I think I understand why people have chickens. It's not just the eggs. It's the overwhelming feeling of being needed and greeted when one approaches the coop. I don my rubber boots (ala Juneau)and head down the slippery wet hill with a basket in hand. The hens see me coming about half way down and come running to the gate. Ya ya, I KNOW they aren't really glad to see me; they want food. But I can't help but smile as I start jabbering away at them. Their priorities are simple, the deal is made: give me grass, bugs and grain and I'll lay you an egg. Let me out the gate to roam the pasture for the day and my yolk will be EXTRA golden.
The brownish-red chickens will lay one egg a day for two years, wrap it up and die. The black and white ones won't lay quite as regularly but they'll live around six years. They have fancy names, like Andalusian, Brahma and Wyandote. Some are capable of raising chicks from their eggs and others, like the Rhode Islands, have had the mother-thing bred out of them. This chicken business is serious.
And the eggs. Still warm in the straw, I place them into the basket. Usually about 14 every morning. Sometimes I find eggs protruding from the grass like some faded remnant from Easter. The hens don't seem to care where they lay. Some days two or three eggs line the fence edge.
I make my way to the kitchen and head for the cast iron skillet where I crack the hard shells of two eggs into hot butter and olive oil. The whites are firm and raised; the large circles of yolks, deep orange. Sometimes I add a tangy hard cheese and fresh veggies; some days it's just flip'em over and eat. Flavor-full.
One plump, red hen closes her eyes tonight in the dark chicken coop. She's three years old; managed to miss the kill cull every time it came around. She labors to get up, steps slowly, leans and pecks with great effort. Her eyes look small and glassy. Tomorrow morning when I make my way down the hill the geriatric hen may very well be dead.
No longer laying and too old to stew.