Our chickens are getting old.

They’re long in the beak, over the hill, past their prime. They’re no spring chickens.

The most obvious clue is the dwindling egg supply. In their heyday, our seven birds delivered almost three dozen eggs a week. Now, two years into their lifespan, we don’t get that much in a month. But it’s not just that they’re empty nest-boxers; they’re showing other signs of incipient decrepitude.

They move more slowly and less often. They hunker down in spots where they never hunkered before. They seem needier, hanging out by the kitchen door and bagawking. And they look looser, frayed around the edges. They don’t have the firm, alert bearing of a healthy young chicken.

It could be our imagination, but Kevin and I think our hens have some kind of instinctive understanding of what the brooder in the garage is there for. They can’t see the chicks that will be their replacements, but they can hear and smell the unmistakable signs of new lives. Perhaps that’s accelerating their decline.

This is a stark and timely reminder of what females are here on this earth to do. Our one and only job is to perpetuate whichever species we happen to be a member of. Once we can no longer do that job, nature is through with us, and it’s downhill from there.

That’s where our chickens are, and I feel their pain. We are, all eight of us, at the same place in our respective lifecycles. Their combs droop. My waist thickens. They mope around and look bedraggled. I sweat at night and menstruate at random. They lose weight and I gain it, but we’re not so different, the chickens and I.

I’m just glad there’s not an 18-year-old in a brooder in the garage.

17 people are having a conversation about “Aging

  1. Nature, I think, provides the ability to deliver young. Other abilities, including the ability to nourish the garden throughout one’s lifetime, and after are inherent as well. Are humans blessed with the ability/responsibility to garner some portion of various plants and animals? Perhaps.

    But I think the thinking part of mankind, the social and cultural heritages we enjoy, are the fruit of parents, male and female alike, in raising children.

    Chickens are often raised independently of generations of wisdom, so it is problematic to wonder if indeed hens raising chicks impart significant knowledge as well as being a safety guard.

    And perhaps the presence of the chicks is triggering a hormonal event similar to molting or brooding, where the hen is diverted from laying eggs to raising chicks.

    My third-year brown hen is showing more white on her than before, and the shells on her eggs have been as irregular as the frequency of the eggs, this last year or more. But I don’t notice any slowing.

  2. You describe the aging hen perfectly (them and us). I never produced kids, so I would have been in the cull heap long before my current decline.

    On my 40th birthday my husband put in my card that I’m worth two 20 year olds. I hope he’s not thinking about making an exchange.

  3. Ai yi yi- an eighteen-year-old brooder. What a thought! Good thing I happen to know mine could not keep up with an eighteen year old. I don’t think I’m in any imminent danger, but that could change very quickly if I don’t get off my fat ass right now and go feed my husband his breakfast….

  4. I see we all feel our age, no matter what age that happens to be.

    Jen and Tovar, the thought of trading me in for two 24-year-olds has definitely passed through Kevin’s head, but then I cook a meal he particularly likes and he starts thinking of other things (Paula, you and I are operating under the same assumptions, I think).

    Brad, my chickens are raised without benefit of any wisdom whatsoever! And it’s the power of millenia of domestication that have seem them through. Yours may be aging more gracefully than mine because you seem to have a particularly benevolent and nurturing attitude about livestock. If I die and come back as a chicken, I think I’d do well to be one of yours.

    Margaret — I appreciate your sticking up for my chickens, but I’m afraid the Cone of Silence it is. Excpet maybe Blondie, who may get a special Pet Exemption. In general, our chickens are livestock. Once they don’t produce, it’s into the stewpot. Would I like the great chicken god to do that to me? Absolutely not. Which is why I am profoundly grateful to have been born human, and in charge of making all the decisions about the Cone of Silence.

  5. Poor chickens. But that’s the cycle of life.

    BTW I am not allowing my husband to read this particular post, even though it’s well-written and thought provoking. I don’t want him getting the idea of replacing me with an eighteen-year old brood hen!

  6. I highly recommend Khaki Cambell ducks. They lay productively for 5 years, which is obviously 3 years longer than hens, so fewer visits to The Cone. Also, they lay 300-325 eggs per year, which is also far more than most hens and each egg contains about 20% more protein. All on similar amounts of layer pellets. One more added benefit, ducks do not need a shed, roosts, egg boxes, etc. A simple 3’x3’x4′ box will suffice for 4-5 ducks.

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