We administered four more courses of antibiotics, with a month or so recovery time between each course. Dr. Honey re-assessed Pearl’s knee and concluded it was a ligament issue. We weighed the pros and cons for knee surgery. It’s a little sad to see such a nice hen hobbling along, but it didn’t seem to be painful for her. Knee surgery is expensive, and birds don’t do well under anesthesia. The cons outweighed the pros, so we chose to “let it be.”
One of my friends came to Neverending Ranch on vacation. She inevitably fell in love with Pearl and asked, “Isn’t there anything the vet can do?” I told her the whole story, to which she replied, “So just the name-change, then?”
Fast-forward to today- where we have 40 chickens. Out of 40, the only chickens with names are those with distinguishing characteristics: Tyson (rooster), Bazil (fancy rooster), Olive, Midnight, Hawk, Sister Hawk, Fat Neck Sister Hawk, and Pearl.
Teacup philosophical takeaways:
1. Pearl’s flaw/infirmity set her apart, made her more memorable, and we are more attached to her because of it.
2. Pearl was a sweet hen, even when her name was Mrs. Bumblefoot.
Tis for thy limp that I remember thee.
Thou art thyself though, little hen.
What’s a Pearl? What’s a Bumblefoot?
It is nor wing, nor foot,
Nor infirmed knee, nor any other part.
That which we call a Pearl
By any other name would sing as sweet.
Retain that dear imperfection, and
Remain in my heart, precious one.