On these late autumn mornings, I wait for the fog to burn off before hen chores. This allows the ladies time to lay a handful or two of eggs for the freshest and most nutritious breakfast known to mankind.
As I’d expected with the shorter days and cooler weather, our six Isa Browns have reduced production. No more ten eggs a day, nor a surprise dozen, handy for batches of summer’s potato salads.
Even so, half a dozen eggs a day are more than enough for meals and baking. The recipients of our surplus call me “The Egg Lady.”
The only friend who declined a carton said, “I’m sorry, Iris, but I’ve never been able to eat a brown egg.”
Astonished, I replied, “But they’re not brown inside! They’re the same as a white egg!”
She shook her head in all sincerity. “Give them to someone who will appreciate them.”
Very wise advice to a gift-giver.
Truly, when Andy, our late friend and handyman, built our henhouse, I had no experience with hen husbandry. Sure, my mother grew up on a farm and told stories about feisty roosters, broody hens, and fluffy baby chicks.
On summer vacations, when my sisters and I were young, we ran races and climbed apple trees where Uncle Herm’s chickens roamed in the McCoy Bottom. I knew hens didn’t need a rooster to lay eggs. Now, how the hen laid an egg with a chick inside remained a mystery.
However, Andy spoke frankly about the propensity of free range hens to do exactly that on a neighbor’s property.
“Keep it simple,” he said. “I’ll build an enclosed pen on wheels so you can move the hens around to range safely.”
He promptly delivered our “tractor pen” with “A Guide to Raising Chickens” by Gail Damerow. “All you need to know about hens and eggs is in this book,” Andy said.
On page 150 is this piece of folk medicine: “To treat a wound and speed healing, the protein-rich membrane inside the shell is peeled away and bandaged in place over a cut. Raw eggs are also used as beauty aids – whites in facials, yolks in shampoos and hair conditioners.”
I cannot remember Mom using egg membranes for bandages or for her beautification. After years mucking their house, feeding, watering, doctoring, and gathering their eggs, I cannot imagine sacrificing an Isa Brown’s labor for my beauty.
However, that may change as my skin wrinkles and hair thins.
Meanwhile, I find my captive companions waiting at their chute, thank them for their food, and let them loose into their pen. They run to kitchen scraps and a head of cabbage they peck to the core.
Dear Reader, when I saunter back up the ridge these concluding, golden days of falling sugar maple leaves, I look to the west – wave to the long-legged shadow of the Egg Lady cast upon the blazing red landscape.
“Keep it simple,” she says. “Give this goodness to someone who will appreciate it.”
Contact Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org.