A Time to Gather
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
“How many eggs did we get today?”
It’s a common question these days on the homestead, both in the mornings, when Sam brings in duck eggs (because ducks usually lay early) and again later in the day when chicken eggs are collected (because they lay throughout the day). We all enjoy hearing the daily tabulation and any accompanying stories; with animals, as with small children, humorous anecdotes are frequent. We also record the numbers so that we can compare egg counts from year to year.
Our ducks are enclosed for their protection, so it’s easy to find their eggs in the usual spots. The chickens, however, get to roam more freely (whether we want them to or not—the feathered Houdinis continue to find a way to the gardens in spite of our fencing). They often send us on daily egg hunts, eschewing the lovely nesting boxes we’ve provided for laying places that fit their own particular tastes.
Sometimes these clandestine nests are easy to find. Other times, not so much. Like when they’re hidden under the cows’ hay trough, or tucked between feed cans, or nestled into a corner of the loafing shed. The open manger has been used as an emergency nest for a desperate chicken. The children’s little red wheelbarrow is a favorite laying place for another.
Collecting eggs that have already been laid, when the hens are long gone, is easiest. Catching a girl when she’s finished laying but hasn’t yet left the cozy seclusion of her nest can be a bit trickier. Sneaking a hand under her back side to retrieve the prize may come at the cost of a quick peck—or at least a scolding. I remember accompanying my grandma on daily gathering forays as she matter-of-factly and fearlessly reached under her chickens; she and grandpa had many. I thought then that she was very brave. I still do. She had faced many hardships in life; the wrath of a cranky chicken was nothing by comparison.
Spring is a gloriously rich egg season; the hunt—and occasional peck-- is worth it. Blue-green, white, dark brown, tan; charmingly small to surprisingly large; oval, conical, elliptical—they make a beautiful collection. And holding a fresh egg in the spring sunshine is a reminder of what miracles eggs are: individually wrapped bundles of complete protein and vital nutrients. They’re good boiled, fried, and baked. They give loft to breads and cakes. They make creamy puddings and ice cream. Their shells add calcium to the compost pile, and in turn, the garden soil.
Collecting eggs is one of the easiest and most immediately rewarding tasks on a homestead. It’s a regular, tangible reminder of why we choose to have poultry. Gathering daily miracles—and recognizing them as such-- is very good for the soul.