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Which came first-the chickens or the coop?

I am on a mission.  1840 Farm will have a flock of chickens in residence before winter comes calling.  No, this didn’t happen because of the salmonella egg scare that has been the news story du jour as of late.  But I will not tell a lie-it has certainly given me a whole new reason to keep working on the new coop.

We considered adding chickens to the farm two years ago.  It seemed like a relatively easy way to get closer to our food supply.  We read about chicken keeping and talked about how great it would be to have fresh eggs right outside our door.  A friend gave us a dozen fresh eggs from their Araucana hens.  They were beautiful.  So beautiful in fact, that they inspired me to take the picture that accompanies this post.  I liked the photo enough to hang it in my kitchen.   We were ready to proceed until the diagnosis of an egg allergy stopped us in our tracks.

Goodbye chickens.  Goodbye photograph of eggs hanging in the kitchen.  Goodbye eggs in the refrigerator.  Hello Google search for “how to bake without eggs”.  Our kitchen became more of a science laboratory than a farmhouse kitchen.  We no longer cracked eggs into my Great-grandmother’s egg cup.  We no longer made Madelines or Boston Cream Pie.  Well, we made them, we were just sorry to say that we had tasted them.

We tried all of the tricks of the trade from mashed bananas to tofu to powdered egg substitute.  Some worked.  Some didn’t.  Chocolate chip cookies were flat and dry instead of the light, cakey version that leaves my children begging Daddy to make more and me hoping that he will hear them.  Cakes tasted fine, but their texture was heavy and more like pound cake minus the rich eggy flavor.  I mourned its loss.  I told myself that I would be fine if I never ate another egg.  After all, plenty of vegans do it.  I revisited Google and started reading vegan recipes.  I was desperate.  Some of them were really helpful.  Others were too scary for me to try even in my weakened state.  I threw in the white towel.  I gave up eggs for good.  Get the picture?  It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I suddenly appreciated the marvel that is an egg.  It gives richness, flavor, lightness, and depth to everything it touches.  Okay, I know, I’m starting to sound like a lobbyist for the egg board.  I can assure you that I am not.  Why?  Simple.  I happened to sit in The Music Hall with my husband and watch Food, Inc. during our egg-free years.  I hadn’t eaten chicken or eggs for quite some time.  I still felt sick to my stomach.  Suddenly I knew something for sure.  I would never knowingly eat a factory farmed chicken or its eggs ever again.

I’ve said before that I don’t like to limit my diet with arbitrary food rules, but this one was easy.  Go ahead-watch the poultry related scenes in Food, Inc. and see how you feel.  I dare you.  I feel pretty confident that you won’t finish the viewing and proclaim, “Can I interest anyone in a bucket of chicken?”  That is, unless you have a very dry sense of humor and everyone else in the room knows that you are joking.  Otherwise, you may watch as your family and friends run out the nearest door and never look back.

Fast forward almost two years.  We started noticing fewer egg allergy symptoms.  And, lo and behold, the egg allergy was no more.  We celebrated by eating locally produced, organic eggs as many ways as we could imagine.  We made Easter eggs in July.  We colored them and took a moment to admire their beauty.  But only a moment.  Come on, there was egg salad to make.

The first time I made eggs for breakfast was a religious experience.  I marveled at what a magnificent vessel the eggshell is.  Then I cracked the egg into my hot cast-iron skillet and listened to the beautiful hissing sound.  Music to my ears.  I stood back to take in just how beautiful an egg really is.  Keep in mind that this all happened before my fork ever brought a bite up to my mouth.  What happened when I took that first taste will not be discussed in detail here.  Some things must be kept private.

And so, the talk turned to chickens again.  We waffled back and forth about fall versus spring chicks.  Adding our chicks this fall meant taking care of them all winter knowing full well that there would be no eggs until next spring rolls around.  Waiting for spring chicks meant waiting.  Something that I’m not always so great at doing.  And, we’d still have months of taking care of the chicks before we would lift the nesting box door to find a fresh egg looking back at us.  So, fall it is here at 1840 Farm.

Once we decided on fall chickens, the question turned to which type of chicken to have.  We researched and decided that heritage breeds would be just our style.  I mean, we view it as sport to wait for Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato to ripen to perfection.  Clearly,  plain Jane chickens just wouldn’t do.  Problem is, here we sit at the end of the baby chick year.  Many of the rarer heritage breeds simply aren’t available at this time of year.  My daughter and I spent hours cross referencing breed information with availability.  I won’t bore you with the details.  In the end, we found 4 breeds and selected two of each.  I never knew that inviting eight chickens to live here would be so difficult.

Fancy fowl or no, they need a place to live.  Winter is coming whether we are ready or not.  So, enough typing.  I’ve got to get working on that coop.  Haven’t you heard?  The chickens are coming.

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