Collecting eggs in the dimly lit, warm and earthy smelling barn has been a fall and early winter ritual which steadies me and brings me comfort several times a day. Reaching into the straw to pick up a freshly laid egg feels like the best kind of miracle. The egg is always warm. I never cease marvelling that this egg just came out a hen’s body. I love the particular shape and feel and weight of an egg in the hand. Over time, my fingers have become deft at handling eggs. I can tell a lot about an egg just by holding it.
Because some of our hens have learned to eat a freshly laid egg, we pick eggs as often as we can. I have only recently learned to reach right under a laying hen to pick the eggs from the chickens who sat in that nesting box before her. I am reminded of my friend, Greg, who worked with buffalo. When he took us out to see them, he stressed that he liked to work quietly around the buffalo to keep them calm. He would probably laugh at me if I told hime that I feel similarly about chickens. Chickens can be easily rattled; some are nervous and high strung. I challenge myself to move quietly in the chicken barn, to reach under a laying hen in such a way that she just carries on laying her egg. If I am calm and quiet, the hen continues to sit while I reach under her warm and silky body, to find eggs, sometimes one or two and other times half a dozen. Sometimes though, the hen squawks and leaves. Very occasionally, I get pecked.
Something I have noticed about hens getting ready to lay an egg: they take all the time they need. That’s all they do. No multi tasking for these girls! When a hen is in the midst of laying an egg she makes small humming gurgling noises, she is fully focussed, there is a particular concentrating kind of energy about her. Something tells me to leave her be. One of our Aracana hens, who lays beautiful mint green eggs, sometimes sits on the nesting box for a couple of hours. It is no small thing to lay an egg.
When I leave the chicken barn and step out into the white wintry world, deep within me there is a warm, earth, dimly lit golden place… with softness of feathers, the murmur of hens, the deep concentration that gifts us with the miracle of a warm and nourishing egg.
I carry the gifts of the hens with me all day.