The henhouse. The chicken coop. The roost. What do I know about chickens? Not as much as I thought I did. For instance, I’ve always believed there was a rooster strutting through every barnyard flock of chickens. Turns out I was wrong on that account. If you want eggs for breakfast, you only need hens. But, if you want a brood of chicks, you’re going to need that rooster too — and perhaps some ear plugs. I’d also imagined that roosters sallied forth and crowed once at sunrise, then hung it up until the next day. Not so — they’ll crow intermittently throughout the day.
There’s a wide variety of chicken breeds. Some lay eggs the colour dark chocolate while others produce shells the colour of a latte or vanilla ice cream. In the grocery story, I always reach for the brown eggs, with the foolish notion that they are better in some way. This habit is a testament to the success of marketers in promoting the benefits of brown whole wheat bread over white– it doesn’t apply to eggs.
I’ve had to revise my romantic image of chickens graciously lifting the edges of their skirts so the farmer’s wife can reach a hand in to collect the egg. From what I’ve read, the henhouse is the poultry version of the high school experience. The term “pecking order” exists for a reason. In every chicken coop, there is one popular girl and one poor chicken who is the target of malicious pecking for life. This behavior extends to anyone attempting to extract eggs from the nest, farmers’ wives included.
First the egg hatches into a chick. The chick grows into a pullet, which I assume is something akin to a chicken teenager. When the chicken is between four and five months old, it will be able to lay eggs. Most chickens will lay an egg every 25 hours. Their first year of egg production will be their best, but that will slow down every year thereafter. Chickens require 14-16 hours of sunshine each day in order to lay eggs. Without a winter lighting system using daylight bulbs, production will drop off dramatically.
It is not by chance that I am so interested in chickens today. I’m researching them for a story I’m writing about a retired farming couple that finds themselves at odds over a much anticipated event. The coming changes are vexing to Olive and her frustration only increases with her husband’s ability to take it all in stride.. The chickens listen so intently to her bemoaning Henry. They tilt their heads to one side until their combs flop over. Their eyes dart around the edges of her face, and their beaks remain frozen in the downturn of a perpetual frown. I imagine them looking like participants in the conversation.
Some folks like to “talk turkey”. Well, I’m going to “talk chicken” and I’d like to get it right.
Lead Photo by: Fred Andrews ~ Glenbow Museum Photography Archives