We have entered the micro-season of “The Chicken Lays Her First Eggs”. This is the third micro-season of the mini-season Major Cold. All the micro-seasons within Major Cold are:
- The Giant Butterbur Flowers (Jan. 21 – Jan 24)
- The Mountain Stream Freezes Over (Jan 25 – Jan 29)
- The Chicken Lays Her First Eggs (Jan 30 – Feb 03)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
To celebrate this season, we will learn about the connection between the chicken and the sun. Then we will read some seasonal haiku by Issa, Basho, Shiki, and Reichhold.
Chickens And The Sun
A chicken’s life is greatly influenced by the amount of available daylight. For example, in autumn, when the days begin to get shorter, chickens begin to molt and egg production slows downs, or even stops, as the hens prepare for the winter. Consequently, when the days get longer in spring, the hens begin to lay eggs again.
The micro-season of“The Chicken Lays Her First Eggs” is then a reminder that we have made it through the darkest days of winter and are heading toward spring.
The Chicken, the Egg, and the Sun
There is a common belief that a chicken’s egg production is linked to the outside temperature. That is false. Egg production is actually linked to the length of the day.
The connection between the chicken and daylight is because of the pineal gland. The pineal gland is responsible for sending hormones to the hen’s ovaries which triggers the production of eggs. This gland, which is located behind the hen’s eye, is activated by light.(1)
Hens usually start laying eggs when there are about 14 hours of daylight. However, the optimal conditions for egg laying are 16 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness. It is possible to manipulate a hen’s seasonal egg production with artificial light. If this is something that you would like to do, Katie Ockert at the University of Michigan provides these tips.
“Supplemental lighting should be at a low intensity level, just bright enough to be able to read a newspaper at bird level, and applied in the morning hours so that birds naturally roost. Lights should be placed above feeders and waterers and there should be few areas in the hen house that are shaded from the light.”(2)
The supplemental lighting should also be placed on a timer so that it can come on early in the morning to simulate an early sunrise and then go out again after the desired amount of time. A light sensor can be used to shut off the supplemental light when there is an adequate amount of natural sunlight.
Amaterasu, The Chicken, and The Cave of Heaven
In the Shinto tradition the chicken, or perhaps more specifically the rooster, plays a prominent role in the tale of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. In one part of Amaterasu’s story, she hid away in a rock cave, or the Cave of Heaven, and sealed it shut with a giant boulder. When she did this the world plunged into darkness and evil emerged.
Seeing the chaos that resulted in the world without Amaterasu, Omoikane, the god of wisdom, and the “eight-million gods”(4) created a plan to lure Amaterasu out of the cave. This plan started with gathering the long-crying birds of Tokoyo outside the cave and making them crow to each other. The long-crying birds of Tokoyo are also known as the chickens “of eternal world that tells the end of the night”, or the arrival of daybreak.(4)
After the chickens were summoned and began crowing, the gods began to partake in many other godly shenanigans. Eventually, Amaterasu became so curious about all the commotion outside of the cave she peaked her head out from behind the boulder. As she leaned out to see what was happening, the other gods quickly pulled her the rest of the way out of the cave. The gods then sealed up the Cave of Heaven and restored light to the world.
Today, many Shinto shrines honor this relationship between the chickens and Amaterasu by having free-range chickens on their temple grounds.
January 22, 2023, marked the start of the Lunar New Year. Traditional Lunar New Year celebrations last for about 15 days. According to the World Kigo Database, there are several chicken-related kigo for this time period. Hatsutori, or first chicken, is a reference to chickens in the new year. Keitan, or the” day when the cock craws” is associated with the first day of the New Year, and keijistu, or the day of the chicken, is the 6th day of the New Year.
The World Kigo Database also has a sajiki of New Year Animals that also includes the “first raven”, the “first sparrow”, and the “first mouse” as other animal references for this time of year.
With all this in mind, let’s read some haiku about the New Year’s firsts.
on the cat's grave in First Month... dried sardines (translated by David G. Lanoue)
rising into the year's first sky... tea smoke (translated by David G. Lanoue)
in the year's first dream my home village... tears (translated by David G. Lanoue)
seeing the new year’s first flowers, I’ll live seventy- five years longer (translated by Sam Hamill)
the new year’s first snow - how lucky to remain alone at my hermitage (translated by Sam Hamill)
first day of the year I think longingly of the sun on those paddy waters (translated by Makoto Ueda)
it’s a beginning poem the name of the renga master at home on New Year’s (translated by Jane Reichhold)
it licks the oil of the standing lamp - our first house mouse (retrieved from World Kigo Database)
New Year's morning the first day begins in the same dream (from Reichhold’s A Dictionary of Haiku)
“The Chicken Lays Her First Egg” is all about the transition out of winter and into spring. It is at this time of year when we welcome and recognize all the first things. Therefore, this week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that focuses on a first of the year.
Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!
- “Why do chickens need sunlight?”. TheGoodLifeBackyard.com.au
- Ockert, Katie. “Decreasing daylight and its effect on laying hens”. Michigan State University
- “Amaterasu”; Wikipedia
- “Ama no Iwato (Cave of Heaven)”; Japanese-wiki-corpus.org
- “Jidori Local Chicken”. WASHOKU – Japanese Food Culture and Cuisine
- “Saijiki New Year Animals”. World Kigo Database
Issa’s haiku were retrieved from David G. Lanoue’s Haiku Guy. Basho’s haiku were retrieved from “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” Editor: Gábor Terebess. Shiki’s haiku was retrieved from the World Kigo Database. Jane Reichhold’s haiku was retrieved from A Dictionary of Haiku Classified by Season Words with Traditional and Modern Methods
Ah, those chickens and roosters! Thanks Mark for another really interesting and informative post. Love the selected poems. Happy Friday My Friend.
Hi Goff, I also really enjoyed the haiku for this season! Glad you enjoyed it>
Thanks My Friend. Loved the post.
New to me is the story of Amaterasu.
Love the Issa piece about the cat’s grave. I understand it, but would never have been able to articulate it so well.
New Year’s rain cascades
dousing bright plumage
Nice. There’s always quite a bit to learn with Mark’s posts. 🙂
Very nice! I like how you were able to bring in hatsutori! And the rooster plummage!
You are so right about Issa’s haiku. I had to include that one once I found it! Thanks for reading!
Hi Mark. Here is my response to this week’s prompt – ‘a first of the year’.
Have a great day everyone.
Hi Goff, Thanks for writing and linking up. Great haiku and I am still pondering the smiling lone snowdrop!!!
Thanks Mark. Happy Snowdrop Day. Have a wonderful weekend My Friend.
Here’s my poem: https://oddsends707138946.wordpress.com/2023/02/03/for-now-by-britta-benson/ Thanks for the prompt, Mark.
Hi Britta, Thanks for writing and sharing your work! Wonderful flip of perspective in your haiku for this week!
my sister’s photos of
all the colors
Coincidentally, my sister Suzanne lives on a farm on Pender Island, BC. Last week, she posted her first collection of duck and chicken eggs of the year. It’s truly extraordinary just how many color variations there are. She also raised her prices by $2 because, as I’m sure many know, there is a severe egg shortage on the West Coast. Where I live in Southern CA, I know people who have spent $8 or $9 on a dozen eggs (which a year ago were $2).
Wonderful ‘ku, Eavonka. Thanks for the info of egg color diversity. I’m glad her chickens and ducks have not been affected by the avian flu. I have diversity on my brain right now. I don’t know why. ~nan
Hahaha, oh no, I submitted too quickly!
Very excited for you, BTW. Have you been a guest editor before?
Hi Eavonka, Thanks so much for sharing this! I really appreciate you being able to find alignment between the season and your sister’s farm. That is crazy about the cost of eggs! We get our eggs from the small farm down the road and she bumped her prices up to $5.00.
In our area there’s an avian flu… and an egg shortage and higher prices too;
Here’s mine: ‘ku & American Sent. Pairs
Hi Jules, This is a great collection reflecting the economics of eggs! Thanks so much for sharing your writing this week!
I was watching a cooking show – farm to talbe of a guy in France – he had his own layers… and got eggs in all colors and sizes 🙂
which came first
the chicken or egg
–new year’s day
~nancy brady, 2023
lunar new year…
a rabbit’s tracks
in the snow
~nancy Brady, 2023
I love both of these, Nan. You really understood the assignment!
Thanks, Eavonka. Actually, I love your haiku above and think it works well with Mark’s prompt here.
And, no, I have never been a haiku editor before, and it is overwhelming me. I will soldier on and get it done. ~nan
Hi Nan, where are you guest editing? That sounds exciting. Haiku Foundation perhaps?
Hi Nan, These are great! I like the rabbits track.
Nice tie into the Year of the Rabbit! Thanks so much adding to the conversation!
Yes, I intentionally tied it into the Year of the Rabbit, but I recently saw rabbit tracks, too. Serendipity, perhaps?
Yes, Haiku Foundation’s weekly column. I may have bit off more than I can chew. ~nan
Avain Adventures! What a great topic! I missed this week’s deadline, but maybe I’ll get the next one. Best of luck and I am sure you will do great with the selections.
Hi Mark very interesting post thanks 🙂
Thanks so much for writing and linking up! Wonderful addition to our conversation. Spring is on its way!
Thanks Mark 🙂
Great haikus and love that picture of the shrine and the chickens in year of the rabbit Mark.. ha. HNY💘
Hi Cindy, Thanks and I am glad that you enjoyed the post! Have a great week!