It's hard work putting all my hens' eggs in one basket

Twenty years ago, when I proposed to my husband that we establish a poultry flock, he protested. John thought we should finish building our house first. Because we were constructing it ourselves from the ground up, I knew this would take a long time, so I wheedled.

"Just think of all those egg dishes you enjoy," I said, "poached eggs, soufflés, banana pudding, lemon-meringue pie, and stuffed eggs." When I mentioned stuffed eggs, John's eyes lit up. "I'll make them every day if we buy a few hens," I added. For months, I boiled eggs every morning until John reached his saturation point.

In the beginning, my egg-layers ducked into old apple crates that I'd temporarily stacked in a shed. My hens usually have been complacent chickens that cheerfully lay their eggs in whatever sort of nesting box I offer them.

To date, I still keep a respectable flock of buff Orpingtons, speckled Sussex, black giants, and Rhode Island reds that inhabit a large coop attached to our goat barn. When a neighboring farmer retired, he gave us metal nesting boxes, which have a handy bar for the hen to hop onto before she tucks herself in.

Sometimes chickens fight over the favorite nesting spot where every hen wants to lay her egg. Squawking and squabbling, the hens argue as they determine the pecking order of the day. Once in a while, I will find two birds squeezed into a nesting site, and I must remind them that "one at a time" is a better policy. After the hen lays her egg, the brown orb rolls down into a trough and waits for the evening collection.

Last summer, John reported that raccoons had thinned our flock. But only after the numbers had been severely diminished did we realize the extent of the damage. We had not raised any chicks that spring, so I ordered a few pullets from the local hatchery.

The isabrown hens were waiting in a box when I drove into the hatchery. A worker told me that the hens should begin laying in a week or two. As I loaded the box into my car, they squawked a few times, but they appeared to be easy going. When I released them into my coop, I found that one hen had laid an egg on the journey home!

I should have taken this as a sign that these hens preferred any location other than the ones I offered in which to deposit their eggs. Now, instead of just picking up the eggs from the nesting-box trough, I must search the coop.

One day, I find eggs under the roost; the next day, a clutch is hidden in a corner. I went a day or two before discovering the current favorite location: far back underneath the nesting boxes. To claim those eggs I need a broom. Squatting down, I gently sweep them toward me until I can reach them.

A few hens watch me and cackle over my antics, seeming almost gleeful over the egg hunt they have staged. Soon they'll think of another spot to try to outwit me. In the meantime, the prospect of an occasional lemon-meringue pie makes the hunt worth the effort.

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