I found two eggs in the nest box yesterday, two months to the day after we got our chickens. The farmer told us the girls were four to five months old at point of sale, which meant they were on the verge of starting to lay. For the last few weeks I’ve tried not to obsess about when, or to worry about all the possible weirdnesses -- shell-lessness or other malformations -- that occasionally happen with novice layers. This is probably the small-scale chicken keeper’s equivalent of counting your newborn's fingers and toes and hoping their chromosomes are okay.
But these eggs were perfect. Of course I immediately cackled all over Facebook and The WELL, and someone asked if we were going to eat them. No, I said, we’re going to bronze them, like baby shoes, duh.
Jerry had his egg sunny-side-up this morning, with a commercial egg alongside for comparison. The homegrown one (on the left in the pic), aside from being smaller as pullet eggs typically are, had a much perkier yolk, and the area of the white immediate surrounding it was visibly firmer than the outlying portion. This is normal, and you can sometimes see it in commercial eggs, if they’re fresh enough.
I don’t generally enjoy runny yolks, so I cooked mine in the shell, starting in cold water and timing it for three minutes after it came up to a simmer. Peeling the egg without breaking it was a challenge, but the consistency was exactly what I wanted. I smeared it on a slice of toasted Dave’s Killer mega-grain bread and added a grinding of pepper and a sprinkle of kosher salt. It was possibly the best egg I’ve ever tasted. Thank you, chickens.
More specifically, thank you Maxine and, possibly, Rachel. Maxine is a Barred Rock and Rachel a Partridge Rock. Though they don’t look at all alike, they’re considered variants of the same breed. Finding two eggs in the nest box yesterday, I assumed for no particular reason that the Rocks had synchronized their cycles. (Michelle, the third chicken, is a different breed, a blue-laced Wyandotte.)
This morning, though, I surprised Maxine on the nest. The other two were standing nearby, kibitzing, just like when you go to the ladies room with your girlfriends. I excused myself while she completed her business: another lovely egg, identical to the earlier two. So now I’m thinking that Maxine, whose comb and wattles are notably larger and redder (an indication of maturity), might be the only layer so far. Conceivably I’d managed to overlook her debut offering on Sunday, which would account for Monday’s double surprise.
I’d actually almost resigned myself to not seeing eggs til spring. Egg production is highly dependent on the amount of light chickens receive, and in these days of dwindling sunshine, it’s not uncommon for laying hens to slack off or even stop entirely, and for pullets to postpone the whole affair. After researching the pros and cons of adding a few hours of supplemental lighting during the darker months, we decided a couple of weeks ago to install a light on a timer. It comes on at 3 AM and goes off at 8, after the sun has risen. (That was one more clock we had to remember to turn back last weekend.) Perhaps it made a difference.
Or maybe the dummy eggs had something to do with it. Some chicken keepers put a fake egg (a plastic Hanes pantyhose shell or even a golf ball will do) in the nest box, to show their pullets what’s expected of them, and where. It’s a fairly common practice, I gather, though the chickens usually manage to figure it out on their own. Last Saturday, on a whim, I removed the “demos" -- a pair of quite pretty Mexican onyx eggs I’ve owned for years -- that I had optimistically placed, one in each nest box, shortly after the chooks arrived. By Monday we had our first eggs.
I was surprisingly verklempt when I opened the yolk-yellow egg door and found two actual eggs, well, nestled there. The phrase “today you are a woman,” sprang to my warped mind. I’m still kvelling for Michelle (and maybe Rachel), and I have no idea why Yiddish words seem most apt to describe my feelings. Perhaps egg-laying brings out my grandmotherly instincts. If so, I don’t what to think about what eating them implies.