Things look rosy for the humble egg
Pepper the Australian cattle dog patrols the grounds at Colby Farm, but sometimes harasses the geese and chickens. When I called him one sunny afternoon in February just to interrupt his thought process, the little sneak appeared from behind the corner of the house nearest the henhouse, sure enough.
He held something in his jaws, gleaming white and curving, and large. As he slinked closer, I realized it was not a softball. It was a goose egg.
He mouthed it gently, and I knew the shells are hard enough to provide some serious protection.
“C’mon, Pepper,” I called cheerily, then asked him to “Give it,” which he did. Then I rewarded him with a Frisbee game, and slipped the big egg into my own pocket.
After Ed installed the white cast-iron kitchen sink I found at the Habitat store, I took the old double stainless steel sink, stuffed straw into the basins and turned it into a laying box for the geese. In the spring when the males get edgy I know it’s time to put the old sink in their house. Earlier that week Ed found three goose eggs buried in the straw, quirky harbingers of spring’s sweet promise.
Pepper had some idea of the treasure between his jaws. He often gets a fresh egg on his kibble. They are full of protein and said to improve the dog’s coat, and with a dozen chickens just outside our door, always on hand and cheap. When he first came from the pound, Ed scrambled Pepper’s eggs in the morning. These days we serve them up raw atop the dog food. Pepper laps his egg up almost thoughtfully.
We don’t waste much refrigeration on our chicken or goose eggs at Colby Farm. They come into the house in a metal mesh basket with a handle Ed found somewhere secondhand, and that’s where they stay in a little cold anteroom. Ed calls it the sunroom, even though it hardly ever gets any sun. When I told Ed store eggs are practically senile they’re so old, and we didn’t need to refrigerate our fresh eggs, he launched an Internet search on the topic. Afterward he conceded that we Americans are singular in our habit of chilling eggs. We also scrub them like no one else.
We have more trouble with salmonella here, which refrigeration curbs. But maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. Washing eggs removes an invisibly thin antimicrobial cuticle that the hen coats the egg with as she lays it. It guards against contamination of the kind you might find in a henhouse. Cleaning the egg makes it permeable to, well, the chicken poop outside, which may carry salmonella.
Food safety websites say you can keep your eggs refrigerated three to five weeks at home. But how long did it take them to get there?
Deep in chapter 3 of a document from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, I got my answer. It lays out in detail everything you’d need to know or think about to get into commercial egg production.
A section on periodically checking inventory for quality instructs producers that “Every month or so a sample of eggs should be selected from the various lots and tested.”
Every month or so?
If trouble is detected, it is best to “eliminate” the ones that have gone off, then “dispose quickly” of the rest — meaning dump them on the market, now.
With properly managed packaging, odor control, humidity and refrigeration, it went on, “The average shelf life for eggs is between six and seven months.”
Suddenly the difference between store-bought commercial eggs that have been sitting around since summer vacation ended and fresh ones from the farm next door seems big enough to justify spending an extra $2.
Things are looking rosy for the humble egg lately.
“Get ready to eat eggs again: Cholesterol is off the hit list in the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” crowed the LA Times headline in February. The news flash ahead of revised government guidelines due later this year breaks the link between cholesterol you eat and blood cholesterol likely to cause heart disease.
No more of those creepy cartons of Egg Beaters (“Made With Real Eggs”) my parents used to keep in the freezer.
All across the country, and in Glenwood Springs, town rules are transforming to let chickens back in the back yard. The Glenwood code was revised in 2012 and again recently to allow six chickens (but no rooster) next to single-family homes and duplexes.
You can keep four rabbits if you live in Glenwood (good luck keeping it to that), and a horse, too. But no cows, goats, foxes, pigs, ducks or turkeys. And no domestic geese like our Chinese gang to lay glorious oversized eggs.
Changing laws for backyard chickens crack the door open to let the farm back into town. Backyard farms echo Thomas Jefferson’s dream-vision of agrarian independence for Americans at a time when people long to remember again where food really comes from.
Marilyn Gleason keeps it local on her Peach Valley farm. Send your responses and ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “food.”
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In a fraction of a second I went from a full sprint to skidding across the ground — pea-sized gravel gashing my knees and elbows, turning them into strawberry crisp.