With Easter right around the corner, I wanted to talk about eggs, and a little about chickens.
When I was a girl, my grandfather gave me a hen as a gift. It was a special hen that really liked to sit on eggs. This little hen, would spend all her days sitting on the eggs of other chickens and so to please her, people would buy and sell her so that she could hatch eggs to fulfill her heart desire. Not everyone wants a hen like this because it will not lay a lot of eggs itself, it just prefers to sit brooding. Consequently this hen became somewhat of a commodity. People would have her for a while then pass her on to another family. If you wanted chicks naturally incubated, then this little hen was just right for the job. Grandpa knew I would adore this, and so when he turned up with the chicken and shared a little of her nature it was decided she had to have a special name. None of our other chickens had names, but with the highly valued role she was going to play in the chicken coop, I named her Wilhelmina.
I say she was a little hen because she really was little. Part bantam, and part chicken, she was white with a black Pierrot collar and black tail feathers. Her picturesque stature, along with her disposition made her a delightful addition for me to the hen-house. I had always wanted our chickens to have chicks, but none of our other chickens ever felt like it. We did not have a rooster, and so the eggs our chickens laid were not fertilized, and could never become chicks. Grandpa took me to the rural buying store and we bought eggs from a farmer who knew his chicken had been “pecked” by the rooster. Now a rooster pecking a chicken’s head does not fertilize the egg, but it starts with him chasing the hen, pecking the hen, holding her head down and then the rest follows.
When you hatch eggs, half of the chicks might be roosters. If half of the batch are roosters then we would have to find another home or purpose for the roosters. We didn’t want to have to worry too much about that, so Grandpa said I could only have a few fertilized eggs. I am not sure how many eggs we had exactly, but after three weeks of Wilhelmina incubating the eggs, two sweet fluffy chicks hatched.
My chicken was named Wilhelmina after my best friend’s cabbage patch doll, and as this unfolded my Grandma told me the history of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. Queen Wilhelmina had a daughter named Juliana, and so my eight year old self decided to name the female chick Juliana and the other which appeared to be a rooster, Julian.
Now this isn’t much of a story, but somehow this memory of my little chicken and her chicks, named after Netherlands royalty seems important to share. People and chickens live life together, and it becomes our history, so what is really important is that we make choices for a history we can be proud of.
When Cam and I first started dating, he was vegan. I loved this about him, but I was honest and upfront and told him right away that I loved eggs. Cam and I discussed this and I felt I could confidently say I loved eggs because I had given it a lot of thought and weighed up the reality. After going over and over the logic, rational and purpose, to this day I still eat eggs and feel good about it, but I never forget to show my respect with some internal gratitude for the chicken. Egg eater or not it is good to know that chicken eggs have a unique position within our world.
One of the things that a lot of people might not consider with chickens, is that the majority of the time, a chicken releasing an egg has nothing to do with the chicken’s desire to have chicks. Chickens release eggs just as we human women release eggs, but far more frequently. It is just a part of the anatomy process. And also just like us, not every egg is designed to be a baby, or in the chicken’s case, a chick. Eggs are a sign of the chicken’s fertility, not a sign of them wanting to have chicks. Chickens will happily lay eggs in relation to their personal body rhythm, which can be regular, or whenever. You can’t force a chicken to lay an egg (like you can forcefully take milk from a cow) their bodies just release an egg when it feels right. This could be daily, or weekly, depending on the chicken. If a chicken is well and in good living conditions laying an egg is not painful, and in fact it can be interpreted as satisfying and good for the chicken when the egg is laid. For the chicken, laying an egg is also a symbol, of vitality… but as I said, not every egg is meant to be a chick. The reason we know this, is because chickens have cycles, where they get broody, or as we say, clucky. If the timing of fertilization from a rooster occurs at the same time the chicken is broody then chicks can hatch naturally. When a chicken wants to sit on eggs and raise chicks, her behavior will change. Some chickens never get broody, and other chickens spend a lot of time being broody. Either way, the majority of eggs laid by chickens are of little concern or value to the chickens, and most are not fertilized. As an animal product, this sets eggs apart from honey that bees produces for the hives nourishment and survival. Chickens are not predisposed to eat their own eggs. Some will, if they physically need the calcium, but usually they wont.
This being the fact, is partly strategic breeding and evolution, but before chickens arrived in the degree of domestication they are now, their natural disposition and role in the ecosystem lent itself to human co-habitation. Chickens don’t fly, they can roost and coast, and sometimes sort of half fly, but they are by no means birds of flight, due to this they nest low, and actually might not even make a nest. Laying eggs means they are then susceptible to predators like foxes and raccoons. The difference between a fox regularly taking eggs from the nest and a human removing eggs from the nest, is that the fox for its primal and rudimentary ways is more likely to eat the chicken too, where the human has the ability to resist and reason so that it can have eggs over and over again. In the ideal scenario, the chicken is more likely to have a longer life in the role of egg layer with a relationship to the human. I like to think of it as a fable, that the chicken chose people, and people choose the chicken, because they make good friends.
