“The Hen (An Appreciation)”

This is for all our chicken farmers and friends having a love affair with the hen. You are in good company.

“The Hen (An Appreciation)” written by E. B. White* in 1944 during World War II:

“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 been an easy relationship to maintain. At first, as a boy in a carefully zoned suburb, I had neighbors and police to reckon with; my chickens had to be as closely guarded as an underground newspaper. Later, as a man in the country, I had old friends in town to reckon with, most of them 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 keep 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….”

*Read more of E.B White:
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. (Elwyn Brooks) White has everything you like about a book. It has friendship, love and caring and more.

For more on chickens see A Basic Chicken Guide by Roy E. Jones (c) 1944

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22 thoughts on ““The Hen (An Appreciation)””

  1. Gary, thanks for this story. It sure helps me understand what is going on. Retro is big in all areas of our culture and now chickenfarmer has the edge on Retro in chicken hatching.

      1. Maybe the incubator is needed because Mama Chicken needs to fly the coop to go to work. She doesn’t have time to “SET Around” all day as in the “olden days”. In the 21st century, if you want to have enough “chicken scratch” & make ends meet, both the rooster & the hen have to work “outside the coop”. And maybe Chickenfarmer had better update her young charges & besides reading to them, give her chicks lessons on the computer!!

      2. Say, Sara, that comment might just be the inspiration I need to write another “smash” musical like FROGS. Ha Ha! Maybe something like: “CHICKEN LITTLE PLAYS THE FIDDLE” or “WHOSE AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD HEN?” or “THIS LITTLE CHICK OF MINE…I’M GONNA MAKE HER SHINE” (That would be the lead song).
        WOW! Thanks

      3. I learned this in school where I clean…they used an incubator when they are hatching eggs without the mother hen…if you have the hen you dont need the incubator….and besides that.. if you only have a rooster…the rooster wont sit on the eggs like the hen does……:)dj

      4. Hi, I grew up where my Dad ran a Hatchery. There were many incubators. These incubators were the size of a large closet with shelf after shelf of eggs. The temperature was set at a certain degree of temperature in order to hatch the eggs. It was so important that the temperature did not drop. My Dad had bells hooked up to the house which when the electricity went off, he was alarmed and he would immediately have to power up a generator so he would not lose the whole room of future chicks. After they were hatched, they were moved to another building where they had a metal like structures which were like apartment buildings for chicks. The temperature was kept again at a certain temperature. After they reached a certain age, we would place them in huge boxes which had four sections each. We would place approximately 12 to a section. After the whole building of these apartment like structures were boxed, my Dad would send them off to people who raised them for future food or for eggs. Sometimes we just moved them to another building where we did this and then later sold them to people who would slaughter them or raise them just for eggs.

  2. WOW, Gary that was awesome. That’s deep. Chickens and eggs have been around along time. You don’t have to live on a farm in the country to enjoy scrammble eggs and fried chicken. Thanks for the story. I’m going to print it out and read this to my chickens. This story may be talking about their grandchickens. Thanks again for that inspiring story.

    1. Do you have nice bleachers for us to sit on, while you read to your chickens?I want to see if this story will help your hens to lay some more eggs!!

      1. Now Needles you know I don’t have bleachers to sit on. I’ll round up Mr.Ed, my stray horse and someone can sit on his back. I also have some five gallon buckets we can turn upside down. It makes a great seat. You know in case I have a large crowd to come her me read poetry to my poultry.

  3. NOW I THINK WE ALL JUMPED THE GUN ON COW MILKING. I THINK WE NEED TO SUPPORT CHICKEN FARMER FOR HER DEDICATION TO THE CHICKENS. I BELIEVE WE SHOULD ALL GRAB OUR BLANKETS AND GATHER ROUND WHILE CHICKEN FARMER READS TO HER CHICKENS. THEN A MILKING WE SHALL GO!!!!!!!!

    1. Bring your blanket and some of those cookies you were baking. I don’t mind you coming to hear me read to my chickens. You probably need a break from holding the cow’s tail during milking class, anyway. You’ve got to be exhaused.

    1. My parents did have chickens for eggs and eating! Well that is until I was age 9. I think I need chickenfarmers’ farming seminar.

      1. Well Gary, I think we’ve got the cow milking seminar lined up, so I’ll begin to prepare a seminar for the chicken farming. I think that we all can learn something from a chicken. Don’t you?

  4. I didnt know that Chickens came from the jungles of India…this was a very interesting story…and I didnt know New York had Chickens..I always thought it was a place of tall buildings and no grass….so the picture of chickens living in tall buildings seems to be all my mind can come up with….dj

    1. Dorothy,
      I related too to the comment of chickens in NY. It reminded me of the fact that the home where I grew up had once been, a very long time ago, a chicken farm. It was before my father’s grandfather purchased the house, although he was very elderly when he did so. It was most likely still a chicken farm when my parents were children, but they both lived in the “city” as children. Today, there are still quite a few farms in New York, but you wouldn’t find any skyscrapers nearby.

    1. As you can see A Basic Chicken Guide by Roy E. Jones was published in 1944. The sad news is, I just found out, it is now out of print. I really can’t tell you my other sources on Chicken lore as I need them for the upcoming seminar on “Chicken Farming for Fun”.

      I have have a list of chicken myhts to dispel: for example for all you guys:

      Myth 1: A brooder hen is not a disgruntled wife.

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