There are so many traditions we look forward to during this Easter season.
Gathering to worship and celebrate with family and friends is a priority, derailed for many last year by the pandemic. Flowers are a major part of the celebration, with outdoor daffodils in full bloom for this year’s festivities
And, how could we celebrate Easter without festive baskets overflowing with sweet treats, especially when they lean heavily toward chocolate? Whether you nibble your bunny ears off first, or save them for last, is a continuing debate among many families.
But what many youngsters look forward to, almost as much as those sweet treats in a basket, is the hunt for that incredibly iconic symbol of Easter, spring and new life ... the egg.
Despite pandemics, social distancing and ongoing viral concerns, egg hunts are scheduled among our communities, perhaps in somewhat different fashion than most years, but the hunt goes on. Painting, hiding and dragging around eggs until they were cracked and battered has become a memory most of us cherish from our childhood
Keeping traditions, like Easter egg hunts, going on for this generation of youngsters seems critically important for our kids, so vital to their well-being after their daily routines have been so completely upended this last year.
A Daily Free-Range Egg Hunt
Today, we will have an egg hunt here at the farm. But then, yesterday, we also had an egg hunt here at the farm, and the day before that. Tomorrow we will do it again. And again. And again.
“Grandma has an Easter egg hunt every day,” The Farmer often jokes to our family and friends.
And I do. It’s one of the challenges, or joys, of having a flock of free-range chickens. These daily egg hunts have given me a hearty respect for those folks who market free-range eggs on a commercial basis. How do they find all those free-range eggs? And just how far over their range do their hens travel?
The reality is, our free-range eggs should more accurately be labeled “farm-range,” because that’s where these girls and their attending roosters roam — over the entire farm. They travel from the cornfield surrounding the garden to the feedlot and shop area on the other side of the farmstead. They hang out in the garden, around the manure storage area, poke around the ponds, lounge all around the yard and root over the bank across the road. What becomes problematic is when they decide to lay their eggs on a farm-range basis. And, therein lies the issue of the daily egg hunt.
There are a few spots in the calf-barn-turned-chicken-coop where I can regularly find the large, shades-of-brown eggs from our assorted brown, white, black and speckled girls. But when eggs began turning up on the ground, just outside the sawdust shed, we puzzled over what would possess a chicken to lay eggs on that cold, damp, exposed spot, unprotected by anything. It seemed totally out of hen-laying character.
When two more eggs turned up on the bare ground one morning, one of them looking somewhat “shopworn,” a further investigation turned up a collection of 20-plus eggs, tucked into a makeshift nest between the framework of the shed and a loose corner of metal siding. Overflow eggs were tumbling out the side. Not knowing how long that cache had been accumulating, that batch of eggs is enriching the cats’ feedings.
A few days later, checking that nest, since abandoned, I spied another clutch of small, whitish eggs tucked in a shallow nest of sawdust on the opposite ledge of the shed’s stone foundation. Figuring one of the speckled bantam girls might be going “broody,” I scribbled colored lines on each of the half-dozen eggs with a marker, as I’d done with another collection I found in the barn. New additions are collected for use, because we’ve about reached our desired maximum chicken population.
But the biggest egg hunt surprise came during the fading light of dusk one evening, when I reached into a laying nest in the old coop ... and yelped at the sharp peck on my hand. Hunkered down in the near dark of the coop nest, her wings spread wide over her treasure of eggs, was our tiniest, all-black, bantam hen. This girl already had a head start toward hatching chicks, which should be due to hatch soon after Easter.
I still make daily checks for eggs in the empty nests on each side of the little black “broody” hen’s chosen spot. But, believe me, I steer clear of that sharp, protective beak.
Good luck to all the kids enjoying egg hunts this weekend. Let’s hope they all can haul home lots of colored eggs, candy treats and some special surprises.
But I sure hope none of them get pecked in the process.