Last month I was asked to do a Tillie Lays an Egg Storytime for a special group of preschoolers. These children either wear cochlear implants, or have siblings that do. Their parents were having a much-needed night out at a hearing loss conference, and I was there to keep the little ones engaged at the end of a long and busy day. The children wore pjs and sat on blankets. One girl wore pink CIs that matched her pajamas. I wish that I could color-coordinate my CIs and outfits!
I couldn’t bring a hen to the hotel, so I brought a few stand-ins. Everyone talked chicken and one boy even knew a chicken dance!
It was a fun evening,
but all too soon it was bedtime. There were a few children saying cluck, cluck cluck on their way to sleep that night!
I have two leghorns. One is big, one is little.
They often forage together.
One is better at catching worms. They might be friends, but they don’t share.
You can tell a lot by looking at a hen’s head. Young laying hens will have full red combs and shiny eyes with an inquisitive glint. Sick hens will have darker, muddier-colored, often deflated combs and glassy eyes. Old hens have their own look.
Edwina has always been a sturdy, no-nonsense hen. She has managed to reach the ancient age of eight, and although slower and no longer laying eggs, she remains as sturdy and no-nonsense as ever. Much to her chagrin, she is no longer the boss hen. Her comb, though not bright red, is full and still has color to it. This is a hen who knows what’s what.
Twinkydink has also survived past her eighth hatchday. Most chickens don’t, but she has; perhaps this longevity is due to her steady temperament and naturally strong constitution. Lately, though, her comb has turned a dull, almost grey color and has shriveled up. I don’t see any other external signs of decline. Hens like Twinkydink don’t let on to weakness until the end is very near. However, I’m sure there must be major internal changes for her comb to look so pale. She’s lived beyond a normal lifespan, and so I’ll let her be to leave it on her own terms. It could be quite awhile. Or not. You never know with old hens.
The other day she spent an afternoon free-ranging with her flock. Twinkydink took a sun bath while the others ran hither and yon. Then she had a walk-around, foraging on grass. Steady as she goes. No wonder she’s survived so long. The younger hens like to graze near her. I think that Twinkydink, who used to be a bully, has taken on the role of the wise old hen. Which just goes to show that personal transformations can happen at any age, and it’s good to stay open to changes in your companions.
In children’s books, roosters say cock-a-doodle-doo! and hens say cluck!. At least, that’s the way that chicken talk is written in most American storybooks. There are plenty of variations, from buk-buk to chuck-chuck – sort of like regional dialects of chicken language. I’d never seen tac-cut written down until I came across this coffee can that is now in my collection. I keep pens in it on my bedside table. It’s a charming image to wake up to. Said out loud, tac-cut tac-cut does sound like a hen clucking. Was the coffee named for the sounds, or did some adman come up with the hen logo with the thought that the brand name sounded like a hen clucking?
There are plenty of coffee cans with images or roosters crowing wake-up calls, but this is the only one that I know of with a hen.
In any event, I’ve been collecting what hens say around the world. I’m told that in Turkey, a chicken says biak-bik-bik, and that in the the Dominican Republic a flock sounds like this: cocoteeecoco. What do hens say in your neck of the world?
This week I stopped in at the nursing home to look in on the hens. I’d heard that one of the girls had laid an egg and that all was well, but I wanted to see for myself. I noticed that there were vegetable treats in the run. That was good. When the hens saw me, they walked up to the fence to say hello. That was good, too. Inside, the coop had clean pine shavings bedding, and the waterer and pellet dispense were full.
While I was checking the inside of the coop, Clementine, the friendliest Buff Orpington that I’ve ever known, checked me out. She let me stroke her back. Obviously, these hens were getting plenty of attention and care!
As I was leaving, the window to the memory loss activity room slid open and a woman called me over. It was Linda, one of the wonderful women who care for the residents. She told me that when they were informed that Life Care was getting chickens, she was skeptical. Bad idea, she thought, one more thing to take up our time. But, then she fell in love with the hens. She’s now the primary caregiver. She’s the one who brought out tubs of ice for them during the heat wave. She brings out kale from the kitchen. The chickens make her day better, and that enables her to have the patience that she needs for her difficult job. She watches the folks in rehab work hard to walk over to the coop to visit with the hens. She sees the grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) of the residents happy to be there because there are chickens to look at. Clementine, of course, is her favorite hen.