Oct 28, 2020–I tried to give some co-workers a dozen eggs last week, but they didn’t want them.

Turns out they all had hens of their own, and were scrambling to give away eggs as well. There is no clearer illustration of how chicken ranching has swept the nation… again.

Like making sourdough and playing banjo, raising hens in the backyard enjoys cyclic surges in popularity for no obvious reasons.

But it makes sense. Hens are the closest creatures we have to shmoos.

For those who don’t remember when the Sunday funnies were funny, shmoos were mythical livestock created by Al Capp for his Lil Abner strip. They were like an HEB for hillbillies. They gave milk, laid eggs, loved to be eaten, tasted like any food desired, and reproduced at an astonishing rate.

Hens are not far removed. They provide eggs, meat, bones for broth, feathers for pillows and pens. They subsist on table scraps and food waste. They serve as pest control, pecking up a smorgasbord of pests including grasshoppers, crickets, termites, even spiders and scorpions.

Even their waste is useful. Chicken manure is great for the garden. And when you dig it up, you find earthworms for fishing.

Flocks of chickens are also nature’s perpetual motion machines, defying the laws of thermodynamics. They self-perpetuate, with each hen reproducing a nest full of hatchlings to replace themselves.

Chickens are the ultimate in livestock portability. Sure, cows give milk, meat, and leather, and sheep add wool for clothing. But try sticking a cow in a covered wagon, or putting a randy billy goat in the back seat of the family minivan. As our forebears streamed over the Oregon Trail, every family carried along crates of chickens, which fed and comforted them on a trek that would one day become a classic video game.

You’ll find the ultimate proof of the human-chicken bond in our language. Here is just a short list of chicken-related sayings, which everyone understands even if they haven’t raised their own fowl:

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

Madder than a wet hen

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Feather your nest

Fox in the henhouse

Scratching out a living

Scarce as hen’s teeth


Flew the coop

Waking up with the chickens

Walking on eggshells

Like a chicken with its head cut off

Shake a tail feather

Pecking order

And then there are those eternal chicken-themed philosophical questions:

Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
Answer: The egg. A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg–Samuel Butler

Why did the chicken cross the road?
Answer: To prove to the armadillo it could be done.

The great philosopher Homer Simpson even cited the chicken as the key to peace in the Middle East: “Let us celebrate our commonalities. Some of us don’t eat pork. Some of us don’t eat shellfish. But all of us eat chicken.”

So if you are considering raising your own flock, now is as good a time as any to go ahead and count those chickens.

Meanwhile, do you need any eggs?