The Hen: An Appreciation

Reading the fine book, On Writing Well, I came across this passage by E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web) about chickens, proving that nothing ever really changes:

From “The Hen: An Appreciation,” which is found in the book of essays, The Second Tree from the Corner, by E.B. White, 1944:

Chickens do not always enjoy an honorable position among city-bred people, although the egg, I notice, goes on and on. Right now the hen is in favor. The war has deified her and she is the darling of the home front, feted at conference tables, praised in every smoking car, her girlish ways and curious habits the topic of many an excited husbandryman to whom yesterday she was a stranger without honor or allure.

My own attachment to the hen dates from 1907, and I have been faithful to her in good times and bad. Ours has not always been an easy relationship to maintain. At first, as a boy in a carefully zoned suburb, I had neighbors and the police to recon with; my chickens had to be as closely guarded as an underground newspaper. Later, as a man in the country, I had my old friends in town to reckon with, most of whom regarded the hen as a comic prop straight out of vaudeville….Their scorn only increased my devotion to the hen. I remained loyal, as a man would to a bride whom his family received with open ridicule. Now it is my turn to wear the smile, as I listen to the enthusiastic cackling of urbanites, who have suddenly taken up the hen socially and who fill the air with their newfound ecstasy and knowledge and the relative charms of the New Hampshire Red and the Laced Wyandotte. You would think, from their nervous cries of wonder and praise, that the hen was hatched yesterday in the suburbs of New York, instead of in the remote past in the jungles of India.

To a man who keeps hens, all poultry lore is exciting and endlessly fascinating. Every spring I settle down with my farm journal and read, with the same glazed expression on my face, the age old story of how to prepare a brooder-house…

I do believe I have seen that exact same glazed expression on Erik’s face as he peruses Backyard Poultry Magazine.

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10 Comments

  1. I am enamored of hens. I noticed the poop…lol.

    My hens invited themselves through a door blown open by the hens. They were coming across the carpet to find me in the kitchen. Amazingly, they did not poop on the carpet. They all pooped on the doormat before they entered, the hen equivalent of cleaning shoes before coming indoors.

  2. What a treat! My hens get all excited when they see me come out. They are so sociable, and will carry on a conversation with me when I talk to them in “chickenese.” They’re so funny and fun. I just love them!

  3. Hi guys!!
    I’m so glad I found you, I had no idea you had a blog until today! I love to see posts about chickens, as they are my favorite part of our urban homestead. We have your books and absolutely adore them. We live in the city of Rochester, NY, and have been working at urban homesteading for a year now. We have a dozen chickens, a large veggie garden, and are working at getting bees and rabbits this summer! Every week we try to conquer more and more DIY creations. Right now we’re trying to cut down our grocery bill by baking all of our bread and snacks at home, as well as blenderizing all of our soap. I’m so excited to peruse your blog. Thank you for inspiring us to live out our dreams!

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