Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dear Old Hens


Our hens are getting up there. One “human year” must equal something like twenty to a chicken, and in bird years, our hens are octogenarians! This winter, they quit laying entirely. For the first time in years, I bought a dozen eggs yesterday, knowing the “free range” advertised on the package is nothing like the glorious ramblings our lucky flock takes for granted.

Perhaps they’ll start up laying again in spring, with longer hours of daylight, but perhaps not. If we were more pragmatic farmers, we’d “put them in the freezer” (Now THERE’s a euphemism for ya!) and make that fabulous home-made chicken soup that is Dan’s very best dinner contribution. (That’s saying a lot, as his shepherd’s pie, banana bread, and beef stew are also pretty awesome.)

But these are dear old hens, raised during our first country spring, in a homemade brooder in the basement. We dug worms for them and delighted in the peeping-mad chick scrimmage when we dropped the squiggly treasures among them. We introduced them to the great big outdoors in gentle stages. We named them Fancy Feather and Chicklee, Stripes and Brave Sara, Puff and Rangy and Sandy and Madeline…. And so they remain, to live out their golden years on Maggie’s Farm, a gaggle of seriously old biddies, free ranging through their retirement years. I’ve prepared the kids for their eventual demise, given the “Now you know the hens are very old for chickens and they’ve had good lives and pretty soon…” speech. But even so, it will be hard to see them flapping bravely into that good night.

If they can hang on through winter, these old girls will have one more summer of scratching and dust bathing and poking around the yard. I’ll admit it: we’re softies, serious softies. But, perhaps after 3 ½ years of delicious, bright yellow eggs, it’s the least we can do for them.

Also, we are ordering a new batch of chicks! As we did four years ago, each family member will pick a few wacky varieties and a brand new, colorful little flock, peeping llike mad, will appear at the post office, (The post office is NOT quite so fond of this...) and set up shop in the basement brooder.

8 comments:

Christy said...

I can see us having a retirement home for chickens too when we get ours. It would be hard to kill chickens that have given you wonderful eggs for that long. I can't wait to order chicks!

Perri said...

Ordering and raising chicks was the perfect way for us to get our feet wet. They are so much fun. And there are so many beautiful varieties. I just pore over those Murray McMurray Hatchery catalogues:)

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