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The egg war

Agriculture.com Staff 11/14/2007 @ 10:55am

Whenever someone says "It's not the money, it's the principle of the thing," don't believe them. Any time you hear that statement you can bet that it's the money.

Which makes it all the harder for me to say that it truly isn't the money. It really IS the principle.

Last spring, I purchased a dozen baby Ameraucana chicks. I had my reasons, the main one being the fact that we'd been beset by Asian lady beetles the past few autumns. My hope was that the chicks would become a brood of bipedal bug-eaters.

As the chicks grew so did their appetites, but I was able to temper the feed bill with table scraps. Those chickens never met a watermelon or cantaloupe rind they didn't like, and seem to think that stale bread is caviar.

I eventually gave the chickens the run of the yard. They soon began to patrol for bugs around the house, holding up their end of the bargain quite nicely. Only a few Asian lady beetles invaded our house this fall, and even my wife agreed that my chicken-based bug banishing scheme was a success.

The trouble began about a month ago, when I went out to the coop to check on things.

Our chicken coop was built fifty-some years ago by our neighbor Martin. On the day in question, I happened to casually glance at the homemade wooden nest boxes Martin had installed on the west wall.

There was something in one of the boxes. An egg!

But not just an ordinary supermarket-style egg. This egg, though somewhat small, had a shell that was a cool pastel blue. And here's a green one! I had obviously stumbled upon the Easter Bunny's secret source of Easter eggs!

I trotted to the house with my treasure. "And you said those silly chickens wouldn't pay!" I crowed to my wife as I proudly displayed my avian ovum honorarium.

She was duly unimpressed. "Wow," she said, "Ten more and you'll have a dozen. Divide that by what you've spent on chicken feed and those eggs will have cost only about $50 per dozen. You're a regular Howard Hughes!"

Those first two eggs quickly became French toast. The yolks were a brilliant florescent yellow, as if the hens had captured sunlight and concentrated it inside their pastel eggs. Or maybe it was all those Asian lady beetles.

As I polished off the French toast, it dawned on me that a dozen chickens should have produced more than just two eggs. Thus began my role as the Mighty Easter Egg Hunter.

I began to closely observe the hens' activity and take note of where they hang out. There are literally dozens of places on this farm where eggs can be hidden.

For instance, I noticed that they like to go under our old granary to take dust baths; this must be what passes for a beauty spa for bird-brains. I soon found myself in the decidedly undignified position of on the ground on my belly, peering under our dusty old granary.

I espied something in the dusk. Pay dirt! But after mashing my face against the foundation stones and stretching my arm an extra couple of inches, I hauled out -- an old golf ball! Those hens are smarter than I thought, having adopted the strategy of deploying egg decoys.

The chickens and I became locked in an egg war. I would find a cache of eggs and the hens would promptly respond by finding ever-more devious places to lay them.

When a couple of eggless days stretched into a week, I groused about the situation to my wife. Her only remark was, "What does it mean when a person can be outsmarted by a bunch of stupid chickens?"

This prompted me to redouble my efforts. One day I happened to see a red hen walking out of the granary. She was cackling noisily in a way that seemed to say, "You would never believe what just happened to my heinie region!"

I scoured the granary and found a hidden trove of two dozen eggs. I KNEW they'd been holding out on me!

In an effort to get on the hens' good side, I began to hand scatter grain for them. They became more trusting, but now scurry along after me whenever I go outside.

My wife recently commented about the 13 bird-brains she had seen walking across the yard that day.

"But we have only 12 chickens," I said.

She simply grinned and replied, "I rest my case!"

So you can see what I mean when I say it really, really is the principle of the thing.

Whenever someone says "It's not the money, it's the principle of the thing," don't believe them. Any time you hear that statement you can bet that it's the money.

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