It’s hard to describe what is so compelling about chickens. If you haven’t been pulled in to their world before, you might not understand what the big deal is. For birds, they’re not very bright, nor do they display much affection for people, or like to be cuddled. They poop E. coli everywhere. But they make delicious eggs. And there’s something else, something about watching them scratch the ground, making their soft, contented noises, keeping an eye on each other.
Four of our six Easter Egger chicks. They’re about a week old in this shot. For those keeping track, L-R Murphy Brown, Indigo Violet, Thornapple, Amelia Airheart Boozie Pilot.
Watching chickens feels like an ancient practice, something my soul, the human soul, has done for centuries, like staring into a fire on a frosty night or wandering lonely with the clouds. It feels like the world is in order, that this moment is the one that matters. Chickens show me what’s real, that dirt is the basis of life. They show me that bugs, along with rotten tomatoes, can be deliciously transformed into individual servings of protein for me to steal.
And that brings me to another point: I feel guilty about chickens, especially the ones we eat. I’m getting away from depending on dead things for protien more and more, but I feel guilty about laying hens, too. As much as I love and care well for my ladies, they are forced by the bodies we designed for them to produce eggs, non-stop. Do they have PMS every day of their lives? Are they dying to get, well, laid? What is it like to be a slave to your body? I have some idea, but maybe I’ll ask Republican men what they know about it since they’re the experts.
Her Mar Du Henny
Several years ago, my husband and I had three hens that gave us a steady supply of eggs. Then two of them stopped. Only Good Ju-Ju was producing, the other two, Dr. Girlfriend and Ruth Fisher, seemed to have turned off their taps somehow. Were they sick? Suddenly molting? They were only a year old, much too soon to molt. And then Dr. G and Ruthie disappeared, too. I’d been letting them roam the back yard during the day, and they must have escaped. Frantically trotting around the neighborhood with the dog, I couldn’t find them anywhere. Did a hawk get them? Both at once? A cat? A coyote?
But they hadn’t escaped. They were still in the back yard, tucked behind the woodpile, out of sight. I laughed when I finally found them, but they were not amused to see me. With their heads bobbing, eyeing me sideways, like chickens do, Ruthie sat on a nest they’d made out of long grasses, barely visible under the nine eggs the two of them laid out there. Dr. Girlfriend, the biggest, most aggressive of the three, stood behind her, stretching up as tall as she could go, agitated. Then she rushed me, puffing herself up as big and threatening as she could, flapping her wings at me like they were nunchucks.
Grabbing her as she crossed the woodpile in mid-attack, I tucked her under my arm and she calmed down, just like she always did under the duress of corporal cuddling. It broke my heart to end their private love-nest affair. I wish I didn’t know they cared about the eggs they were making, and, it seemed, each other. These so called stupid chickens had worked out how to defeat me, the egg thief, the baby snatcher. They never had a chance though, against me, against their genetics, against their lot in life.
We couldn’t take those hens with us when we moved to Baltimore, but
they’re still alive and well in Wisconsin, (Dr. Girlfriend RIP, Spring 2018) and still laying eggs, though their production has gone way down. I’m holding space here for them if they ever need a home. I can’t get behind the idea of killing them after we use up their bodies, but that’s what happens to commercial birds, after a year or three of living packed together in a cage so small they can’t walk, fly or stretch their wings.
At the post office, April 25th, 2017. Unbearably cute. 2 rows, L-R, Murphy Brown, Thornapple, Amelia Airheart, Swee’Pea, Hur Mar Du Henny, Indigo Violet.
On April 24, 2017 my six new little girls were shipped, destined for the hen house that came with the human house we bought last fall. Built in the 1800s, I don’t know the last time either one of them was full of fowl, but there’s still ancient chicken shit stuck to the floor in of one of those buildings. This time we got all Easter Egger chicks, like Ruthie. That’s a mongrel breed that produces blue, blue-green, olive green, brown, yellow, or cream eggs. We’ll find out who’s making what color in four to six months! I’ll keep you posted.