Friday, April 25, 2008

The Neighborhood Egg Farm

As mentioned before, I grew up in the country. Our nearest neighbors had an egg farm. They were about 1/4 mile away, so it wasn't noisy, and I can't remember there ever being an odor problem. They were good neighbors, and we always had fresh eggs. I worked for some of those eggs, now and again. This was in the old days of egg farming, so the chickens lived in large, multi-floor barns, with lots of boxes built in for laying. Each large flock had the run of an entire floor of the barn, making that one coop. There was one rooster in each coop, apparently to induce the hens into greater fecunditiy.

Harvesting the eggs was interesting: I would grab a round, plastic-coated wire basket from a stack near the door, then slip into the coop and start walking up and down the aisles, checking each nesting box for eggs. Many of the boxes held glass eggs, which were used to encourage the hens to nest, so you had to be sure you were getting real eggs. Eggs that were damaged were set aside. Often the hen would be sitting on her nest, none too pleased with the prospect of some kid stealing her eggs. I'd have to shoo the chicken out of the nest, or try to reach under her and take the eggs one-by-one. The trick to stealing them was to keep your hand over the egg, because the hen would try and peck your hand when you pulled it out, and if she got the egg, you'd just wasted everyone's time.

Sometimes the eggs would be laid in odd places, like under, or on top of the nest box, or sometimes just randomly on the floor, particularly in a corner. Once all the eggs were collected (about two baskets from each coop), I'd take the eggs to the egg washing machine, which was really just an old wringer clothes washer, without the wringer.

Once the eggs were washed, it was time to candle and sort them. There was an ingenious machine that sorted the eggs. First stop was the candler, basically a light shined into the egg to see if the egg was fertilized, double-yolk, or otherwise odd. After that, each egg proceeded down the ramp, gracefully wobbling into the right bin as the appropriate gate opened based upon the eggs weight.

We liked double-yolk eggs, so I would bring home as many of those as I could. I enjoyed collecting eggs, despite having to fend off irate roosters, and the sometimes pungent smell and mess of the coops. I particularly liked watching the eggs being sorted, but then I've always been fascinated by complex machines. I have several friends who raise a small amount of chickens for personal use, and thinking about my past experiences with chickens makes me think maybe we should get some chickens. Now all I have to do is convince Rene -- wish me luck.

Eggs on Whidbey Island.


Mollye said...

I don't know why she would say "NO". I mean with all of the free time you guys have to take care of chickens! LOL

Rene said...

I just informed Dan that it would take a lot (AND I DO MEAN A LOT!!) more than luck!! I love eggs but the chickens need to live somewhere else!

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