I am convinced that there is great economy in keeping hens if we have sufficient room for them and a thorough knowledge of how to manage the fowl property. But to the professional man, who is not familiar with the habits of the hen, and whose mind does not naturally and instinctively turn henward, I would say: Shun her as you would the deadly upas tree of Piscataquis county, Me.
Nature has endowed the hen with but a limited amount of brain-force. Any one will notice that if he will compare the skull of the average self-made hen with that of Daniel Webster, taking careful measurements directly over the top from one ear to the other, the well-informed brain student will at once notice a great falling-off in the region of reverence and an abnormal bulging out in the location of alimentiveness.
Now take your tape-measure and, beginning at memory, pass carefully over the occiputal bone to the base of the brain in the region of love of home and offspring and you will see that, while the hen suffers much in comparison with the statement in the relative size of sublimity, reflection, spirituality, time, tune, etc., when it comes to love of home and offspring she shines forth with great splendor.
The hen does not care for the sublime in nature. Neither does she care for music. Music hath no charms to soften her tough old breast. But she loves her home and her country. I have sought to promote the interests of the hen to some extent, but I have not been a marked success in that line.
I can write a poem in fifteen minutes. I always could dash off a poem whenever I wanted to, and a very good poem, too, for a dashed poem. I could write a speech for a friend in congress–a speech that would be printed in the Congressional Record and go all over the United States and be read by no one. I could enter the field of letters anywhere and attract attention, but when it comes to setting a hen I feel that I am not worthy. I never feel my utter unworthiness as I do in the presence of a setting hen.
When the adult hen in my presence expresses a desire to set I excuse myself and go away. That is the supreme moment when a hen desires to be alone. That is no time for me to introduce my shallow levity, I never do it is after death that I most fully appreciate the hen. When she has been cut down early in life and fried I respect her. No one can look upon the still features of a young hen overtaken by death in life’s young morning, snuffed out as it were, like an old tin lantern in a gale of wind, without being visibly affected.
But it is not the hen who desires to set for the purpose of getting out an early edition of spring chickens that I am averse to. It is the aged hen, who is in her dotage, and whose eggs, also, are in their second childhood. Upon this hen I shower my anathemas. Overlooked by the pruning hook of time, shallow in her remarks, and a wall-flower in society, she deposits her quota of eggs in the catnip conservatory, far from the haunts of men, and then in August, when eggs are extremely low and her collection of no value to any one but the antiquarian, she proudly calls attention to her summer’s work.
This hen does not win the general confidence. Shunned by good society during life, her death is only regretted by those who are called upon to assist at her obsequies. Selfish through life, her death is regarded as a calamity by those alone who are expected to eat her.
And what has such a hen to look back upon in her closing hours? A long life, perhaps, for longevity is one of the characteristics of this class of hens; but of what has that life been productive? How many golden hours has she frittered away hovering over a porcelain door-knob trying to hatch out a litter of Queen Anne cottages. How many nights has she passed in solitude on her lonely nest, with a heart filled with bitterness toward all mankind, hoping on against hope that in the fall she would come off the nest with a cunning little brick block, perhaps.
Such is the history of the aimless hen. While others were at work she stood around with her hands in her pockets and criticised the policy of those who labored, and when the summer waned she came forth with nothing but regret to wander listlessly about and freeze off some more of her feet during the winter. For such a hen death can have no terrors.