Six chickens outside coopEggsasperating: I have several breeds of chicken, and they all like to lay outside the coop.Photos: Steph Larsen

One can hardly use the word “egg” these days without thinking “recall.” Much has been said about the hidden costs of a food system that gets such a huge number of eggs from a few farms run by “habitual offender” Jack DeCoster.

I have an entirely different egg problem though. I can’t find them all. It’s like Easter in September on my farm.

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When I was younger, I always wondered about the origins of an Easter egg hunt. What was the point of hiding the treats for kids to find? I get it now — spring is when chickens begin to lay their eggs again, after taking a break during the dark winter, and goodness knows where they decide to put them.

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There’s a skill to spotting where chickens are likely to lay. So far mine are partial to grassy depressions with walls for them to scoot up against, or atop something tall and cushy. I’ve found a clutch on top of our straw bales in the machine shed and next to the wood pile under a ladder. My nephew nearly stumbled on four in the middle of a flat grassy patch. Upon further inspection, a little stump provided the protection the hen wanted, enough that she kept coming back day after day.

Chicken in coopSome cooperation please? Look at this lovely, spacious coop! My chickens are free-range in the true sense of no fences, so in the morning I typically open their door to let them roam where they want, feasting on bugs, fallen apples, grass, and kitchen scraps along the way. I close the door at night, counting to make sure I still have 26. This method worked great until they began laying, at which point the area around the chicken coop became a minefield.

Have I mentioned that I am the world’s worst finder of things? I can be staring at exactly what I’m looking for and not see it.

Inside the coop isn’t much better. I have six metal nesting boxes, two rows of three stacked one on top of the other. I’ve lined them with grass and put “dummy eggs” (a golf ball and some hard-boiled eggs I marked) inside the boxes to encourage them laying in one place. Gail Damerow in Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens says that three to four birds will lay in the same box, but my hens have trouble getting into two of the boxes. The result is that the hens lay in weird places, even while on their roosts. And guess what? Eggs don’t do so well when they fall three feet onto a cement floor.

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Tending animals is all about working with their natural tendencies, so I’ve had to get creative about nest boxes. I’ve set up a few different shapes made from cardboard — tipped on a side or upside-down with a hole cut for the door — to see which they prefer. I’ll consider it an accomplishment when a majority of them are laying in the coop and I can stop watching where I step in the farmyard.

But if a daily hunt is the price I pay for avoiding recalled eggs from industrial mega-farms, I’ll take it.

Get Off Your Ass Alert: Instead of just avoiding eggs, take action. Food Democracy Now is asking grocery stores to stop carrying eggs from Jack DeCoster’s operations, and Food & Water Watch has a campaign to challenge corporate control of the food system and another to stop recalled eggs from being recycled into new food products.