This time of year, we are usually drowning in chicken eggs. The ladies are overly happy with the lush grasses, the marsh that is filled with all sorts of new and interesting bugs to snack on and the somewhat mild temperatures July has been bringing us. Their more natural diet leads to some of the brightest orange yolks around and there probably isn't a day that goes by that these precious gems are not included in our daily meals. My six year old frys up her own eggs for breakfast, but the yolks HAVE to be runny. My 11 year old bakes six days out of the week and my 14 year old snacks on hard boiled eggs dipped in Braggs. We use eggs in salads, in homemade noodle recipes, on sandwiches and for most of our breakfasts. We also sell close to 75 dozen eggs off of our farm. So when our egg population starts to decline, we notice.
We raise mostly Ameraucana chickens. They are not the best egg layers (averaging an egg every two to three days), but when they do decide to lay one, oh man...it is worth the wait. The shell is one of the most beautiful shades of blue I have seen and paired with our Rhode Island Reds, who lay brown eggs, it makes for a pretty dozen in the egg carton.
We also encourage our chickens to free range. Meaning they have shelter, but besdies roosting at night, they are on their own. Most days you can find the chickens in the marsh, sometimes playing with the sheep and even more often, in my vegetable garden (garden fence is on the 'to-do' list). Their diet is supplemented with organic soaked grain laced with apple cider vinegar and a bit of molasses, but I am pretty stingy with my feedings. My chickens seem to prefer foraging on their own for their food and it makes a huge difference in the color of thier yolks. Happy hens equals happy eggs. And that's the way we like it on our farm. Until they start hiding their eggs.
Did I mention Ameraucana's are also sneaky egg hiders? I have found their eggs in some of the strangest places...under my tomato plants, in the eves of the barn (daily climbing on a ten foot ladder to gather eggs was an adventure in itself), in my couch cushions (don't ask) and in my knitting basket (ok, you can ask). But this time...I looked everywhere. I even hiked through the marsh to find that golden clutch of eggs, but nothing. The children, once excited to go on daily live 'Easter egg hunts', soon got bored and looked at it as one more farm chore that wasn't fun (sidenote: most of our farm chores are fun, but searching for eggs ranks about as high as animal fencing on my children's list of "farm chores I hate.") So...it was time for a major reset. Enter the chicken jail.
The chicken jail is a fenced in area that allows my chickens to roam somewhat free, but reminds them where to lay their eggs. They are in the jail from 6 am until noon, with the assumption that they will lay their eggs in the morning and be released for good behavior for the rest of the day. That's the assumption, anyway.
The first few days, the ladies completely revolted. They held onto their eggs as if to see who would give in first (me or them). But after day four of no eggs, we came to an agreement, of sorts. I am no stranger to talking to my farm animals and negotiating, when necessary, and in this case, the negotiations worked. We are back to our usual amount of eggs, the kids are back to eating eggs for snacks and I am staying off high ladders in search of these blue beauties. And the chickens? Well, a little bribery never hurt anything. They are getting extra composted greens in exchange for daily egg laying. Way to go ladies.
P.S. The amazingly beautiful picture of the eggs and the more incredible red shoes was taken by an egg customer with an eye for beauty...her own and the eggs. Thanks Jackie!