Hen Morning

“Long time no see.” Sam grinned, opening a shiny Land Rover door. “Hop in.“
Jealousy bubbled.
We bumped down a track to a long silver hangar, ominous in the early morning mist. Just inside were pallets loaded with blue trays, each containing thirty pristine brown eggs. Sam guessed my thoughts. “Seven hundred and fifty dozen per pallet!”
We entered an enormous, gloomy space occupied by a moving brown sea. A strange sound went up, as if a footballer had missed a penalty in front of a stadium full of ghosts.
Brown, white-tailed hens filled every inch, bright red combs bobbing and inquisitive eyes darting.
“Seven and a half thousand!” said Sam, opening panels in the wall. “Free range!”
The hens laid their eggs in small aluminium ‘houses.’ Eggs rolled down rubber mats onto one of two conveyor belts. One had jammed, hence my presence.
Having fixed the belt, I noticed few birds outside. Some hovered at the exits. The vast majority hadn’t moved, though.
“Why don’t they go out?”
Sam smiled. “Because they’re thick. Some never go out in the flock’s lifetime.”
“How long’s that?”
“One year.”
“What happens then?”
Sam’s mobile rang. “Excuse me.”
I realised that I really didn’t want to know.

Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories

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5 thoughts on “Hen Morning

  1. Perfect cocktail of description, dialogue, and action. Thanks for this cool story! I was so into it, I thought I smelled the coop (or does he call it the free range motel?)

    1. Thanks, really pleased you enjoyed it! I believe it’s called a ‘barn’, although they are more like aircraft hangars! There was another one a few hundred metres away, so 15,000 birds in total. A lot of eggs being produced and the flow never stops! The smell is hard to describe (I can’t remember it now) but not unpleasant. The birds seem quite friendly, which is what flavoured the ending…

    1. Hi Ellen, glad you enjoyed the story! As you may have guessed, it was a true story, based on a morning I spent at a local ‘egg farm’ recently. The owner said they were ‘free range’, so as you suggested, that must be because “they have access to the outdoors.” I’ve seen that on egg cartons sometimes but never knew what it meant. In fact they have access to a large yard and woods beyond, so a fantastic area for foraging, they just don’t realise it!
      In 200 words I didn’t have time to say that they learn to come back to the lights in the hangar when it starts to get dark. The lighting is all controlled in length and intensity to get the maximum number of eggs.
      Also, I learnt they are called ‘layers’ and are minced up for pet food and chicken paste etc. The ones you enjoy in curry are ‘broilers’ or ‘spring chickens’.
      I’m not sure how he could know that some didn’t go out as they all look the same and aren’t marked in any way. I suppose that previous flocks have shown that behaviour as these had only been there for a couple of weeks.
      So all that was new to me. Not sure how well it came across but, of course, there was an allegorical aspect to the story!

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