If I were writing this column as a personal letter to a friend, I should sign it, “Henry the Eggless.” Perhaps because of the colder weather—although this winter has been mild thus far—our chickens have gone on strike, and we have been left for over a month with many eggless days. Inasmuch as “scab” layers do not exist in these parts, I have had to resort to purchasing eggs at the grocery store.
During this period of dearth, I have been thinking about Daisy, my first pet chicken, when I was four years old. She was a Dominecker, my favorite breed, and one of the most affectionate animals I ever have known. Every day we received a large brown egg in one of the nests, of which Daisy was very proud, as if she had to make certain that we knew it was hers.
Daisy was advanced in age when we got her, and after two years, she died—I suspect of old age. I was heartsick, not from missing her daily production, but rather from the loss of her companionship. She and her colleague, Donald Duck, a splendid White Pekin with exquisite manners, followed me everywhere I went.
We had a small stream running through the property, and when we three would go near it, Donald would leap in and splash around while Daisy and I watched. Often, we were joined by Nanny, a cultured and sophisticated Nubian goat, and her two somewhat obstreperous kids.
Nanny had to discipline the kids constantly, nudging them away from the rose garden, keeping them from straying afar, as well as performing other maternal duties such as nursing. Many years later as an adult, I got another Nubian named Nanny, and I found that she manifested the same traits as the first Nanny. Once, when my English Springer approached the second Nanny to offer a friendly hello by sniffing, she let her know sniffing was off-limits. That time was the only incident of Nanny having to assert herself.
Over the course of my life, most of our animal friends have been rescues, one of the most notable of which was “Silver,” a golden palomino horse named for Roy Rogers’s faithful steed. Silver’s prior life had been spent as a circus performer, and in retirement he came to live with us.
On his first day in our barnyard, my father decided to try to ride him. He willingly—in fact, eagerly—let my father mount him, then decided to relive his glory days under the big top, raring up on his hind legs and taking off. That was the last time he was ridden. My father concluded that he likely had given him the wrong nudge, and decided Silver’s future lay in eating the grass in the field.
Our least successful venture with a rescue came with a Nubian buck goat my father brought home to be a prospective spouse for Nanny. As soon as he was released, he tore over to the fence, leapt across it, and never was seen again. We searched over a wide spectrum of the neighborhood, all to no avail. We did not even have the chance to give him a name, and he did not meet Nanny. Perhaps if he had, things might have been different.
These reflections are a digression from the current eggless dilemma in which we find ourselves. I attribute the non-production to the breed. Our present chickens are Rhode Island reds. They are not friendly as Domineckers are, and do not care whether they lay or not. They also are discourteous to each other, grabbing food from one another, and establishing a defined pecking order that necessitates my spreading their feed across a wide area to ensure that those on the bottom of their totem pole get a meal in edgewise.
Each day they make me long even more for some gentle and refined Domineckers, clearly the apogee of the species. Being eggless is financially expensive, as our chickens live on through their retirement, chumping away. I hope when spring comes, eggs will be forthcoming once again.