This little book dropped into my lap yesterday. Actually, it was gently placed in my basket by my bargain hunting sister on a day’s outing with the Camont Crew to the Fête des Plantes in the village of Lamontjoie. In it is the record of one small chicken/egg producer during the year 1903. Funny how nothing much has changed. I can read the puffed up pride of new chicken ownership, the prolific accomplishment of rabbit wrangling, the punctilious accounting of sacs of grain and bales of hay between the delicate dotted lines.
Starting with 1 coq, 14 poules, 5 cocquelets, 2 canards, et 56 lapins, this little almanac chronicles the basse-cour on one small French farm in the year when the Tour de France began. How many feathered and furred critters raised, how many eggs laid and sold, and how much feed, seed, and hay bought over that year? Who administered this rural menagerie? I don’t know, but I am sure it was a tiny but formidable French housewife like my neighbor Madame Sabadini at the Ferme Bellevue.
Over the year, her hens and ducks laid 2186 eggs. The season’s bounty peaked in April at 404 eggs and by August had started to drop by halves each month, with barely an egg or two a day in October and November. I imagine the disappoint of November marked by a minuscule zero, day after day until in a last flurry of fecundity, the ducks started laying for an early hatching. Five large white duck eggs in Mid-December. The meticulous accounting scratched in a fine-nibbed ink pen tells more than the seasonal flow of farming; more than balancing the centimes spent and earned for feed and shelter. Most months, she spent as much or more than she earned; some months, she made several francs and centimes more than spent. It was a delicate balance. No one was getting rich. But they ate well.
What’s old is new and barnyard chickens have their place in the modern home again- 110 years later. This ad in the back of this French booklet is touting an American feed product that included smoked (dried) meat as well as grain, oyster shells,salt, ginger and iron. Here at Camont, we feed our flock a mix of whole grains- wheat, barley, oats, flax and corn, all the garden and kitchen scraps, and all the slugs and bugs they can scratch and peck in the orchard and parc.
It’s an old story, but I raise a few chickens- 10, and a fewer ducks 6, at Camont not because it saves us money, but because we eat the best tasting eggs in town. When a clutch of eggs is hatched, a few more cockerels are destined for the pot, a few more girl chicks for next spring growing into fat laying hens, a few old working girls retired into a golden broth Poule-au-Pot. Last year’s Christmas ducklings have now become summer confit.
We ate this simple salad yesterday. There is no recipe. Look- just an abundance of good escarole lettuce, the first local market tomatoes, and a bowl of hard boiled eggs topped by a lemony mayonnaise made with those golden yolks. One hundred and ten years of barnyard productivity on a plate. Reason enough to learn about raising birds.
More stories about eggs and chickens at Camont: