A while back, I was gifted a used book that was written by a woman who was farming with her husband. They were both older and their children had grown and left their small farm.
I think the book was called “A Farm Story,” or maybe it was “A Farmer’s Journal.” Either way, I can’t find it in my bookshelves for reference. I have even scanned the internet with no luck.
The book told of some of the daily struggles of this elderly couple as they milked a few cows, fed out a couple pigs and steers, and had a hen house with many chickens. Farm work was what they enjoyed, and there was more than enough work to keep them busy and adequate money to manage to keep going.
In the book, she referenced that the eggs were very valuable. The eggs she cooked first would be the “ugly” eggs that were stained, misshapen, soft or frozen. Most days, eggs were added to leftovers from the previous night’s meal. Packed with protein, it would keep the couple nourished and healthy.
She was also able to sell her “good” eggs when they went to town to pick up the few necessities from the grocery story. This was also when they went to the feed mill to grind corn for animal feed. There wasn’t a bakery in their little town that sold bread, cookies or cakes. So, everyone baked at home, and eggs were essential.
In my mind, I imagine a scene from “Little House on the Prairie” where Ma goes into Oleson’s to sell her basket of eggs, while Pa goes to the mill.
I have another story closer to home about eggs. My mother-in-law Ruth was said to be ruthless when she wanted something. Ruth and Keith, my father-in-law, were sharecroppers back in the early 1950s. They had been working for a farmer that would pay them a heifer here and there and also a minimal amount of money to keep them surviving. They had to milk his cows first, and then they would be able to milk theirs. This farmer would show up after all chores were done and sit down at the kitchen table and demand breakfast.
Ruth had two little boys who were in tow as she helped milk the cows, clean pens and feed the calves. As the days turned to months and years, she knew she would have to figure out an escape plan out of this awful situation. She asked the landlord if they could get chickens, he flat out said, “No. You aren’t feeding any of my corn to chickens.”
Well, Ruth ended up getting chickens and raised them in the attic. And yes, she did use his corn to feed them. She sold the eggs at the grocery store and stashed the cash in coffee cans.
When the day came when she had enough cash and the farmer came barging into her kitchen to demand his breakfast, she told him no. It wasn’t long before they moved to the farm we now own. Keith and Ruth bought the farm with her down payment of $1,000 from egg sales. They paid $28,000 for 240 acres with a house, barn, pasture and fields. It was their dream come true.
I have always had chickens on our farm. I love the way they are always busy scratching and making their chicken sounds. All of my children showed chickens during their days in 4-H, and they did well. We have about 50 chickens now, and some are older, beautiful birds that aren’t very productive, but the young ones are working hard laying nearly daily. I love having fresh eggs all year.
With the farm tours we host at our farm, we try to incorporate different farm animals – pigs, lambs, goat kids, ducks, turkeys and chickens. We have chicks hatching from spring through fall. Chicks and chickens are an easy way to connect with children who are fearful of the cows. A young child can hold chicks easily and often a chicken too. Gathering eggs is always exciting because we have chickens that lay a variety of colored eggs. Every once in a while, I will have a teacher or parent give a worried look when their child is grabbing for the eggs. We get a few dropped or cracked ones at times. But not to stress, she will lay another one tomorrow. The discussion often goes to, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”
When the families come for a visit, the eggs usually go home with them after they are washed and placed in a carton. The experience is cherished, and the children are thrilled to help use the eggs for making so many delicious foods and baked items.
Recently, I have been getting calls from neighbors who know I have egg-laying chickens, and they want to buy eggs directly from us. Since I don’t buy eggs at the store, I was quite surprised when I was handed $5 for a dozen eggs. Wow, has the price gone up. Rumor has it that some of the stores are out, and there are eggs selling for more than $9 a dozen.
When I gather my eggs, I think about the author of the book and the experience of Ruth and Keith and how important their chickens were on their farms. Chickens and eggs are valuable. They helped many families make it through hard times and tough situations. Now that the price of eggs is so high, I am certain there will be more backyard flocks with many more people who will enjoy and love chickens and the eggs.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.


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