Eggs. I have such a love hate relationship with eggs. I love having them on hand to use whenever I want, however many I need. Never having to think about running out. The only running involved is running out to the nest boxes when my counter top bowl gets low. Until the hens stop laying and suddenly I’m out. How did that happen? I ask myself. It seems that it was just last week I was complaining about so many darn eggs. I was dreading the daily or twice daily gathering of the eggs.
I keep a flock of over 100 layers. Most of those eggs go to our customers who love having a source of healthy and humanely created eggs. People rave about the thick whites, the dark orange yolks. The freshness of the egg. Honestly, people go on and on about the virtue of our eggs. I could write an “Ode to the Egg” using comments from our customers. For the past 6 years, I haven’t had to buy a single egg from a grocery store or even from a fellow farmer. Until just now.
I finally used up the very last egg that I had stockpiled to get me through the seasonal egg shortage. Somehow I didn’t set aside enough eggs this time around. Starting in September, when I supplement daylight for the layers, I begin setting aside an extra carton or two each week. I don’t wash those eggs. Just tuck them away in a carton and keep in a cool, dark spot. Each week when I go out to add another carton, I take a minute to flip the older cartons upside down. Rotating them in this manner keeps the yolks centered in the shells. It’s not necessary, unless you are making boiled eggs and want a centered yolk. But I do it anyway, one of those traditions that just keeps going until you forget how it started.
So there I was- staring at that empty egg bowl. It was time to face the ugly truth. For the first time since I’d started farming I was out of eggs for good. Earlier, when my egg supply was dwindling and I saw that my layers were molting and it was costing so much more money to feed chickens that weren’t ever going to earn back the cost of their keep I had confidently announced, “That’s it. I’m done. We’re culling these chickens for the stew pot.” I ordered up a batch of new chicks that would be laying eggs by early Spring and added “Stew Hen Harvest Day” to my calendar. I’m sure I smiled and gave a huge sigh of relief because managing a flock of laying hens in the winter is at the top of my least my favorite farm chores. I was feeling good. Until faced with that empty egg bowl.
It wasn’t supposed to work out quite this way. But those hens stopped laying eggs before I had time to stock up on the extras. I knew that I would have to find a source of eggs. I figured I’d buy some at the store. I’d buy the organic, no soy, no corn, GMO Free, cage free, certified humane, NON vegetarian fed, free ranging…happy healthy version offered at my local store. Only there weren’t any. Not at the local store in my farm’s town. And not at two or three of the other stores I checked out. Sure, there were versions of the egg I was searching to find. But not a single carton that matched all of the descriptions I needed to see on an egg carton in order for me to feel slightly less guilty about feeding them to my family. Things were looking bad.
Finally I decided I just needed to buy the best ones available so I could move on with my life. I had chores to do, and brownies to bake. I was at an impasse and just needed to break through. There I stood, staring at the egg choices. Reading labels. Ah-ha! I’ll take that one. It was organic, certified humane and raised cage free. I wasn’t going to let myself debate over the truth in those labels. I was just going to buy it. All of them. I was going to buy every last carton of that brand of egg so I could stock my fridge with enough eggs to get me through until my chicks were laying in the Spring.
Except the spot on the shelf was empty. They were gone. Some other savvy shopper had beat me to it. Hmm. There must be more in the back. I asked the employee who was stocking next to me. “Do you have any more certified humane eggs in the back?” I get a blank look. “You want eggs?” “Yes, the certified humane eggs.” I stare back. This was getting personal. I needed those eggs. “Ok, let me go check”. Please, let there be a pallet of eggs. Of good eggs. Happy, healthy eggs.
I see the employee on the phone. I’m wondering if I look crazed and she’s calling in for help. I move closer so I can listen in..”do we have any inhuman eggs?” she glances at me. “No- the non-humane, I mean human eggs…” She looks at me again. I’m motioning to her through the little window in the door. Clearly I’m making her uncomfortable. “No- the certified humane raised eggs!” I call out, trying to smile and look like a normal shopper.
“Sorry. No eggs. It’s a national egg shortage.”
What? I feel my smile crumple. I’m defeated. No good eggs? A national egg shortage? How can this be happening. Does no one else understand the beauty of the perfect egg? Sure, there were still lots of eggs on the shelf. But none of them were as near as good as the eggs my hens had been laying all year long until they stopped.
Next year will be different, I vow. I will plan better. I will appreciate all of those runs to the nest boxes. In the meantime I’m ordering up a second batch of laying chicks. And I might even write an “Ode to the Egg Shortage.”