As the sun starts to ease down the horizon behind the outdoor chicken coop our family of friendly birds come to the gate. They’re looking to come in for the night. There are currently seven of them and they crowd the exit cheerfully chirping. Chickens have no night vision so they are grateful each night to come in before it gets too dark and they express this with enthusiasm daily.
As we carry them inside their night coop they settle in our arms like a hug and stretch their necks forward as if navigating. They are very warm; the average chicken has a temperature of around 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and they are soft like Egyptian cotton blended with silk. They are thin under all those feathers and we can feel their heart beats. Carrying them into their night aviary every evening is a daily sacrament to love and wonder toward a species often overlooked by a meat-eating culture.
Gathering the birds in our arms, we see it at the back of the coop. Our chickens’ first egg sitting sweetly in a box all alone. Whoever laid the egg is chirping at the gate unconcerned. We, the humans, look at each other. What do we do?
We thought prior to seeing this first egg we would gather it up and give it away or sell it at a roadside stand. But now that the egg is here, a little orb representing chicken life, motherhood and the effort of one of our hens we can only see it as beloved. I’m swept up in grandmotherly love and immediately start dreaming of a baby bird.
Then another thought: our baby is laying eggs, does her life get harder now? Is she at ease about it? I don’t know who laid the egg and of course I don’t know if it has the small, invisible flicker of life in it.
I want to gather the chickens around me and tell some metaphorical tale of parenthood, the cycle of life and the importance of being joyful in all of our tasks related to new life.
I am aware that as an American I can afford all of these moments of reflection, conflict and awe. Organic food is plentiful for me, my family and our chickens. I can love these birds and their chicks without counting how many mouths we have to feed. We have space in the generosity of a Western landscape. We are lucky, the chickens and I.
We decide to leave the egg with the chickens and see what choices they make. The next morning we discover the egg goes with one of our smallest, plumpest little birds. Her name is Flower and she is a fluffy black improbable chicken with silk feathers which look like fur. She is short and stout like a little teapot and she is always the first one to hit the food dish. She has now laid two more eggs and has her two sisters, Rosemary and Dandelion, watching her eggs while she stretches her legs and wings and chows down on breakfast.
Everyone in the coop seems very excited. The two roosters are crowing loudly from the highest points on the roosting bars and boxes and the other hens not yet pressed into service can’t take their eyes of Flower’s eggs.
Who can resist the hope of new life?
We don’t know yet if Flower will be the mother of chicks. It’s unclear if her eggs are fertilized. But either way we are once again amazed by these brave birds and their easy yet thoughtful way of life.
A truly loving community can only do what it does with care. Flower has a built-in support system with her sisters and coop mates. The boys are crowing with pride. Happy the rooster is giving daily lectures, long complicated talks with so many high and low tones and repeated phrases that he sounds like an orator. I wonder if the young rooster believes whatever he is saying or is just riffing. His communication sounds like a celebration.
Chickens who do not have a good chance of survival, who most likely will never see their third birthday, remain hopeful and in love with even the possibility of life.
With chickens as my teacher I am learning to understand life in the same way. I am smiling at the thought of being a great grandmother to a new, baby chicken.
More from Julie: Hearty No Chicken Pot Pie