Marsi Parker Darwin and husband Bill live on a Michigan no-kill farm with dogs, cats and various birds, including chickens, peacocks and ducks.
“I heard a second chirp, and I realized that the chick was alive and didn’t seem to have an egg tooth to get out of its shell,” she said, referring to the part of the beak a chick uses to crack open the egg from the inside.
Darwin looked closely and saw a tiny, barely visible crack, so she decided to give the chick a little help.
“I gently peeled her out of the egg, and there was this wet little mess, sitting in my hand,” she recalled.
She tried to put the baby chick back with the mother hen, but she wouldn’t accept her. So Darwin took the chick inside, put her under a heat lamp and taught her to eat and drink. She named the brown speckled girl Peanut because she grew to about a pound, roughly one-third the size of some of her others chickens.
More than two decades after Peanut was peeled from her shell in 2002, she is still hanging out in Darwin’s living room, often in her lap. And the bantam hen is now earning recognition: Guinness World Records has named her the world’s oldest living chicken.
“The average chicken lives five to eight years, so it’s quite the achievement,” said Darwin, 71, a retired librarian who lives in Chelsea, Mich., near Ann Arbor.
“Peanut is a sassy little chicken — if she doesn’t get her blueberry yogurt in the morning, I definitely hear about it,” she said.
She and her family celebrated Peanut’s 21st birthday in May, but Darwin said she was still surprised her little hen was named the world’s oldest chicken.
“She’s healthy and she’s spoiled,” she said.
The path to Peanut’s world record designation started in spring 2022, when Darwin’s friend Todd Gillihan — also a chicken enthusiast — urged her to submit an application to Guinness.
Gillihan had read about the first Guinness World Records’ oldest chicken, a hen named Matilda. She appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” in 2004 when she was 14, and she died two years later at age 16.
“He knew that Peanut had that record beat,” Darwin said.
Peanut was 20 then — just two years younger than Muffy, an American chicken who holds the Guinness world record title as the oldest chicken ever. She was 23 years and 152 days old when she died in 2011.
“Todd kept prodding me into applying for the [living chicken] record, so I finally did,” Darwin said. “Honestly, how do you prove how old a chicken is?”
She said it took six months of answering questions and sending in photos, videos, witness testimony and a veterinarian statement to verify Peanut’s age.
“I had some dated photos of friends and nieces and nephews who had posed for pictures with her years ago, so that was our best proof,” she said.
In March, Guinness made it official: Peanut ruled the roost as the world’s oldest living chicken.
It’s a day Darwin said she couldn’t have imagined when she was caring for her bird as a fluffy chick.
Peanut spent her first couple of years inside, living in a cage in Darwin’s living room before the Darwins moved her outside and integrated her with the other chickens.
“Pretty soon she’d found a ragtag crew to hang out with,” Darwin said, noting that the hen was sometimes bullied by other chickens in the flock.
Peanut remained outside in a chicken coop for about 13 years and hatched a good number of chicks, she said.
Then on a wintry day about six years ago, Peanut followed her into the house’s screened porch and didn’t want to go back outside.
“We had an old parrot cage stored there, so I put some straw and food and water in it, and that was it. She had picked her home for the winter,” Darwin said.
She tried to return Peanut to her coop, but Peanut came back to the porch.
“This time, she had a little line behind her — four other chickens also wanted in,” Darwin said. “Chickens don’t get a lot of credit — they are really smart. They knew it was warmer there.”
She never intended that Peanut would live indoors again, she said, but as time went on and Peanut grew older, she and her husband — who runs a stained-glass business — decided it couldn’t hurt to allow the hen inside.
For three or four years, Peanut and her crew wintered on the porch, until several of the birds died of old age, she said. That’s when Darwin decided it was time to allow Peanut and her 15-year-old daughter, Millie, to move into the living room.
She set up a wire coop in front of the front picture window so the birds could see what was going on outside, she said. In warm weather, Peanut and Millie either relax in an outdoor cage or amble around on the lawn and peck at the grass.
“Peanut loves to sit in my lap and watch TV,” Darwin said. “I think she just likes the warmth of snuggling up.”
During cold months, she said the hen also enjoys being tucked inside the front pocket of Darwin’s farm jacket and riding along while she does her chores.
In addition to yogurt, Peanut loves to snack on grapes and the occasional banana, Darwin said, and although she now moves more slowly, Peanut always comes when her name is called.
“She’s a friendly character and she pretty much gets along with everyone, including our dogs and cats,” she said.
To celebrate her plucky hen’s story — which began with abandonment and bullying but turned into companionship and longevity — she recently self-published a children’s book, “My Girl Peanut and Me — On Love and Life From the World’s Oldest Chicken.”
“I hope to share Peanut’s message that even if you’re rejected or might feel like a misfit, you can still find someone to bond with and have a long, productive life,” she said.
She looks back sometimes on the day she heard Peanut’s faint chirp from inside the egg.
“I’m pretty fond of the old girl and I hope she sees several more birthdays,” she said.