I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t I use heated waterers in our coop and barn? If I did, then I could simply take fresh water to our animals once a day and spend the rest of my time in front of the fire fighting off winter’s chill. Yes, I could, in fact, begin using a heated waterer in our coop.
Well, I could if I didn’t mind turning off the fixture that supplies our hens with supplemental lighting. I am acutely aware of the importance of the light provided by this single bulb. In my last post, I shared with you the incredible difference that a compact fluorescent light bulb has made in the laying ability of our hens this winter.
I could trade the all-important light for a heated waterer if I didn’t mind a return to days on end of finding empty nest boxes every morning. That is a choice I simply cannot make. If I can only supply power to one electrical device in our coop, then the light wins every day of the week.
Since moving to our farm six years ago, we have gone to great lengths to bring our circa 1840 barn into the current century. We’ve made many improvements, but it is still, at its heart, a 170 year old member of our farming family. It has its faults. We love it in spite of every one of them.
One of the barn’s limitations is the absence of running water and an electrical capacity that is somewhat lacking. We’re grateful for the power that she provides us in the form of barn aisle lighting and powering our electrical tools during the summer months. We’re left to make a choice in the winter of how to safely dispatch enough electricity to the chicken coop to power one lone device.
Then Mother Nature dared me to rethink those limits. On a Sunday morning, I went out to the coop bright and early with warm oatmeal and water for our hens. They greeted me eagerly and began their morning meal. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted two fresh eggs resting in a single nest box. I took a deep breath, thanked the girls for their hard work on such a cold morning, and went to retrieve the eggs for my family’s breakfast.
It was a nice moment. Suddenly, all of my hard, bitterly cold work was worth it. Yes, it was cold and I would have rather been inside drinking my first hot cup of coffee of the morning. But here I was, ready to triumph over the cold January morning. I was going to collect two beautifully fresh eggs and serve them to my family for breakfast.
I reached over and gingerly picked up the first egg. Even with my fleece gloves on, I noticed that it felt different. Then I picked up the second egg and noticed the unthinkable. It had frozen solid to the point of breaking its shell. Upon examining the first egg, I found that it had suffered the same damage.
I made my snowy retreat to the farmhouse feeling totally dejected. I was freezing, my fingers were numb, and I had two eggs that had fallen prey to the cold temperatures in spite of my best efforts. Did I mention that I was dealing with all of this before having my first cup of coffee? I don’t deal with anything very well before I have a little caffeine. This situation was definitely too much to bear without the assistance of a cup of home roasted coffee.
These were the first cracked eggs I had seen in months. True, I had seen my share of cracked eggs from the coop since we became chicken keepers. All through the spring, we had struggled with thin eggshells before we discovered how to boost our flock’s calcium intake. I had foolishly hoped that our days of cracked eggshells were behind us now that we had found a way to incorporate more calcium into our flock’s diet.
I wasn’t sure what to do with these eggs. The shells of both eggs were cracked from end to end. I could see the frozen membrane was still intact and doing its very best to protect the underlying egg. I knew that I had to free the eggs from their shells while they were still frozen. I was willing to bet that the membrane would be compromised after being frozen and might rupture during the thawing process exposing the egg to harmful bacteria. I worried that the thawed egg would then emerge from the cracked shell leaving me with two eggs that I would be unable to salvage.
Drastic times call for equally drastic measures. I started to remove the shell from the first egg and found that it was a process akin to peeling a hard boiled egg after it has been refrigerated. The shell broke into small pieces and fell away from the membrane encased egg. The second egg followed suit and in a matter of minutes I had two perfectly frozen eggs.
I placed both frozen eggs in a small bowl, covered the bowl tightly and placed it in the refrigerator to thaw. It took a full day, but the eggs did thaw completely. By the end of the evening, I had whisked them together and used them to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookie bars. The bars came out perfectly and were a delicious, warm treat for my family.
It had taken nearly twelve hours for me to prepare these two eggs for use in our farmhouse kitchen. True, it wasn’t how I had intended to use them, but at the end of the day, they had served their original purpose. They had helped to nourish my family while reminding me that the difficult work of farming through the winter was a small price to pay for the reward it brings.
I will admit to allowing myself a moment later that evening to enjoy that sense of pride I had held upon first spotting those two eggs in the coop earlier in the day. Through bone chilling temperatures and winter’s harsh conditions, I had tended to our flock and they had rewarded me with farm fresh food for my family. Deep down, I knew that this was the reason that my great-grandfather and I had both persevered in our quest to farm in New England’s harsh winter environment. The reward so far outweighed the toil involved, that the location became irrelevant.
Then, rather abruptly, the moment of reflection was over. It had been three hours since I last delivered fresh water to the coop and barn and it was time for my last icy trip of the day. Hello, my name is the ice queen and there is still plenty of work to be done before the day is through.
This spring, we’ll be making a few additions to our flock and sharing the experience with you. I will be chronicling the life of our new chickens from day old chicks into laying hens through a recurring series of posts about life in the coop at 1840 Farm. Stay tuned!