We’ve had chickens for most of our marriage, so I’ve had chickens for over thirty years. They are messy, noisy, piggish, sometimes mean –think where the term henpecked came from-- so so dense, and they run like gawky, miniature Tyrannosaurus Rexes. Despite their character flaws, I love my girls, but one of them has me so puzzled right now.
We have a hen house with nesting boxes for the girls. Most of the time, they prefer to use the boxes when an egg laying urge hits. When they do this, life is easy for everyone. The girls have a comfortable and semi-private place to do the work necessary to deliver their eggs. Based on the size of one of the eggs every day, someone is doing way more work than the rest of the ladies so she really deserves some comfort. While this system is good for the girls, it also works well for me because I can take a bucket out about noon and toss the ladies and their rooster some feed and gather the accumulated cackle berries in the now empty bucket.
To make life interesting on occasion, one of the cackle crew tries to hide her eggs in the dog house or in a bucket under the cedars so we won’t collect them, but I understand. After all, she’s done a great deal of work to grow that good sized orb inside her and then eject it after some strenuous effort. One or two of the girls gets broody and wants to hatch her eggs so these are the usual suspects when we find eggs in odd places. We try to save these ladies a clutch of eggs and let them satisfy their need to hatch a brood of chicks at least once each summer.
Another time we get eggs in odd places is when we break triple digits. It gets a bit warm in the chicken house by mid-day, so often times late layers will take advantage of the shaded chiminea on my patio. The sand inside is cool and soft. The chiminea itself provides a perfect cavity to give the hen a little privacy, and she can lay her egg, announce her success, and hop out to sip a drink out of the bowl I keep on the patio for the girls. This still works for me because I usually see or hear the hen at work, so I check there for eggs as well.
This brings me to my oddest discovery ever. A friend recently asked me if eggs just fell out of hens where they were standing. “No,” I answered. “The girls know an egg is coming, and they have to work at laying it so they get somewhere comfortable for them.”
Imagine my surprise a few days after this conversation when I went out to fill the hens’ water bowls and discovered an egg at the bottom of the water dish. I know my hens will wade as they get a drink, but I can’t imagine what possessed one to lay her egg in the bowl. This must be the same girl who occasionally forgets to get in a nesting box and stays too long on the roost. The result is, of course, a splattered egg on the floor of the chicken house.
I have found eggs in the chiminea lately and under a cedar tree, but so far I have only found the one egg in the water bowl. Did that hen overhear my conversation with my friend and feel the need to humble me. After all, how can a mere human really understand the mind of a chicken?