By Jack Armstrong
In the spring of 2002, Marsi Darwin noticed one of her hen’s eggs hadn’t hatched and had gone cold.
As the caretaker of the farm, she knew rotten eggs would attract unwanted animals. So she carried it to the pond to throw it away where it would become food for fish and turtles.
But as she raised her arm to pitch the egg into the water, she thought she heard a chirp – she listened closer, and sure enough, there was a living chick inside the egg.
“I figured, well, it’s going to die anyway, so I just went ahead and started peeling it out of the egg,” she said.
Darwin had no idea the chick would go on to become a world record holder. But this spring, 21-year-old Peanut, an animal with a life expectancy of five-to-10 years, was verified as the world’s oldest living chicken.
Darwin, a retired librarian and current chicken farmer lives in Chelsea, Michigan, with her husband, a stained glass artisan. The two run a stained glass business and take care of a “menagerie” of animals on their farm, Darwin’s Eden, including dogs, cats, parrots, chickens, peacocks, ducks and guinea fowl.
Darwin’s Eden is a no-kill farm, and its chicken brood consists of roosters and a few elderly hens. Darwin collects their eggs to sell to friends – but that one egg, abandoned by its mother, would end up making headlines two decades later.
Now, the 21-year-old chicken comes when called, loves yogurt and likes to ride in Darwin’s coat pocket while she does her chores.
Named Peanut because she was tiny and brown, the bird emerged from her egg as a “sad, wet waddled up mess.” Darwin warmed her with a heat lamp and tried to introduce Peanut to her mother hen, but she was rejected.
“She did not want that little chick that wasn’t dried off yet,” Darwin said.
Darwin realized she’d have to raise Peanut in the house until she could survive on her own – which took almost two years because Peanut didn’t want to live with other chickens.
“The chickens didn’t particularly care for her,” Darwin said. “They would peck at her.”
But Peanut didn’t forget her time as a house chicken. She came when called and recognized her name. And after a few years, Darwin started bringing her back into the house during the winter.
“I had the old cage on the screened-in porch where she used to live,” Darwin said. “She jumped up on it like ‘this is my home.’ Well, the next night there was this little parade of chickens behind Peanut. She led her friends to the porch.”
While Darwin hates admitting it, she and her husband still have “porch birds” living there.
A few years ago, Darwin started doing the math.
When old friends visited, they’d make remarks about Peanut’s age, and Darwin realized the chicken had lived with them for years before they’d built an addition onto their house in 2004.
Darwin knew then she had a 20-year-old chicken on her hands but had no aspirations to achieve world-record status, said Darwin’s friend Todd Gillihan. Darwin and Gillihan became friends after they both commented on a Facebook post from a local resident seeking someone to babysit their chickens.
“She’s a librarian from a small town in Michigan,” Gillihan said. “She didn’t want any of the hoopla about it.”
For years, Gillihan and his partner badgered Darwin about Peanut’s record-breaking age.
Finally, he said, they mailed Darwin a check and the completed forms necessary to apply for a Guinness World Record. Darwin politely mailed the check back – but sent the forms to Guinness.
“I thought, ‘ok, I’m just going to do this to humor Todd,’” Darwin said.
She heard back in a week: Guinness wanted verification.
Peanut had never been to a vet. But Darwin’s niece-in-law, who had been a teenager when he first met Peanut, was now a veterinarian.
And Darwin procured photographs and witness statements to corroborate the chicken’s age.
“I had quite a few witness statements because she was a character,” Darwin said. “It was strange to have a house chicken – a lot of people wanted to visit her.”
Peanut’s personality likely made her more memorable: a resilient hen with a “ragtag” group of chicken friends.
Gillihan said she’s more comfortable with people than with other chickens.
And Darwin said she’s talkative and likes to get feisty with her cats.“She’ll peck at them, and she’s not afraid of anybody.”
One statement came from a friend who’d moved to California. When the friend visited, Peanut recognized him and jumped up onto his shoulder.
The evidence proved enough.
“I can confirm Peanut currently holds the Guinness World Records title for the oldest living chicken,” said Kylie Galloway, a Guinness PR executive via email.
Peanut is nearly a decade older than the previous winner, Galloway said.
“Cheddar previously held the Guinness World Records title for the oldest living chicken,” she said. Cheddar was 12 years old as of April 2022.
Fame and Fowl
While Darwin was reluctant to seek recognition for Peanut’s longevity she’s embraced it since the Guinness verification.
“Oh, she’s totally immersed in it,” Gillihan said. “She loves it. I’m super-glad for her.”
Darwin has been interviewed by newspapers and radio and TV stations. She edited Peanut on top of her town’s clocktower in a King Kong-style postcard, and published a children’s book – “My Girl Peanut and Me,” an account of Peanut’s long life. Darwin uses Peanut’s cry for help, the chirp that made Darwin realize the chick inside the egg was still alive, as a metaphor to teach young readers that it’s okay to ask for help.
Peanut even received a visit from Michigan state Sen. Sue Shink, D-Northville Township, who presented the chicken with a certificate honoring her long life, signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Recently, Gillihan visited a coffee shop where Darwin had set up a display so people could visit Peanut and check out Darwin’s book. People were taking pictures with Peanut, he said.
The chicken is part of her family. She saved Peanut as a chick and nursed her through sickness.
Darwin’s pet parrots call out Peanut’s name, and the chicken sits on Darwin’s lap when she watches TV.
“Marsi is a good caring person with a good heart,” Gillihan said.
In Darwin’s book, Peanut’s long life story becomes a message of resilience. In a section “for the grownups,” Darwin describes her own struggles and how her journey could have been more steady with professional guidance.
“Be like Peanut,” she writes. “Call for help!”
How far can you go with the world’s oldest chicken? How much fame can it bring?
In 2004, one woman and her 14-year-old chicken were invited onto the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Does Marsi Darwin have a shot at late-night television?
“I hope not,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere, and I’m certainly not taking Peanut to New York City or anything like that.”
Peanut could have a shot at becoming the world’s oldest chicken ever recorded, living or not. Galloway said the current record holder is Muffy, born in 1989 — Muffy was over 23 years old.
More info on Peanut and Darwin’s farm, and a link to Darwin’s book can be found here.