Where the Land Meets the Sky

The first egg of 2019 has arrived. I did not find it in the cute, new nesting boxes in the barn that I’ve been cajoling my chickens to use all winter long. Nor did I find it up on top of the hay bales where the chickens have instead taken to roosting this winter (much to my annoyance, I might add, because just like humans, sheep are not fans of their breakfast, lunch and dinner being served to them with a side of chicken excrement). No, instead I found it, when it was but an inch away from my foot stomping on it, as I swung my leg over the gate in the barn, early one morning, while beginning chores. I managed to avert the placement of my foot, such as to preserve intact the errant but beautiful first egg. It was just resting there nonchalantly and alone on the concrete floor, having been abandoned by any one of the 11 least broody chickens I’ve ever encountered.
As I bent down to pick up and inspect this precious first egg of the year, I wondered if it wasn’t perhaps a little too soon. Honestly, my very first thought, peering in the half-light, was to wonder if it wasn’t a toy of some sort, such was my disbelief about even the “idea” of an egg appearing in, what I still consider, the middle of winter. Normally the chickens don’t start laying again until spring is truly leaping all around us. This winter has not been “normal,” though, by any means. Other female farmers I’ve spoken to in the Driftless say this is most definitely one of the warmest winters they’ve experienced. It invites the question, perhaps, of whether we ready to accept that our climate is already changed and will continue to keep changing before us?
I wonder as I haul hay bales to hungry, pregnant ewes if and when some of us will have to start changing out the breeds we work with for ones more suited to the “new normal” that we see coming. I wonder, as I carefully tuck that one magical egg into my coat pocket and head back to the farmhouse, which forms of resilient farming we will be adopting in the next decade. I wonder, as I wash this brown speckled miracle, what extreme weather events might befall us. I wonder, as I crack the shell and see a deep yellowy yolk of sunshine waiting within, how the hay crop will be this summer, because finding good hay this winter has been so very tough, on account of the extraordinarily wet summer we had last year. I wonder, as I set a perfect poached egg on top of some buttered toast with wilted spinach, and begin to breakfast, what farming this land will be like for my children when they are grown, and I am gone. I hope with all my heart that they know the joy of farming without it being too terrible a challenge. I hope that in whichever month they “find” their first egg of the year, they too will treasure the simple pleasure of a moment steeped in surprise and wonderment.

Etienne White lives where the land meets the sky on a farm in Iowa County where she raises grass-fed, Old English Babydoll sheep, as well as pastured chickens, a happy farm dog, a wily barn cat and her two spirited children. She runs a consulting business working at the intersection of sustainability and marketing, and is a sought-after speaker on sustainability in the United States and Europe.