A special moment as an ex-bat finally learns to sing…
Hens’ egg songs
Before I had my girls, I never knew that chickens sang an egg song - that daily vocal celebration of the arrival of their egg - and was initially quite alarmed by the noise they made after the Great Event. But now, hearing their melodious masterpieces is as much a part of our morning routine as de-pooing the coop and hanging up their cabbages. Each girl has her own special egg song and even if I am inside the Human Coop I know exactly who is singing. Iona, for example, spends a long time doing her “I am going to lay an egg” song running in and out of the coop, and then her “I am laying my egg” song, followed by a lengthy and loud “I have laid my egg” song. It is a good job our neighbour is deaf.
But something I have noticed is that new ex-bats do not sing. Their egg laying is a very quick and mechanised process, something not really to be shouted about. Commercial hens never see their eggs when they are laid, so are denied the right to sit on them, tenderly tucking them under their breast, experiencing the feelings of motherhood if only for a moment. My M girls, for example, initially laid very quickly, leaving the nest box immediately, without so much as a murmur. However, as they observed and heard the older girls, they started to change, taking a little longer over the whole laying process and sitting awhile on the egg after it was laid – something that must have felt quite marvellous. Inspired by the other hens, Miffy, Margot and Martha all quickly adopted an egg song, albeit with varying degrees of success, but a song it most certainly was. However, little Milly, bottom of the pecking order, didn’t follow her sisters’ example and remained silent throughout. However, one morning, I heard what I thought was a chicken being strangled and rushed outside only to see my sweet Milly proudly descending from the nest box, singing her little heart out. It might not have been the most tuneful egg song in the world but Milly had finally decided her egg was a thing of beauty and was rightly very proud of herself.
But she was not just celebrating her egg, she was celebrating her freedom. No longer was she a by-product of a commercial system, now she was a unique and extraordinary chicken; she had a name, she was loved, she had laid her marvellous egg in the comfort and privacy of a nest and she wanted to tell the whole world about it.
Her egg song may still need a little practice so it sounds more like a sonata than a strangulation but Milly has a long retirement ahead of her to perfect her song. So sing loud and proud darling girl.
“She was not just celebrating her egg, she was celebrating her freedom” ABOVE AND BELOW LEFT: Jo Barlow’s ex-bat hen Milly