According to a movie shown at the Science Museum a few years ago, birds are actually dinosaurs that survived mass extinction. This was hard for me to believe at first. As a chicken farmer, I know that dinosaurs inspire a sense of awe in people that chickens just do not. Crowds never gather to view chicken bones at the Science Museum, and preschoolers don’t reverently learn the names of different types of poultry.
After gathering eggs for several years now, I believe that chickens have been cheated out of some of the glory that is rightfully theirs as descendants of dinosaurs.
My hens’ eggs are timeless. Their perfect, rounded shape feels ancient and comforting. I know small child who calms down immediately if she can carry an egg around in her little palm, and I can relate to that feeling. However, we have 700 layers, so I can’t afford to get to meditative with my eggs.
I have to move quickly and focus hard so I don’t get clumsy and crack the shells. If I’m on my game, I can shift three or four eggs into familiar spaces between my palm and fingers and lift them gracefully. If conditions aren’t favorable, I can only grab one or two.
One of the most unfavorable conditions for gathering eggs is a fierce hen on the nest, but thankfully not all hens are fierce. When I slip my hand into the warm soft place between a hen’s feathery belly and the floor of the nest, a mellow hen will sit with dignity and croon at me.
A fierce hen will peck though. An exceptionally fierce hen will peck, grab skin in her beak, hold on to that skin, and pull as hard as she can. Hens like that make my husband wear gloves, but gloves annoy me while gathering eggs. Feeling with my fingertips helps me find the eggs that are tucked way back under a chicken. So in this very small area of life, I am quite valiant and bravely go up against the worst my little ladies can dish out.
I don’t mind it much actually. I understand the need to be a fierce mama sometimes. Using the sing-song voice I use to reassure pets, I tell my ferocious hen that she is such a brave dinosaur and then reach slowly under her, angling in hopes that she will grab my sleeve instead of my skin. My patronizing talk does nothing for the bird, but it helps me stay calm.
The hens talk to me too, except for the most serene birds, they sound prehistoric when I am gathering eggs. Picture a gaggle of enormous, hook-beaked dinosaurs hovering warily over a cluster of eggs. Imagine the guttural, unmelodious sounds that those creatures might croak at another animal that threatened their nest. This is what my chickens sound like.
It makes me grateful that they’re small, and I’m higher on the food chain. I’d feel the same way about dinosaurs.