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The Egg Stealer’s Booty

January 12, 2010
tags: ,

February 6, 2009

Undependable, unreliable, unpredictable, inconsistent; chickens are uncouth employees. They go on strike at least as often as French truck drivers, if not more. They strut around the pen with the swagger of a little gang of pirates, scratching up arrowheads and other trinkets and treasures.

Bust into their pad and these crazy chicks will raise a ruckus. Cross a mean one and she’ll peck your leg. The rooster will eye you with a steely glare and make threatening moves, making it clear that this is his territory and you are messing with his harem. Heavy vibes for a few hot eggs.

Roosters are not the alarm clocks of nursery rhymes and fairy tales. As unlucky neighbors know, roosters crow at all hours. When I lived very close to the henhouse, in a home with single pane windows, I welcomed morning with the cock’s crow at two a.m., three a.m., four a.m., and throughout the afternoon.

I’ve tried to diagnose the cause of periodic egg droughts. Too hot, too cold, darkness of winter, hawk in a tree, molting, broodiness; the list is longer than the egg-lover’s patience. Keep enough chickens and there will always be enough eggs for breakfast.

I have kept 60 chickens and 12, and I now have 20. Last week we were getting two to three eggs each day. This week they have doubled production. We keep a mixed age, mixed breed flock. There are no chickens over two years old, the magic age at which they shut down egg laying to every other day or worse. There are, however, plenty over one year old. In the Big Egg Biz, chickens are allowed to lay eggs for a year, sometimes less. As soon as they slow down, they are “offed.” Do they end up as taco filler, cat food, stewing hens, or compost? I don’t know, and all businesses are different. The biggest companies seem the most concerned with the bottom line, in this case the ratio of feed dollars spent to eggs laid.

We have chickens that lay well in winter and some that may not hold up so well in the cold. Hopefully it works the other way around in the summer. The fact is, they are a motley crew; a wild, rowdy bunch with their own capricious modes. They are rebels – punks, even. I can’t control them. I just feed them and hope for eggs.

The lucky thief that steals into the henhouse to root around in the 10-hole nesting box walks away with a delicious treasure. The eggs are very hard, as the girls are regularly fed steamer clams in their calcium-rich shells. After a hard crack, the egg relinquishes its bright, round, yolk, fairly standing at attention in a pool of glistening albumen.

Homogenization be damned, these eggs reflect the hens’ habits; stealing chunks of butternut squash, strawberries and pieces of red pepper from each other as they tear through scraps like a gluttonous mob. Maybe the most orange yolk is from the head hen in charge. The palest specimen could be laid by a chicken low on the pecking order, or just one who preferred spaghetti. I will take this kind of inconsistency any day over a yellow egg in every pan. Gathering your own food teaches you to adore variety, from misshapen Asian eggplant to bruised and battered tomatoes and broiler chickens with big “glutes.” Vive la difference!

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