Home Sweet Homestead: Got Eggs?
Fall was approaching in what shall be known forevermore as “Our First Year with Chickens.” Our usual evening greeting of “How was your day?” was replaced with “Any eggs yet?” Of course, I wanted to be the one to find that first egg. The hens were eating fresh blueberries out of my hand and enjoying the watermelon and kale we grew specifically for them, and now it was payback time. I knew we should start expecting eggs after the girls had reached five months of age, yet the five-month mark had passed and the nesting boxes were still bare.
One weekend, my sister came to visit from Vermont. The sun was out and she wanted to get in some beach time. Arriving back home from a day at the beach, we found one of the Barred Rocks trapped inside our backyard greenhouse. The back window had been left open and the hen found her way in, but she couldn’t find her way out. I opened the door to set her free and the noises she made as she ran out the door sounded as if she was saying, “Thank you, mama. I was hot!”
Well darn it if the next day she didn’t do it again. Donning my muck boots, I left the kitchen where I was just starting to prepare Sunday breakfast and went out to rescue my little baby from the hot house. Thinking I would find a huge anthill or spider web full of buggy chicken snacks, I took a look around to see why she kept coming back. What I did not expect to find was a neat little pile of five brown eggs under my potting bench, yet there they were.
I would like to tell you I shouted, “HOORAY!” or “Finally!,” but I must confess, my first reaction was a four-letter word my mother would have punished me for uttering. Let me explain. These eggs were in the wrong place. They were supposed to be in the nesting boxes where I had generously and faithfully been putting fresh wood shavings sprinkled with a colorful, special-ordered, organic, fair trade, antibacterial, anti-parasitic, calming, soothing, and healing blend of dried herbs and flowers that made the coop smell like a field of English lavender. What pampered backyard chicken wouldn’t want to powder her nose and lay her eggs in this little day spa? This was not going according to my master plan.
When the initial dismay wore off, a deep fear set in, one that chilled me to the bone on this warm September morning. “What if they weren’t chicken eggs at all? What if they were snake eggs?” I asked myself. “I’m out here in my pajamas and rubber boots and someone’s discarded pet python has come up from the sewer pipes and is laying snake-y python eggs under my potting bench.” I ran inside as fast as my mucks would allow.
My sister and my husband, Keith, followed me to the greenhouse and, after much laughter at my expense, goaded me to pick up the eggs. With the joke over, I gathered all five and we headed into the house. Putting them on the counter, I stood at a distance and looked at the eggs like an art connoisseur would study a painting from afar. Questions raced through my mind. “Now what? How long had they been there? Hadn’t it been warm these last few days? Could they be spoiled? What if they WERE snakes?” (I still wasn’t fully convinced.) I decided the best way to find out was to bite the bullet (or more specifically, crack the egg).
I held an egg like a smelly diaper—as far away from me as possible—and cracked it into a bowl. Peering in with trepidation, I laid my eyes on the most perfect raw egg with the firmest, brightest yellow yolk I had ever seen. It was beautiful (if you can say that about the contents of an egg). Satisfaction overtook me. We did it. We actually did it. (Well, technically the chicken did it, but she’s not stealing my thunder.) Keith decided to make a quiche (I call it “Keiche”) and we ate a hearty breakfast, which was delicious despite the remote possibility we were actually eating snake eggs.
We kept the flock in the coop for three days with food and water, effectively training them to lay their eggs in the proper place. We now gather between seven and nine eggs per day from the nesting boxes and with that, combined with our garden beds full of vegetables and herbs, we have come full circle. I feel like we now, truly, can say that we have learned how to fend for ourselves. It feels good.