With Pesach approaching, you’re probably wondering, “What are we going to do about eggs this year? Should we raise our own chickens? It has to be cheaper.”
Eggs are expensive across the board. Even the non-Jews are panicking, and they don’t even have Pesach. They have their own egg-related holiday, but if they’re buying as many eggs for their one-day as we’re buying for eight, they’re going to be in trouble. So why are they panicking? Probably because they haven’t seen the price of kosher meat. For us, eggs are still cheaper.
Chicken cutlets have shot up in price, for example. How does that work? How is there a shortage of chicken tops but not bottoms? Are there just bottoms running around a farm somewhere? How are they shechting just a bottom? This is not a she’eilah I’m equipped to answer. Despite having chickens. Just so you know, all my chickens have tops and bottoms.
Yes, I have chickens. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I got two chicks: there’s Yapchick, who’s my main chicken, and Baby Mo, who’s my emergency backup chicken. Yapchick was brought by my daughter, who teaches kindergarten, and when we found out that chickens can’t live alone, my son Daniel brought home a second chicken (from his friend’s farm), which he named Baby Mo. Baby Mo was bigger, but that dynamic has since shifted, and Baby Mo is now about a third the size of Yapchick, who is currently more like a Yapchicken.
For the most part, we’re not really pet people, but chickens are pets that give something back in the form of eggs. You can’t put a price on that.
Well, actually, I can. But it’s not a price I can print in a family newspaper.
But we were definitely excited about the eggs. This was when they were $3 a dozen, and we were like, “Oh, no!” So, we figured, this would be free!
Let me dispel the myth. Eggs are not free. For one thing, you have to get a coop. Coops cost money. Fortunately, Daniel, who’s a budding contractor, built a coop, and it cost only a few hundred dollars in materials.
You also have to build a nest within the coop. According to my research (Did I mention you also have to spend thousands of hours of research?), the nest has to be in a dark, secluded corner because chickens like privacy when they’re laying eggs. Though they don’t mind time-sharing a nest, or climbing all over each other if need be and getting their “privacy” all at the same time.
But that’s not all. As it turns out, chickens don’t lay eggs where you decide they should lay eggs—we learned the hard way. They might choose a random corner of the coop where the eggs can roll and get stepped on…and broken. Humpty Dumpty style.
So, the question is, how do you get the chickens to know where you want them to lay their eggs? Should you post some kind of sign? Should you point at the nest and then lay an egg yourself?
Pretty much, yeah. Basically, we had to borrow a fake egg that we could put in the nest in order to convince the chickens that someone had gone in there and decided it was a good spot to lay.
I’m wondering if the chickens took it in stride or if they had a discussion about it:
“Where did this egg come from? Is it yours?”
“Did the humans lay this?”
“I don’t know how humans work.”
You also have to feed them. Chicken feed itself is inexpensive; in fact, it’s the very synonym for inexpensive. But if you want your eggs to have that special taste that differentiates, for example, homegrown tomatoes from store tomatoes, you can’t just feed them the same pellets the egg factories do.
Fortunately, chickens eat everything that people eat. Baruch Hashem you can feed a chicken your leftovers, which is more than I can say for my own kids. They eat a lot of challah, for example.
I can’t wait to see if they all like matzah. Though, feeding them matzah crumbs won’t keep prices down.
Secondly, if you’re thinking about producing your own eggs for Pesach, you’re probably too late. Last Pesach, my family used fourteen dozen eggs. I don’t know how many chickens you plan to get to meet those numbers in time for Pesach, but the average chicken lays six eggs per week maximum, and only once they’re adults. And only the hens do this. And before they’re adults, you don’t know what their sex is. You could be raising a big flock of boys. Believe me, you have no idea.
You also want to make sure early on that your chickens are kosher. Because, apparently, not all breeds are kosher. They need a mesorah. And only kosher chickens lay kosher eggs.
