In the spirit of the holiday this weekend, I thought I'd share a funny story from the farm that sheds some light on the origins of some of our Easter practices. See, we have this chicken.
Her name is Henrietta. She was donated to the farm by a city dweller who happens to keep backyard hens, but this hen misbehaved. She started pecking other hens' eggs and eating them! Once they get this habit, they can't break it, and the other hens will learn how good eggs actually taste. But she wasn't pecking her own eggs. Apparently she would pace back and forth outside the nestboxes waiting for the other hens to lay their eggs.
But she is so cute! She is a Golden Polish Crested hen, and she wears an elegant (silly) hat. So we took her in, and she lives a free life at the farm, mostly spending her time eating beetles, worms, and grubs from under the leaves in the forest.
One day she was pacing around the shed looking up at the tables and tractors, and I suddenly knew what she was looking for. A nest to lay her eggs. I had figured she would just find a cozy place under a shrub or something, but apparently she wanted something more nest-like. So I grabbed an old wicker basket, and immediately she perked up and looked interested. We put some hay in the bottom of it so she would be more at home. We even put a golf ball in it, because if they see another hen's egg they figure the place is hen-approved.
The bottom was rounded, so the first time she hopped in there, she rolled right over! She was frightened off for a while, and kept trying to get up on the tractors we had parked in the shed. Then we realized that she wanted to be up high somewhere, away from predators perhaps. A good instinct. So the basket was placed on the seat of our Allis Chalmers G, with stones around the bottom to keep it from rolling.
She could wait no longer-- up into the basket she hopped, and spent half an hour making sure every piece of straw was in place, turning and moving it around with her beak into a comfortable nest.
When we returned an hour later, a clean bright white egg lay in the straw next to the golf ball. I felt a strong urge to get out the Easter egg dye. It seems that this holiday lines up pretty well to natural farm life... hens don't lay many eggs over the winter, but as soon as spring comes around they start to get the urge. The egg hunting tradition may have evolved out of a practical search to find the chosen nesting spots of free-range hens around the farmyard. And the basket? Complete with straw (not the pink cellophane kind though!)... who knew that was the preferred place for eggs? Well, ask any kid this weekend and they could tell you that. Foil-wrapped chocolate eggs especially. Enjoy!