When we first moved to our current residence almost seven years ago, one of the first things that we did was to get some chickens. We started with a fairly modest arrangement – 4 chickens in a metal semi-circular cage that could be wheeled around the yard to find a fresh spot for them. It wasn’t however, very practical. It was difficult to clean, hard to catch the chickens and there really wasn’t much room for them. So we upgraded to a custom built chicken coop with a fenced yard for them to run around in during the day before being safely locked away again at night. It wasn’t long before the yard underwent an expansion to what it is today – a fairly substantial area with an outdoor shelter and a series of branches which form a covered walkway from the outdoor shelter to the indoor area. This gives the chickens a means of escaping into their covered area should they need to. There have been some modifications – a series of wires strung across the closest trees in order to thwart the resident eagle and a barricade of sticks and logs to keep the foxes out. Since these changes we haven’t lost any chickens to the local predators.
We currently have nine girls – four brown ones and five white ones. I don’t know what variety they are. They are just the ones that are available at the local produce shop and are chosen because they lay well. They make no use whatsoever of their luxurious shelter choosing instead to roost outside on the branches regardless of the weather. A couple of them choose to leave their enclosure during the day – flying over the fence and spending the day wandering around the garden. The others stay put and entertain the local brush turkeys who have come to think that they are also chickens. Surprisingly the chickens seem to tolerate them which is a bit unusual as chickens can be fairly vicious creatures sometimes.
The Girls are laying well at the moment, we generally get eight eggs a day. There really is nothing like really fresh eggs. You are guaranteed perfectly poached eggs when you know when the egg was laid and while shelling a hard boiled egg might be more difficult when the egg is fresh this is a price I’m prepared to pay.
The culinary history of eggs makes fascinating reading. You local library might have a copy of Harold McGee’s encyclopaedia on ‘Food And Cooking’. Originally published in 1984 the book answers many questions about science and cooking. The most recent version printed in 2004 updates the original text incorporating information about ingredients we now take for granted but were rarely heard about in 1984 (think extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar). He devotes an entire chapter to eggs – their biology and chemistry, what happens when you cook an egg and why sometimes you need to use a fresh egg and other times an older one is better. It makes for very interesting reading but be warned ‘McGee on Food and Cooking’ isn’t a light book and you’re in danger of substantial injury if you try and read it in bed.