I answered the loud knock with a “C-o-m-i-n-g!”, and opened my kitchen door to find my neighbor Lee beaming as he presented me with a carton of beautiful brown eggs. I had glimpsed chickens in their back yard a few times, but I hadn’t thought full circle that chickens meant eggs – these lovely, large eggs!
Why do brown eggs have extra wholesome, homespun appeal to me? I fried one sunny side up the next morning, after Kathie and Mark had gone to school and work. Feeling a bit self-indulgent, I noted the yolk’s deep, golden hue compared to my usual eggs.
That golden yolk inspired me to do some research. Egg yolks are one of the few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D, and yolk color depends on the diet of the hen. Gift or store-bought, eggs are high quality protein. Americans eat about 250 eggs a year per capita and, of the 5.5 billion dozen eggs produced per year in the United States, Ohio ranks the second highest state in egg production.
When I walked over to ask about the chickens, Grandma Schnarrenberger answered the front door.
“They’re Alex’s chickens,” she informed me. “He’s wanted chickens for some time; he’s the one who takes care of them. I think he’s around back.”
I headed for the back yard looking forward to a chance to talk to Alex. I’d cared for infant Alex during his first year or more and watched his soft, red baby hair turn blond. Now 10 and ready for middle school, he walked with me to the fence around their former doghouse, now a perfect coop for his small flock.
They bought his birds at the Rogers Auction. The reddish brown one is a New Hampshire. The two black ones are Barred Rocks.
“Is that the same as a Plymouth Rock?” I asked.
“Farmers have different names for the same things,” he explained, “like some people say lawn mower for what others call a tractor.” Sensible boy.
His hens each lay an egg a day, more than his family can use, so they’ve been giving them to friends and neighbors (lucky me, I thought). The darkest black hen is named Patty, one that looks gray next to Patty is called Amanda, and the brown one is Lucy. Some days, he finds a small, fourth egg and he’s pretty sure it’s Patty’s.
Once they fence in a little more of the yard, he tells me he might get more chickens and maybe sell the eggs. As I look over at Alex, I see that he is nearly as tall as I am, and the bright afternoon sun helps me notice his soft brown freckles that are about the same shade as beautiful brown eggs.
Alex and his hens remind me of one of the nursery rhymes my grandmother used to read to me:
Hickety pickety, my black hen,
She lays eggs for gentlemen.
Gentlemen come every day
To see what my black hen doth lay.
Sometimes nine, sometimes ten.
Hickety pickety, my black hen.