Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Surprise

“Here are our hens,” I said sweeping an arm toward the chicken run.
“They’re beautiful,” my friend Shawna said. I smiled.
“They’re big,” my friend Ellory said. I beamed.
“How many eggs are they laying?” they asked. I slumped.
“None.”


At Christmastime Mr. Wonderful got these hens for one reason: to have home-raised, organic eggs. Now just before Easter we had two adult chickens who ate quarts of organic feed, bushels of fresh fruits and a never-ending supply of garden vegetables. Without producing any eggs. To say I was having doubts about this fowl decision was an understatement. 

“The hens need to start laying eggs,” I said stirring my tea.
“They will,” Mr. Wonderful said downing an espresso in two jolts of his wrist.
“When?”
“When they’re ready,” he said jumping in his car to drive to the studio to work on the weekend again. Alone on a Saturday I made a few phone calls but was interrupted by a commotion from the chicken run.

Squawk! Squawk! Rushing out to see who—or what—was threatening our hens, I saw our fat black and white Barred Rock chicken strutting around the run like she owned the place. Squawk! Squawwwwwwk! It was Pilgrim making all the noise, which I thought was pretty surprising… for a hen.

Then Pilgrim flapped her wings and landed on the roof of the coop. She opened her beak and continued the cacophony. Squawk! Squawk! She was crowing from the roof of the coop, which I thought was pretty surprising… for a hen. Picking the bird up I returned her to the ground where our other fat hen, Honey, was happily devouring a head of fresh lettuce.

But Pilgrim refused to be grounded. She flapped back up to the roof and crowed repeatedly. Squawk! Squawk! Squawk! I thought this was extremely surprising… for a hen. Then it hit me. Perhaps Pilgrim wasn’t a she, but a he? If Pilgrim were a rooster it would explain why we didn’t have any eggs yet since 50% of our adult flock was biologically incapable of laying eggs.

I marched over to the local Fowl Whisperer with the bad news.
“What’s wrong?” our 85 year-old neighbor said opening her front door.
“We have a rooster, Norma,” I said running a hand through my hair. 
“No”
“Oh, yes. We’ve been raising a barren rooster.”
“… All roosters are barren.”
“That’s not what we signed up for!” Norma’s bright blue eyes took pity on me. Grabbing a pair of sunglasses she propped them in front of her reading glasses and pulled the front door closed. “Show me.”

In our backyard, I pointed at the offending black and white fowl. 
She shook her head. “That’s bird’s too fat to be a rooster.” 
“It’s fat because it’s been eating an organic all-you-can-eat smorgasbord for three months.”
“The comb on her head is too small for a rooster.”
Just them Pilgrim flapped up to the coop’s roof again. Squawk, Squawwwwk!
“It’s even crows like a rooster.”
“Hens make noise once they’ve laid an egg.” 
I opened the side compartment to the coop and showed her the interior. “There isn’t an egg to squawk about,” I mumbled. 
“Well,” Norma said crossing her arms. “Chickens do make noise right before they lay their first egg.” 
I raised my eyebrows. “Chickens also make a lot of noise when they are roosters.”
“She’s a hen, ” Norma said retreating to her house. “Just be patient.”

The next morning over breakfast I informed Mr. Wonderful that Pilgrim was a rooster. My spouse exited to the chicken run to check on his flock.  He returned a minute later.
“What do you think of your rooster?” I said pulling bread from the toaster.
“Surprise!” he said revealing a tan egg in his palm.
I dropped the toast. “He laid an egg? He’s a she!” I squawked. “She laid an egg!” I squawked again. And if I could flap up to the roof I’d squawk some more. What a surprise! OUR HEN LAID AN EGG! SHE’S A SHE! BEST SURPRISE EVER!