Yapchick, for example, is kosher. We were told that early on. The only question is Baby Mo. Baby Mo doesn’t have a big red comb or waddles (it has a beard instead), and it has five toes on each foot.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: If it has five toes, it’s not a chicken! So, I looked it up and found out there are no birds with five toes. And there are only five recorded breeds of any birds with five toes, and they’re all chickens. And Baby Mo doesn’t look like any of them.
For a while, I thought she might be something called a Salmon Faverolle, a French breed of chicken, which sounds like a tasty dish you might make l’kavod yom tov. Then my son found a picture of something called an Easter Egger Green Queen, which is a chicken that was selectively bred through years of shadchanus to lay green eggs. So basically, I have a Dr. Seuss character.
In the meantime, I was spending a lot of time sending adorable pictures of my chicks to various rabbanim. So far, no rav has been able to identify it. So, we can’t eat its eggs until it brings us a shtar yichus.
But for now, we’re keeping it because Yapchick still needs an emotional support companion. If Baby Mo turned out to be a boy, we were replacing it anyway, and if it turned out to be a girl, there’s no way its eggs would get mixed up with Yapchick’s, because Mo is a third his size. And if Yapchick turned out to be a boy, we were getting rid of all the chickens, because this whole society was being built around Yapchick in the first place.
And I say society, because we soon got a third chicken. Not on purpose. I mentioned a few months back that we made a bar mitzvah for our son Gedalyah three hectic days after Sukkos. Well, on the Thursday before the bar mitzvah, Daniel, who is amazing at reading the room, showed up in our backyard with a box from which he extracted a white chicken. Basically, he decided, as a bar mitzvah present, to surprise Gedalyah with a chicken. Like an old-timey bar mitzvah present and at such an amazing time for all of us.
Unfortunately, what Daniel didn’t know was that you can’t just dump a new chicken into an existing flock. There’s a whole days-long integration process; otherwise, the chickens will fight with the newcomer. I didn’t have time for this.
For this new chicken, we decided to go with the name Henshe. We figured that name is very “Woke” in the sense that it defines what she is and it gives her preferred pronoun.
We didn’t see our first egg until November, when Baby Mo started laying her treif eggs, which are not green. They’re sort of an off-white. Like eggshell.
And we’re like, “Okay, Mo’s a girl. Apparently. Should we change her name? What girls’ names start with Mo?”
Then we found out that Henshe is a rooster. Should we change his name? To what? I’m thinking “Boychick.”
I feel like whatever clever name we give a chicken when we get it is the opposite gender of what it actually is. I don’t get ruach hakodesh when I name a chicken, I get whatever the opposite of ruach hakodesh is.
The question then is: What is Yapchick? Is that a boys’ name or a girls’ name? I would say Yapchick’s a boy’s name. A nickname perhaps, but I can’t see my daughter looking at pictures and saying, “And that’s Devory, and that’s Chana S., and that’s Chana W… and that’s Yapchick.”
And apparently, it is a boy’s name because, as it turns out, Yapchick is a girl.
I was nervous about tasting them because I wanted them to taste different than store-bought eggs, but also, I didn’t, because if you have an egg that doesn’t taste like the eggs you’re used to, you immediately throw it out.
In the end, the eggs taste more like regular eggs than regular eggs. And they’re definitely better which is what I have to tell myself.
But even once the eggs start coming, they’re not guaranteed every day. You have to feed the chickens protein, because eggs are made of protein, and they have to come from somewhere. And protein is expensive. Eggs are the cheapest source of protein. How many eggs do I have to feed them in order to be “gifted” with an egg?
Mostly, we give our chickens leftover cholent, though Henshe eats most of it, as can be expected.
The original goal was to spend less to maintain the chickens than it costs to buy that number of eggs. And right now, I have to keep three chickens alive for two weeks in order to get a dozen eggs. And that’s only if Yapchick remembers to eat her pronouns, er, protein. And she doesn’t accidentally sit in such a way that she lays her eggs outside the nest. And if there are not blood spots or she’eilahs, which there are about half the time.
But at least we get free eggs! Depending on how you define free.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of seven books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com. Read more of Mordechai Schmutter’s articles at 5TJT.com.