Details: The duck egg difference
I often think about the chickens. When I’m in the greenhouse next to the coop, helping my sister Rebekah water kale seedlings or train pea shoots to start climbing, I can hear the chickens cluck-clucking as they scratch around their little yard. The other day, my brother-in-law, Peter, reported that the hens were making a strange, low-throated noise as they stood transfixed, staring in the same direction for what seemed an eternity before the spell broke and they went back to clucking and scratching.
When Rebekah and Peter decided two months ago to stop eating animal products (he had read “The China Study,” which advocates a vegan diet for health reasons, and she was an easy convert), my thoughts went to the dozen laying hens — mostly a breed called Buff Orpington — pecking around outside the coop. What about the chickens?
“Don’t give up the chickens,” I casually suggested. “Let me have the chickens.”
Samuel Butler once wrote, rather dismissively, of the animal, “A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.” I want the chickens to be well cared for, but I can see his point. It wasn’t the birds themselves I was so worried I’d miss. I certainly wouldn’t mind giving up the chore of cleaning that coop.
But something has to lay those eggs, because how could I do without them? Backyard-fresh, vibrant and creamy, with yolks a deep gold (or red when we add shrimp shells to the feed) that stand high when fried in olive oil, butter or both. I don’t need the Humane Society to investigate another industrial-scale egg operation to know where I want my eggs to come from. I could wait for the local farmers market to open in May, but I’ve been spoiled by this daily egg-delivery program. Because it’s most often Rebekah or Peter who collects the eggs, all I have to do is open the refrigerator and count the stash.
The thing is, each hen lays an egg a day at her peak, and that peak comes in the spring, so we had been collecting a full dozen every 24 hours — far more than we needed even when all of us were eating them. That’s why Rebekah and Peter have for some time traded eggs for milk, an exchange with a friend who makes a dairy run for us and takes dozens of eggs back to his large family. With just one milk drinker left in the house, though, the equation wasn’t working any more. So off went nine of the 12 hens, sold to a couple who drove a few hours to pick them up. The three remaining got a lot more roaming room, and I would still get my eggs.