For the first two years of Petunia’s life she laid eggs all spring and summer, about 400 of them. In her third year, she laid an egg every couple of days. She’s now six and I don’t know how often she’ll produce eggs this year. Maybe none. I got Marge at the same time that I got Petunia. She’s still as noisy as ever, but also not laying.
Buffy is five years old. Two years ago she was quite ill. I nursed her back to health – it took months – she now looks fine, but hasn’t laid an egg since she got sick.
Eleanor is six years old, and she spends her days basking in sunbeams. Her sister, Edwina is more active, but probably not going to lay many eggs this summer.
I’ve been thinking about my old hens, and it’s dawned on me that these are the first elderly chickens I’ve ever had. I don’t cull for productivity, and if a hen gets sick, I try to save her (even though it doesn’t make economic sense.) This morning, I went back through my records. I even made a chart to make sense of what has happened to my hens. I’ve had chickens since 1996. I’ve lost chickens to a vicious raccoon attack, to hawks and to disease. I was surprised to see that Eleanor and Edwina, Petunia and Marge are the most long-lived hens that I’ve ever had.
I like having old hens.
I like that I can recognize Marge’s buk-buk-clucking. I like seeing Eleanor laze about, her beady eye cocked up at me, clearly saying, I’m here and I’m not moving. So there. I like seeing how Buffy puts up with Lulu’s attempts at friendship. I know these hens. The chickens give me more than eggs. There’s something inexplicably satisfying about standing in the coop, early on a cold morning, tossing corn to the girls. They talk to me. I talk back. They go about their busy chicken day. I go back inside to mine, having gotten to a good start with the community in the coop.