We’ve raised chickens most of our marriage, so that’s thirty years of learning to understand feathered, cackling females. I can confirm this species is messy, noisy, piggish, and sometimes mean –which explains the term henpecked. They’re also dense and run like gawky, miniature Tyrannosaurs. Despite their character flaws, I love my girls. However, one of them has confused me.
Our chicken house contains nesting boxes that our ladies use when the egg laying urge strikes. When they utilize these semi-private cubicles, life is easier for everyone, including me. It aids in keeping track of who’s producing and who’s off schedule. I can quickly see who’s performing well.
Based on recent collections, one overachiever is showing up other layers. With such grand orbs, she deserves any luxury we can provide. This hen and her hard working friends appreciate the bucket of feed I deliver at noon for them and their rooster. For efficiency’s sake, I gather their deposits—large and small--in my newly emptied pail.
Making life interesting on occasion, one of the cackle crew hides her daily delivery in the doghouse or under a cedar where I can’t find it. While the game of discover the hidden egg is time consuming, I understand. That lady worked hard to grow the equivalent of a double ping-pong ball inside her and then eject it.
One explanation I’ve come up with for these secretive types is that one or two get broody and want to hatch their clutch. These are the usual suspects when I find eggs in odd places so I save these gals a half dozen eggs during early summer to satisfy their mothering instincts. The bonus is later watching hens herd spindly-legged fluff balls.
Another time we get eggs in odd places is when temperatures top triple digits. Without air-conditioning or fans, the chicken house is stifling by mid-day. Often, late layers take advantage of the chiminea on my shaded patio. The cool sand inside the rounded cavity provides a perfect spot for the hen to lay her egg, announce her success, and hop out to sip from the bowl I keep nearby for thirsty creatures. This works for me because I see or hear the hen and find her treasure.
This brings me to my oddest discovery ever. A friend recently asked if eggs ever fell out of hens where they were standing. “No,” I answered. “The chicken knows an egg is coming and gets somewhere comfortable to perform her duties.”
Imagine my surprise a few days after this conversation when I went to fill the hens’ water pans and discovered an egg lying at the bottom of the rubber container. I know my hens sometimes wade as they drink, but I can’t imagine what possessed one to unload in that spot. This must be the same girl who occasionally stays too long on the roost, resulting in a splattered egg.
I recently found oval treasures in the chiminea and under a cedar tree, but so far, I have only found one in the water bowl. Did that hen overhear the conversation with my friend and need to humble me? Who knows? Can a human ever understand a chicken brain?