Ladies and Gentlemen, we have an egg.
At approximately one seventeen p.m. on Friday, August twenty-second, after days of squatting for no reason, eating everything she could get her beak to, and spending the morning singin’ and a-squawkin’ for all the world to hear, The Edge rose from her makeshift nest beneath the raspberry plants and therein revealed the teeniest chicken egg that this girl has ever seen.
The Edge is the first of the gang of hens to make an egg. I’ve been on the lookout for weeks, worried that the chickens would begin to lay and that I’d fail to notice, letting the precious eggs rot in the sunshine or be carried off my vermin. No chicken of mine, I reasoned, would be conformist enough to lay in her nesting box, no matter the pains her keepers have gone to to make it the sort of place that a chicken would want to be. So I’m out in the backyard a lot these days, bringing the ladies my leftover broccoli stems, stale bread, and corn cobs, and nosing around the yard in the hopes of discovering a warm little item, its shape somewhere between a sphere and an ellipsoid.
About a week ago, The Edge took to squatting, her wings lifted away from her body, head tucked. “That chicken wants you to know,” a friend told me as we watched The Edge take two steps, squat, get up, and squat again, “that she’s got an egg in her.”
Since the first, there have been two more, right in a row, right like clockwork. She left the second egg in the same place as the first, in a little depression beneath the raspberries. The third – wonder of wonders – was left in her freshly-newspapered nesting box.
According to Barbara Kilarksi, a fellow-Portlander, author of Keep Chickens!, and my main source of chicken-keeping information, chicken eggs should be brushed off when you bring them in – not washed or rinsed – in order to preserve the protective anti-bacterial coating that is so thoughtfully provided by a hen as she ejects the eggs from her rearside. I read that after I brought in the first egg and, yes, rinsed it off before snuggling it into my waiting carton. I rinsed it not because it was dirty, but because – geez – it had just come out of a chicken’s rearside. Barbara had other good advice for me as well: give the egg’s giggly insides a few days to set up before hard-boiling it, for example. She also said that I should leave a plastic Easter egg or a golf ball in the hen’s nesting box if she continues to lay outside of the coop.
Yesterday morning, as I set to make another batch of those spectacular blueberry muffins, I pulled from the fridge two store-bought eggs and The Edge’s first egg. I put The Edge’s egg back in the fridge and grabbed a third that I’d bought at the Cherry Sprout. I put the third store-bought egg back in the fridge and put The Edge’s back on the counter. Resolutely, I at last cracked The Edge’s egg into a bowl, and then cracked a store-bought specimen in with it. I should note that my “store-bought” eggs came from a local farm, from reportedly pampered hens who eat a fine, organic diet. I’d describe my hens in the very same way. I was, therefore, surprised at the difference in appearance between the two samples. The egg on the right came out of my chicken. The yolk was so orange and so firm, and the albumen (white) was much less runny than that of the Cherry Sprout egg. I guess you just can’t compete with an egg that’s only sixteen hours old, or one that came from a chicken who’s better fed than your average hobo.