Now the important thing about this story, is that friends treat each other nicely. And there are a lot of humans out there who have not been nice to chickens, and there are a lot of people buying eggs every day, and don’t even want to think about where the eggs came from. Some of us though, have an ingrained love and respect for the chicken, and those of us that do, get to eat the golden eggs.
I completely understand that you might be bothered and think that this evolution of the chicken was forced upon it by man, but if we put ourselves back in a place of early mans survival, when man stopped being nomadic and started what became farming, we can see why our ancestors took to the chickens. Now, at this point in time, to undo the evolution of the chicken is near impossible. Chickens and humans cohabitate and so it is really not a matter whether you personally eat eggs or not, but about supporting the positive cohabitation of chickens and people.
A few years ago we were vacationing in Key West. One of the unique things about this island, is that it has wild chickens. They are known as the gypsy chickens and they are completely free roaming self-sufficient chickens. The Cubans had brought the chickens to Key West, it is said about 175 years ago. Given it is an island, the confined geography made for freedom within a natural control. I was fascinated by this as it was an example of the undoing of chicken domestication. The chickens were scrawny, and there were more roosters than chickens, and I imagine this was because rooster are a little tougher/stronger/faster than chickens. The roosters were a bit of a problem in town because as we all know, the rooster rings in dawn with a hearty and proud “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” each day. If you are a nurse just going to sleep after a night shift, or a parent who has just settled a baby to sleep, the last thing you want is a rooster or many roosters, heralding in the new day. We see this sentiment echoed in the rules for urban chicken owners who are generally not permitted to have roosters. Roosters really can make a lot of noise.
The other thing I noticed while in Key West, was that you would see a mama chicken with a flock of tiny newly hatched fluffy chicks, and there would be an expected average of 8-10 chicks. Then you would see another mama chicken with some older chicks, and there might only be 2-3 left. Unlike ducklings that can find safety in water, or birds of flight that nest up high, chicken chicks are very easy prey. Being a chicken in the wild can be tough. Even for one with many generations between it and domestication. What this made me realise is that part of the chicken’s present existence seems to be a high mortality rate, be it roaming free in nature or at the hands of man culling the males.
Chickens aside, let’s get back to the egg. It is highly unlikely all humans will unanimously decide to stop eating eggs… and it isn’t only eating eggs that would have to stop… eggs are used in medicine, like when making immunizations. Eggs are so much part of the way we live, undoing this completely would take an eternity. Which means it is better to focus on making the life of the chicken and the production of the egg the best it can possibly be. There are terrible things happening to some chickens, and I am not writing this to make people feel bad, but to inspire a feel good connection to the source. People are becoming more aware and with that positive solutions will be found. It is said that chickens can change sex after hatching, and it is an old wives tale that incubation temperature can determine and control the sex too. I feel that with focus and impetus, those that care about chickens will discover conditions and solutions to improve and resolve the negative realities for chickens. Essentially we have to, for our own well-being, if we want to eat eggs and enjoy it.
Energy is transmitted through food, and the respect shown when growing or producing the things we eat, creates an added dimension to life. You can call it good vibes, or good karma, or you can consider it blessing, and whether or not you agree it is important for you, the spiritual essence of food is a theory that exists throughout mankind and across indigenous cultures. Science proves that food or livestock grown and raised with a strong personal connection, love and respect has more vitality, because the love and respect manifests in good meaningful choices. What this means, is that if you eat what I call “golden eggs”, you will have a healthier body, and feel better about yourself. It all goes hand in hand, to lift the overall energy of life. By connecting to the journey of the egg, we can find satisfaction in having less. There is supply and demand and demand and supply, and we can demand quality over quantity. No one really should have to demand anything, but going into your local cafe and asking nicely if they could start using better quality eggs can work! We have the positive power to raise the conscious. The more people who want the golden egg, the more golden eggs there will be. We can be an abundant world, and feel good about it.
A few facts:
Our family eat an average of 1-3 eggs a week.
We buy local free range organic eggs.
I won’t eat eggs or baked goods in restaurants unless they are free range organic (which is why we rarely eat out).
Quality over quantity is my motto, I would prefer to go without if the eggs are not the best.
My mother has always had chickens, many of which are retired battery hens.
My mother does not eat eggs, she gives them away.
One day we would like to raise and care for chickens.