Brain Cookies

Here’s the Thing: Dispatches from a Small Midwestern Town

Posted on: February 3, 2017


Consider the egg. Specifically, the chicken egg. A humble item: staple of bakeries, cornerstone of brunches, favorite projectile of delinquents.

I never really thought much about eggs before becoming a chicken owner. Now, more often than not, my days revolve around eggs.

If you’ve been following these dispatches, you know that I have four chickens: Jimmy, Delta, Bob, and Dave. Three of them lay an average of one egg a day, for about a dozen eggs every four days. (Dave’s productivity has been below expectations, i.e. nonexistent.)

Eggs are common. But here’s the thing: eggs are amazing.

Imagine the resources that go into making an egg. A chicken generates a yolk, a white, and a shell that could become a chick if not or its lack of a sperm cell. This virtually complete reproductive package is a substantial portion of the hen’s body size and weight. She essentially grows and births a baby.




I can barely deal with the fallout of generating a single egg cell once a month.

And the eggs are DRY. Well, I did read that there is some fluid that eases the egg’s passing through the cloaca, but it dries almost instantly.

I try not to think about this too much.

The entire process of laying an egg is adorable. When a chicken is ready to lay, she’ll find a dark, private place and huddle there quietly. Even Bob, who never shuts up, is quiet when she’s laying. You might hear some shuffling around, and maybe even hear the egg hit the floor, but that’s it. Of course, once the egg is out, they raise holy ruckus. Pride? Pain? It would take someone fluent in chickenese to say for sure.

Another surprising thing is that laying isn’t the same for every chicken. My three layers all have their own routines. Jimmy goes in, lays, and is done. Delta takes a long time to work up to it. She’ll go in, sit, go out, go back in, go back out, like a woman pacing during labor. Bob doesn’t mess around. She is in and out in record time—I assume because she’s got lots of talking to get back to.

And their eggs are all different. I can tell which chicken laid which egg. Jimmy’s are medium brown and relatively large, nicely shaped, smooth. Delta makes enormous eggs with gorgeous deep golden brown shells that fill my palm. Bob’s haste shows. Her eggs are long and skinny, with shells that unfailingly have an odd, wrinkled blemish on the pointy end.

There’s also a surprising amount of delight in finding an egg. Every day is Easter. The delight is not dampened by the expectation of the egg, or the limited places to look. Delight is more intense when the egg is found still warm.

I find myself seeking that egg thrill. I frequently peek outside to track the chickens’ movements in the coop. If I only see three outside, I know there’s one “in the box.”* I make excuses to go out to the coop half a dozen times a day, just to see if there’s an egg to collect. I feel guilty disturbing a laying hen in even the slightest ways, like opening the garage door or speaking too loudly when outside.

If one of the chickens skips a day, I worry. Is it too cold? Is she sick? Did I interrupt her too many times? Is she getting enough light, water, food? Is she angling for dental?

One thing is certain: Dave’s unsatisfactory performance will be brought up in her quarterly review, and continued low productivity will be reflected in her compensation package.

*The phrase “in the box” makes me inordinately happy. I can’t help paraphrasing Carr in Cool Hand Luke: “Any chicken caught without an egg spends a night in the box.”

Originally published at The Preterit Review

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