This story came from a local chicken lover here in California. The hen involved was a Gold Laced Sebright bantam like the ones at top right, from Lewis Wright's Illustrated Book of Poultry, reprinted by Dr. J. Batty in 1983. The lower ones are Silver Laced Sebrights.
When we bought our current home seven years ago, one rooster, seven hens, and a medium sized coop came with it. I had no idea then how much I would come to enjoy raising chickens.
A couple of years after moving in, we decided to remodel. It was time to move the chickens from just outside the back door to a spot down by the barn. Up until that time, all that had been required of me was to make sure there was plenty of feed and water when I opened the coop door each morning, and collect the eggs when I closed it up at night. The chickens did the rest.
One bright morning, I let them out as usual, but then started disassembling the coop for the move. As I carried the pieces down to the barn and started reassembling their home, the always curious chickens seemed very interested, but also pretty confused. Whenever they followed me down the hill, they seemed to recognize the coop itself, but seemed quite taken aback upon they're return to the now empty coop site. The newly uncovered bugs would distract them for a time, but they'd always return to their futile search for what had been so familiar.
At one point that afternoon, I noticed one of the hens inside the new coop up on a roost that was about six feet high. It was odd that she was up there so early in the day, but the poor birds were exhibiting many odd behaviors that afternoon. What really caught my attention was movement -- on her backside! More accurately, the movement I saw was her backside. It was so strange to my eyes that it took me several moments to realize what I was seeing. There were these strange concentric circles that kept appearing and disappearing, alternatively growing in size and then shrinking.
I was baffled and mesmerized for what seemed like minutes, but couldn't have been more than a very few seconds. I was just starting to turn back to my work when the realization hit me. Luckily, the coop door was propped open because I suddenly dove through the doorway with my hand held open, my arm extended like a centerfielder about to make the game-saving catch, my eyes focused on nothing but the ball -- the ball? The ball turned out to be an egg.
Yes, the poor, confused girl had laid an egg six feet up. And this poor, startled boy had caught it about halfway down its decent to destruction. I was so proud of myself as I stood up and dusted myself off, but all that was nothing compared to the joy that overtook me as I realized that I'd actually witnessed an egg being laid!
Not only had I watched the hen push the egg out, but my own eyes had seen that final protective membrane wrap itself around the egg as it exited. I felt and still feel extremely privileged to have been bestowed such an honor.
As dusk disappeared the daylight, it was time to put the poultry to bed, but I had one more lesson to learn that day -- chickens, determined creatures of habit, do not herd well and neither do I!
Thanks, Louie. Sara raised the question as to that final protective wrap. Louie sent additional information as follows:
As you know, a chicken egg is a potential embryo with several layers of protection and nutrition surrounding it. There is abundant information available about the structure of eggs and about each of the layers -- almost. There is one layer that is just about impossible to find information about. It is the very last one, the layer that surrounds the shell itself.
This relates to the ongoing debate among backyarders about the importance of washing eggs soon after they are gathered. The egg factories, of course, insist that eggs must be washed and sanitized. But there are those that believe this is a mistake, that nature can do a better job than we.
I tended toward this latter group, but remained unsure -- until that day when the hen laid an egg in the air. As the egg exited the vent, I watched as it was wrapped in a moist film of the hen's making. The extremely clean egg got that final wrapping just a moment before it dropped. I expected the egg to then be wet in my hand, but it wasn't. It was as if the shell instantly absorbed the moisture.
Since that experience, I strongly believe it is very important to keep nests clean, collect eggs often, and then not so important to wash eggs before storage. It seems to me that washing probably removes that outermost layer and helps bacteria move through the shell into the egg. If an egg obviously needs to be cleaned, I will scrape dirt off as I collect it, but then wash it only immediately before use.