Let’s have a look at the hens. I mean, let’s have a proper look at them. They are such a mixture of the commonplace and the bizarre… They are homely, tame creatures and their appearance is the stuff of tea cosies and kitchen wallpaper but, once you get past this, you are confronted with something truly weird. When you look at them closely, you see, as Ryan says, the dinosaur in them. He points towards Quetzalcoatl and it is true: her head is raised with reptilian pride, her round eyes and sharp pupils seem as ancient as the world, they shine with the mystery and the detachment of prehistory.
We know that evolutionarily the hens are not so distant from dinosaurs. Embryologists tell us that, during their development inside the eggs, chicks actually start growing a tail, like that of dinosaurs, although the process soon comes to a halt and their stumpy tail regresses.
So they are dinosaurs, walking in the back garden on their hind limbs with saurian gait, spreading their three front digits on the ground, with regal clumsiness. That is the other thing about them: they could be queens or they could be paupers or peasants, the gleaners from a painting by Millet. In truth, they are not donned with crowns or head-dresses but they have combs, an anatomical adaptation that helps them to maintain their body temperature and gives an indication of their physiological status and health. Elsa’s has grown recently and has turned a deep red, a sign that she might soon start laying eggs.
They also have wattles, a soft, fleshy flap of skin under their chins. Their beaks are magnificent. They are hard and strong, and their two halves are joined in a flexible, downturned corner which gives them an expression of being always a bit angry. It amazes me how long their beaks are and how they are curved on their tip, a bit like those of raptors, perhaps because I grew up seeing hens whose beaks had been mutilated up to a third of their length. These poor hens were condemned to bear a puzzled expression, like grannies that have lost their false teeth. Sadly, beak trimming is a widespread practice in intensive farming, a cruel method to avoid that hens confined in small cages peck each other to death.
The ban on battery cages has come into force in January 2012. Intensive production will still continue but people are already choosing to buy eggs from kinder farms, while many others are opting for bringing the dinosaurs into their back garden, for their never ending joy.