Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: Aspiring house hen expands her range

MONIQUE

I knew our hen Monique was different from other birds. 

But if you had told me when we got her two years ago that she would one day start coming into the house every morning to lay an egg, I would have laughed and said, “Yeah, right. Don’t be ridiculous.”

Yet here we are.

Backyard chickens are, for the most part, indifferent to people. At best, they’ll come to you if you have treats, and a select few will eat out of your hand. But if you want a hen with a distinct personality, you’re going to have to interview a hundred before you find one. 

A couple of hens I’ve had for more than a year still don’t trust me. While they’ll approach me if I have food for them, they behave as though, instead of tossing them seeds like I always have, this time I might switch it up and throw a live grenade.  

Monique, however, is chill. She’s a generic-looking red production hen who was around six months old when she joined our little free-range flock. From the beginning, she showed an interest in us as people, not just as food sources. Outdoors, she was quick to help out, whether that meant handing me clothespins when I hung out laundry or measuring the boards Mark was cutting for our deck.

When I work from home on the back porch during warmer weather, Monique insists on keeping me company, usually perching on the arm of my chair. Like most of us these days, however, she is fascinated with screens. So sometimes she’ll hog my phone, whether it’s to watch TikTok or to play games (Angry Birds, mostly).

LIKE MOST OF us these days, Monique is fascinated with screens. Sometimes she’ll hog Mark’s phone, whether it’s to watch TikTok or to play games.

She also likes my laptop and enjoys “improving” my writing with a series of well-placed pecks on the keyboard. I don’t mind her occasional editorial suggestions, but more than once she’s tried to delete entire files. Monique is a harsh critic. 

Eventually, hanging out on the porch wasn’t enough for her. She figured out that Mark and I have a separate life in the house. Any time we’d leave the sliding door open, such as to run in and grab a spatula while grilling, she’d slip inside to explore our natural habitat.

Looking back, I know we should have kicked her out right then. Instead, we took pictures. A chicken inside the house? Hilarious.

She learned that if she pecked on the glass door, we’d open it to throw out treats. And while her flock mates focused on snapping up bits of bread, she would shoulder her way past us into the kitchen. 

These drop-ins grew more regular, until by this past winter it became an almost daily occurrence for her to come inside and sit on Mark’s knee while he drank his morning coffee. 

I was delighted. But also apprehensive. “Can I tell people about this?” I asked Mark.

On the one hand, I said, we find Monique’s indoor visits charming. But maybe, just maybe, normal people would not welcome a hen into their homes, no matter how entertaining she was. What we thought of as quirky, others might find appalling. Even gross. 

Mark considered both sides of the issue and came to a thoughtful conclusion: “Who cares what those people think?” 

That was good enough for me.

MONIQUE THE CHICKEN is quick to help out, like here, where she helps Mark drill the boards for our deck.

Last week, Monique took further advantage of our hospitality. After wandering around downstairs, clucking and peering into dark corners and behind furniture, she settled into the dog’s bed under my office desk. She sat there for 20 minutes, then squawked a bit before getting up and marching to the door. When repeatedly glancing at her watch and sighing audibly didn’t get my attention, she tapped the glass to be let out.

Several hours later, I discovered that she had laid an egg.

This was not, as we first thought, an accident; on seven of the last eight mornings, she has come into the house and, after making perfunctory small talk with us in the kitchen, headed for the office and laid an egg under my desk.

It is now part of her daily routine. And, I suppose, ours.

One of my friends warned me that if we weren’t careful, Monique would end up as a house chicken. “The way it’s going,” she said, “in a few months, she’ll be roosting on your headboard at night.”

“Yeah, right,” I said, laughing. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

In other words, we’ll see what happens.

—————

I caught Monique’s morning routine on video.

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