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(post, Caroline Cummins)
I admit, it's been a while since my last chicken post — nearly two months, in fact. Frankly, all was quiet on the chicken front, and there wasn't much to report. Our three remaining chickens — Stevie the former invalid, Tuffy the bossy bird, and Snoop the tiebreaker, ganging up with Tuffy or Stevie as the chicken clique seemed to demand — were all just fine. They lived ordinary chicken lives, roosting in their coop by night and wandering in their run by day. They ate. They drank. They snacked on kitchen scraps, oyster shell, grit, and scratch (a grain blend that's basically like healthy candy for birds). And that was about it. Not very exciting. Well, we did start to let them out of the run in the afternoons and evenings, when we'd be home and could keep an eye on them. They'd mosey around the fenced back yard in a little flock of three, pecking at the ground and pulling at the plants and generally making a mess of things. (Note to future owners of free-range chickens: Do not sit outside in open-toed sandals while your chickens roam around you. Bare toes look awfully like tempting worms, as I learned the painful way.) [%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Our very first egg."] In the mornings, my husband would faithfully check inside the coop to see if any of our birds had begun their domestic duty by laying an egg. The books he had read on the matter declared that chickens should start laying at about five months of age, which meant August for our birds. But of course, the books waffled, saying that some birds might not lay until eight months. Sigh. After a few weeks of no egg-no egg-no egg, you, too, would get tired of checking. It got to the point where my husband began to fret that, maybe, these remaining three birds were also roosters. They were growing slightly bigger wattles and combs, after all, and Tuffy and Stevie in particular had gotten very squawky. I protested that, surely, they would be crowing by now if they were boys, and suggested that the squawking was just the birds' way of saying hello, since they didn't do it unless we were around. But my husband was depressed, envisioning a long future of pet chickens who did nothing but freeload on organic chicken meal and leftover veggies. [%image twoeggs float=left width=400 caption="Our egg looks rather small next to an egg from our CSA."] Then one warm evening while we were lounging outside, birds underfoot, I noticed that Snoop was hanging around our chairs more than usual. Normally if we reached for a bird, even slowly, they'd spook and flutter away. But I could reach out to Snoop and stroke her along her back, and she would just sit there, unmoving, head down and wings held slightly aloft. I didn't think much of it until a few weeks later, when I was killing time at the dentist's office and catching up on my miscellaneous magazine reading. Sunset magazine had an article about locavore eating, including raising your own chickens. The article noted that when a chicken is getting ready to lay, it will approach you and let you pet its back, in the futile (but amusing) hope that you will be a rooster and mate with it. Aha! I thought. Snoop, at least, is a girl — and she might soon lay us an egg. [%image eggplate float=right width=300 caption="Eggs for breakfast — our egg is the smaller one on the right."] More days ticked by. And then, on a chill, gray Tuesday morning, my husband trudged out to the coop, opened the little door for the nesting box, and was greeted by the sight of a small blue egg sitting in the straw. Ecstatic, he promptly began getting out pans, butter, and bread for a celebratory egg breakfast. (He also likes to spin reggae records as part of his morning routine, but on this particular occasion, feeling that something a bit more triumphant was called for, he put on an old Cleveland Orchestra recording of Dvořák's "New World" symphony.) It was a small egg, as initial egg-laying efforts tend to be. And it was dirty, of course, since ultra-fresh eggs are not exactly washed off by their mothers. But it was still beautiful, with a nice pointy tip and a pale shade of blue-gray-green. And it was ours. I almost wanted to give Snoop a medal. Of course, we'd better not count our eggs before they've been laid. Heck, for all we know, this is it for the year. But it sure was cute — and tasty.