When we moved here, we spent all our money fixing up the old house; the leaky roof, the leaky plumbing, the snarly old electrical system from 1958 (with real fuses, yet). And the rot. Oh yes, the rot. This is western washington, probably the grayest and wettest part of western washington, and this house has been rained on continuously for 50 years. It took one whole summer and most of our funds to make it habitable (of course, this is why we were able to afford such a gorgeous piece of land. So don't think I'm complaining.). We had to try and conserve. So we got our first animals, the chickens, free off of Craig's List.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
There are more people giving away chickens than you might think. First, we aquired a pair of wild skinny hens, each with a brood of chicks, who promptly escaped my husband's attempt at a coop (we named it the Parthenon) and flew away. They came back after a couple of days, to my surprise, and have stuck around ever since. Three of seven chicks survived, a hen and two roosters, who now service our flock. Next we got a set of four tiny little grey birds who look more like pigeons than chickens, but they lay lovely greenish-blue eggs. They fly pretty well too. Then came Agnes and Muriel, two hens who turned out to be extremely elderly and cantankerous, but whom we had promised not to eat. The real prize came later; a flock of twelve prizewinning barred rocks, great fat ladies three times the size of any of our other birds, pampered hens who had been to the state fair. The farmer was starting over with new chicks, because these ladies were now four years old.
I'm not sure what the natural lifespan of a chicken is. Most of mine are definitely on the downslope, maybe the equivalent of fifty or sixty year olds. But they haven't hit menopause yet, if a chicken ever does. The fat ladies each lay gigantic brown eggs every other day or so, and even Agnes and Muriel will occasionally produce one.
Now, I'm used to buying my eggs at the supermarket, and I have to assume that only the prettiest eggs ever get packed into styrofoam, but man, do my chickens ever lay some weird eggs. I'd say a good two thirds of them are of, shall we say, less than supermarket quality for one reason or another. Either they are heavily freckled, or they have little calcium bumps all over them, or perhaps they just aren't exactly egg-shaped. Agnes or maybe Muriel lays these bizarre, incredibly fat eggs with a thick calcified ring around the equator. Another chicken lays wrinkled eggs. Wrinkled. Once, I found a tiny egg the size of a cat's eye marble, right there in the nest along with all the other eggs. I wonder about the hen who laid it. Did she lay a regular egg first? Was it a kind of an afterthought? Did it just squeeze out by accident after she thought she had finished?
But by far the weirdest egg I ever found wasn't just odd; it was downright frightening. It almost gave me a heart attack. I reached in the nest box to collect it, and when my fingers touched it, they sank right in. This egg, although it looked normal at first glance, had no shell at all. Just a tough membrane that allowed me to pick it up and carry it into the house, yelling, "look at this you guys! You're gonna freak!"