Roy Green was a farmer. He had a little plot not far out of town where he specialised in growing greens for the local vegetarian restaurants. Although he sometimes varied his crops his staples were kale, bean sprouts and lentils. And because he was an organic farmer his products received a high premium when sold to his environmentally sensitive clientele.
Roy had married his childhood sweetheart, Betty, and she was an enthusiastic contributor to his farming endeavours. One of Betty’s roles was to look after the chickens. That wasn’t a demanding task because they only had a half dozen which they kept for their own egg consumption. Being true to their green ethos their chickens were free range. During the day they were given free access to various parts of the farm to forage as they desired. As well as the chickens the Greens kept a couple of milking goats. They were kept in a stall in their little barn. Like the chickens they were strategically allowed to browse some of the plots in between plantings.
The last hen that they had acquired was a gift from another local farmer, Peter, whom they had befriended. He assured them that the little red hen came from good stock and should be a reliable layer. The little hen was still somewhat immature and wasn’t yet laying. But Peter was adamant that after another month or so she should be regularly making a contribution of eggs to their small household.
Betty grew quite fond of their latest acquisition. She followed it around solicitously observing it as closely as she could. The little bird seemed quite happy in its new surroundings and seemed to grow attached to Betty, making amiable little clucking noises when Betty was near. “How goes my merry little hen?” Betty would ask in response.
One of the bird’s idiosyncrasies, Betty discovered, was that when the chickens were allowed out of their coop to forage amongst the crops the little red hen invariably went to the lentils. As a result she christened the bird her “lentil hen”. Thus when she came across her in the field she would say, “How goes my merry lentil hen?”
But after a while Betty became worried. There was no indication the hen was laying and it was well past the time that Peter had nominated. Roy was very taciturn when Betty broke this news to him.
“I know you love that little hen but we can’t afford to keep her if she doesn’t lay. Christmas is only a couple of weeks away, if she’s not laying by then I think she might need to be our Christmas dinner.”
Whilst Betty was somewhat appalled by this suggestion, as a true farmer’s wife she knew all their livestock were essentially factors of production and she couldn’t afford to get too sentimental about it. But in support of the little hen, she increased her surveillance hoping against hope that she might find evidence that the hen was indeed laying.
Then one day as she was tending the lentils Betty noticed the little hen wasn’t there. Shortly afterwards, the hen arrived. “Where have you been, little hen?” she mused. She thought little more of it. But the next day the hen was again missing. Now Betty was really intrigued.
On the following day when Betty let the hens out of their coop she determined to follow the little red hen to see where she went. Trailing her at a distance Betty watched the hen go to the barn. A short time later the hen emerged clucking merrily to herself.
Betty went in to the barn to investigate. She searched for fifteen minutes or so until she came to a dark corner at the very rear. Here she discovered a pile of straw, obviously emanating from what the goats had kicked out of their stalls. But when she looked closely, the clump of straw had been arranged in a regular way. She made a little gasp. It was indeed a nest! And when she bent down to examine it more closely, nestled inside were five eggs.
Seemingly, whilst the other hens were content to lay in the nests constructed in the hen coop, the little red hen preferred to lay outside in the safe confines of the barn.
In her excitement she called out, “Roy! Roy!”
Roy, who was working nearby, ran to the barn. “Betty,” he exclaimed, “Are you all right?”
“Oh, yes. I am fine my love, I just have something wonderful to show you.”
“What is it Betty?”
She gestured to the pile of straw. “This is the lentil hen’s nest. And see, it is full of eggs. Can we keep her now?”
“Yes, of course, dear. It is fitting we should keep such a productive little creature.”
Betty put her arms around Roy and hugged him. “I am so pleased,” she said.
Well it is no surprise that someone should write a Christmas song about a story as happy as this. Here is how it went.
God rest ye merry lentil hen
Let nothing you dismay
The farmer’s wife has found your eggs
Just nestled in the hay
And so you won’t be Christmas din
Now you’ve began to lay
Glad tidings from Betty and Roy
Betty and Roy
Glad tidings from Betty and Roy
[Now it is a true fact that this famous Christmas song is one of the very few Christmas songs written in a minor key. It was probably to acknowledge that the lentil hen was indeed a very young bird.]