You may have read already that my daughter Kieran manifested herself a hen that resides, free range in our backyard. As a pet, she was interesting at first. She provided an opportunity to really study the behavior of large, semi-flightless birds from one individual specimen. I made some nice evolutionary discoveries that included the shape of her feet and how they resemble the fossilized foot prints and remains of some dinosaurs. I came to enjoy the softness of the feathers on her back. I would be able to sneak a touch here and there as she would pause to inspect my hands for food. I quite enjoyed examining her pupils, dilating and constricting as one of the signals that her mind was working on solving some mystery. She would also blush, when we would pay her attention. Her small waddle would turn a crimson red as we spoke her name or attracted her with food. It really was a fascinating experience to get this close to a creature with whom we, in my family, have ingested as dinner in a less animated form for years. We have consumed chicken, but can't say that we have really ever known chicken.
Within weeks of allowing our hen free range of the back yard, all of these warm feelings I had about the experience of being a chicken owner began to dissipate. From the first "good morning poop" right outside the sliding glass door that leads to my fairy garden, the dark cloud of disgust overwhelmed me. Our hen pooped her weight in greenish diarrhea, huge white and black turds, and explosive splatters of watery speckled spray each and every day. Her favorite places to unload her body waste was on the patio, in front of the door, all over our patio furniture and on every surface other than the grassy, dirt covered ones. After six months of this, I was becoming very depressed. We kept waiting, hoping for the day that Henny would finally begin to lay. I assumed that once she reached her full, adult size, that the magic would happen. Nope. I began to accept the fact that this chicken was good at laying nothing down but poop. I even asked the chicken expert at the feed store, explaining that our hen was seven months old and hadn't lain a thing. She informed me that as the seasons change, and the days grow shorter then hens stop laying, (or cease to begin, in Henny's case). Getting desperate, I imagined all sorts of courses of action; giving her to someone who had other hens, setting her free in the dark of the night somewhere hospitable for such a creature, penning her up in a coop like other chickens. On New Years eve, I put her into the bunny hutch, the coop she was safely tucked away in every night when she was younger. After a night in there, she went berserk. She upturned her food and water, flapped her wings, ran the length of it over and over, clucked loudly and could not be ignored in her state of distress. What could I do? I am not entirely heartless, so I let her out, barking "Happy New Year, Henny" under my breath.
A few days after that, it started to rain. It rained heavily for two full days. The water had pooled in our back yard in some places, up to three inches. Everything was wet. The patio furniture was washed of the dry, caked on hen poop and the patio itself had been soaked and in it's puddled nature, preserved itself from any more pooping, at least while the rain lasted. It was a nice cleansing and made me feel a little better for the moment. The morning after the rain had stopped, I went out to check the flooded areas to assess the damage. From a distance, I could make out a light orb in a plastic bin holding a wet towel, something I had put out for the cats to safely rest in. I walked closer, in utter disbelief. It was an egg. It was pale green, and had smudges of dark fluid smeared across. At that moment, I felt as if I had never been so excited. I pounded on the window of the kids' room, motioning for them to come out. They had the same reaction I had had, making calls to grandmas and friends as if we were announcing the birth of a new baby boy, or that we had won the lottery.
The next day, I was out in my robe, poking around the cat house, a custom, three level, fifteen square foot residence I had designed and had built for our four cats while we remodeled our own house four years ago. I poked my head in to the lowest level, checking for evidence that the cats had recently been inhabiting the structure, and to my utter amazement, I found a stash of six more pale green eggs resting on a crumpled, dirty blanket. Again, I pounded excitedly on the window of the kids' room motioning for them to come out and look. They were awed. They were amazed. They were flabbergasted, and began the phone calls to all the important people again. This news was right up there with, " We're getting married." and "It's a GIRL!", even,
" WE WON!". I felt like we did win. Our chicken had lain ( I actually had to spend ten minutes with the dictionary open to the word /section, on the word lay to figure out the proper way to describe what had happened). I was still a little confused, but had to lay down my confusion and report the news as best as I could. Our little hen was now earning her keep, and pooping less, I'd like to add. We have been blessed with an egg a day since then and are perplexed by the mystery of the process. Henny has never been seen entering, exiting or existing at any time in the cat house. At night, she can be found perched atop the cat tree, which sports a bandini-type mountain of fecal matter below where her tail would be. I have checked for eggs each morning and have deduced through hypothesis and analysis, that Henny lays eggs sometime during the day, stealthily, as she has yet to be caught in the act. We are all grateful for her gifts and have a renewed appreciation for our pet, whom we may not get rid of after all.