Due to their vulnerability, the average life expectancy of a backyard chicken is only about three years, although with special protection and care it would not be unreasonable to expect them to live twice that long.
The chickens that end up as nuggets? Well, their days are numbered. The bottom line is, it is not easy to be a chicken.
It was the spring of 2005, when after running an errand I returned to my desk to find a box sitting there. My co-workers explained, “Tom Larkin left you a chicken.” Peering in the box I found a very mauled young chick. They added that Larkin had been driving down the road when he noticed dogs attacking this bird; he had rescued it and thought of me (great). So naturally I named her Larkin.
Larkin was in pretty bad shape, she spent her first few months in a cage in the house. As she re-“cooped” she spent some time watching television and I think she really enjoyed “Dancing With the Stars” — it was the first season but sadly no contestants ever danced the Funky Chicken.
I also had a new golden retriever puppy that was overly excited about the chickens outside, so when the puppy ate her dinner I put Larkin next to her to desensitize her. When the puppy got a little too close and Larkin pecked her on the nose a couple times, her interest in chickens waned.
Finally it was time for Larkin to go outside. It is never good to mix old and new chickens, that old pecking order thing is real; the hierarchical system of social organization in chickens with real pecking can sometimes get nasty. So Larkin got her own chicken condo. But, she was lonely so one day I took an egg from the other chickens and mixed it with Larkin’s eggs and soon Larkin Junior was born.
Larkin was a great mother, perhaps a little over zealous when teaching Junior how to scratch, sometimes scratching him up too, but she loved motherhood. Larkin and Junior even attended Family Literacy day at the Forks Library where the theme was Reading Is for the Birds.
One day when Larkin and Junior were free ranging, Junior disappeared. Several days later my golden retriever retrieved what was left of him. Larkin put on a brave beak and went on being a chicken. Then several days later, trouble.
There was commotion in the yard, ducks were scattering, then I saw the red-tail hawk, it swooped down at Larkin, she ducked, the ducks flew in the pond. The hawk came around again and this time Larkin flew and she landed in the middle of the pond with the ducks.
As I was running to observe her fate, the hawk took one more dive and missed. Larkin had survived the attack but she was in the middle of the pond that is over my head. I could imagine the headline, “Forks Woman Drowns Trying to Save Chicken.” I just watched, waiting to witness her death.
Then a miracle happened — she started to swim kind of a butterfly stroke, as I encouraged her from the shore, she swam right over to me. She had swum about 20 feet, I scooped her up and after getting dried off, she was back to the safety of her condo. I use to say, “when pigs fly” now I say “when chickens swim.”
Time passed and Larkin seemed lonely so I decided one day to test this pecking order thing and took her to the pen with the other chickens. I put her down on the floor of the chicken house, I figured I could pick her up if things got ugly, as the resident chickens came to check her out Larkin did the pecking, pecking order was established.
Larkin died one day in 2012, of natural causes, she was seven and a half — not bad for a backyard chicken.