It’s been years since we bought eggs in a store. Because I am reluctant to cull our older hens, nor do I put a light in the coop, we don’t get many eggs in winter. Between our own flock, and getting them from one of our neighbors (who honestly is a much better chicken shepherd than I am) we are never short of eggs, however.
Apparently, eggs are now on everybody’s mind. Last week, I posted a photo on social media of an egg that I’d found in the coop and put in my pocket during chores and then forgot to take out. This, unfortunately, is a not uncommon phenomenon, and usually ends with a pocketful of yolk. By some mini-miracle this egg made it through chores, an online meeting, a morning of child wrangling, and some time spent writing in my tiny house. When I discovered the forgotten egg still intact, I was overjoyed both on my own and on my coat’s behalf.
After posting the miracle egg, I was surprised by the comments from people noting the near-priceless value of the aforementioned ovum. And thus I was made aware of the ongoing egg crisis currently sweeping across the nation. For the first time in human history, the care and keeping of 11 hens all winter to receive one egg a day is now a pretty good deal.
Imagine my delight then, when the very next morning I arrived at the coop to discover not one, not two (the most we’ve gotten in a single day since last summer) but FOUR eggs! It felt like I had won the egg lottery now that I knew how much they were worth. I complimented every single one of the hens since I couldn’t be sure who had actually laid the eggs. It also was a wonderful reminder that we’ve tipped toward spring and spring’s abundance as hens increase their laying with the return of the light.
Today I went into the coop and found no eggs at all, but Perch, one of the chicks the kids raised last spring, was standing awkwardly in a bottom nesting box. I leaned down to make sure she was ok and could actually hear her breathing heavily–something I’ve never heard before. She had a faraway look in her eye, a look I recognized from my own experiences giving birth. I squatted down, got out my phone, and managed to catch the actual moment she laid her egg on video. Amazing!
Consequently, I am marveling again at what a gift it is to live so close to our food supply chain. “Honey,” I said to my husband, as I was frying up the egg, feeling an odd mixture of awe and reticence, “In their whole lives, how many people do you think ever eat an egg they’ve just watched the chicken lay?”
My husband gave me his driest side-eye, “I’m not sure how many people would aspire to that,” he replied.
I’m sure that’s true. It feels like an oddly weighty responsibility, and almost like a privilege I might not deserve. Probably he meant most people would think it was gross though, and I get that too. There is an intimacy to it that is off-putting, especially from our vantage point here in modern life, where we spend so much time surrounded by other humans and human-made structures, and so very little time in conversation with the varied voices of other-than-human beings.
In the end, I ate my just-lain egg with gratitude for the layer and considered again how surprising it is to have found myself in a relationship with the hens that provide my breakfast. It is the blessing of my life to have stumbled into these opportunities. Never in my wildest, young dreams could I have imagined ending up on a ranch, and now I can’t imagine ever living anywhere else.
Eliza Blue is the author of Accidental Rancher: Lambs in the Laundry Room and Other Stories from Perkins County. She’s a musician, mom, writer, and shepherd and lives on a ranch in northwest South Dakota.