Wednesday, March 24, 2010
George the Ancient Chicken
George is laying eggs. She is nine years old—an ancient hen. I had my suspicions a week or so ago when I let them out of the coop and she went into halt-and-hover mode, spreading her wings for her chicks to hide under (never mind that there has never been a chick hatched from her eggs). It was confirmed on Monday when I was working in the yard. I did a quick head count and George was missing. When I checked the nest box, there she was, glaring at me like I had just opened the outhouse door on her. “Can’t you see I’m busy,” she said.
George is a notoriously slow layer. She likes to sit on nest for two or three hours, contemplating the meaning of her eggs before she actually lays them. This was not a problem when we only had two chickens. Myrtle would wait. Sometimes she would stand on the perch and holler loudly, playing Labor Coach, but there was space and time for both in the Preferred Nesting Area. Now we have five chickens and there can be a bit of a back-up in the coop. On Monday, three chickens were pacing around near the coop, squawking away like small children who have to pee, waiting for George. One stood on the perch and yelled loudly. Another gave up and dug a temporary nest in the corner of the coop. An hour later, George leapt down from the nest and announced her feat to the world. “I am STILL Boss Chicken around here,” she proclaimed to the entire neighborhood. I gathered five eggs that day.
According to all of the hippie chicken books I’ve collected, hens stop laying after three or four years. That is why we took in Gracie, the Houdini of chickens. Rachel had to give her away because she kept escaping into the neighbor’s yard—a fact she neglected to mention as she praised the laying qualities of Red Star chickens. George and Myrtle were growing older and I wanted eggs. When Myrtle died two winters later, we acquired Herma. “Three is enough,” Mark said, when I talked about raising chicks, a year ago.(I had gotten hold of a chicken catalog…) “But George is old,” I reasoned. “She’s going to die soon. I’ll get one chick.” “You can’t get one chick. What if the cats ate it?” Mark replied, leaving open the gate to raise two. So here we are. Five chickens. Both peeps lived; they never even glimpsed a cat’s tooth. George is still alive and laying. Even Gracie, who turned rooster-y last summer when the peeps threatened her position, is laying again. Five chickens= five eggs in the springtime. I think I’ll be leaving free eggs on my neighbor’s doorsteps soon….