Fried eggs, broiled eggs, scrambled eggs, poached eggs, boiled eggs, Eggs Benedict, omelet, deviled eggs, egg salad. I could go on, but I’m quite sure that I’ve had my moment. You know the one. The one where I become my own version of Bubba from the movie Forrest Gump. I can’t help it. I’m ready to scream from the rooftop of our chicken coop. We officially have egg-laying hens at 1840 Farm.
Yes, that’s right. For the first time, chicken feed and water went out to the coop and people food in the form of eggs came back into our farmhouse kitchen. We found, much to our surprise, a real egg sitting in one of the nest boxes next to a wooden egg that we had placed there in the hopes that it would encourage a hen to lay an egg. It was an incredible moment. One that required a family celebration of near epic proportions.
In the week that has followed, we’ve found ourselves visiting the coop full of anticipation several times a day to check for eggs. We haven’t been disappointed. Our hens have given us a baker’s dozen of beautiful brown eggs during the last week. We carefully weighed each egg and inspected it. We marked in our farm journal when the eggs were collected, what color their shells were, and how much they weighed. We marveled at how incredible an egg really is. We couldn’t wait to eat them.
Unfortunately, unless we planned on dividing one egg into six portions, there was still a little more patience required for this journey to come to its conclusion. Patience is a virtue, I know, but that doesn’t mean that I have it in excess. We had been waiting 22 long weeks to see that first glorious egg. I wasn’t sure if we would make it those last few days.
Yesterday, it was finally time for our big meal. We had collected enough eggs for everyone to eat at least one for Sunday breakfast. We decided to throw one “fresh” organic grocery store egg in the skillet as a means of comparison. As soon as they hit the hot cast iron, we knew that it wasn’t going to be a fair fight. The fresh egg stayed together tightly and began to puff up from the heat almost immediately. The grocery store egg ran and soon covered most of the skillet. When they were both done, we ended up with a fresh egg that looked beautiful and had the aesthetic qualities of a perfectly poached egg. The grocery store egg was hard and dry and as thin as paper.
No one in my house wanted the grocery store egg on their plate. It seemed that its presence would somehow diminish the beauty of our fresh egg celebration. However, we now understood how much work and effort on the part of the farmer and the hen went into producing that egg. We couldn’t in good conscience allow it to go to waste. Luckily for us, our dog Pete was happy to eat it with his breakfast.
We quickly dressed our homemade biscuits (still warm from the oven) and sat down at our farmhouse table, where only fresh eggs were welcome. These eggs on our plates looked different from the grocery store variety we had been forced to eat this winter. They tasted different. They were different. The moment was one to savor along with the deliciously fresh eggs. Suddenly, the winter of my discontent was no more. Instead, it was the winter marked by the first farm fresh eggs being laid right outside our farmhouse door.
We were all in agreement, these were the best eggs that we had ever eaten. Our chicken keeping experiment could be called a success. We had tended to our day-old baby chicks through a tough winter. We had done everything from building a chicken coop with recycled materials to shoveling our path to get to the coop during what has seemed like a never-ending winter. Our reward? Fresh eggs. My children proudly exclaimed, “Mom, we grew fresh eggs!”
We embarked on this crazy experiment almost a year ago. I never aspired to be a large-scale poultry farmer, I simply wanted to provide my family with fresh eggs. I hoped that we would enjoy the experience and that it would teach us all something. As a homeschooling family, I’m always looking for a real world way to learn something new.
My children could be found at the computer last summer researching heritage breeds of chickens and cross-checking their availability for shipment. Once the chicks arrived, they learned firsthand that being a farmer is a career that doesn’t come with a bank of vacation days. In fact, there were none. Chickens don’t care if it’s a good day to spend at the beach or if it’s your birthday. They want food and water and a little attention daily, and there was to be no vacations from providing these simple things for them for us.
My children have indeed learned a lot during the last few months by helping to care for our small flock. They appreciate more deeply the process required to raise your own food. Having entered this experiment with a rudimentary knowledge of farming (gained from years of watching me toil in the vegetable garden), they learned that taking care of heirloom tomato plants is very different than tending to heritage breed chickens. Tomato plants don’t look you in the eye. They don’t greet you with their own morning melody each day when you bring them fresh water. I have never stood in my kitchen on a bitterly cold morning wondering what my tomatoes might like to eat for breakfast. If our chickens had never laid us eggs, we still would have gained so much by their presence on our farm.
This morning, my 5-year-old greeted me in his pajamas. As he wiped the sleep from his eyes, he asked if I had been outside to take care of the chickens. When I told him that I was getting their morning oatmeal ready, his face lit up as he asked if he could come outside in the cold morning rain to help. I answered yes, which made him immediately run from the room to wake his sister from her deep sleep so that she could get in on the fun.
Five minutes later, our Wellingtons sank into ankle-deep mud as we tromped out to the coop. My children climbed in and immediately wished the hens good morning. Marigold, the Barred Plymouth Rock, was waiting for them at the door, ready for her morning session of hands-on attention. I stood in the mud and rain and took it all in. Our experiment was an incredible success beyond anything I could have hoped for. I set out to have fresh eggs on our farm and in the process, I grew two new chicken farmers.