Saturday, March 29, 2014

Huevos de Patio


If you like eggs, there's nothing else quite like them. They are called huevos de patio, or "back-yard eggs," here in Yucatán.

That means that these eggs come from hens kept in the back patio of a house. Of course quality varies depending upon how the chickens are fed and cared for, but usually it means that these are what a friend of mine used to call "happy chicken eggs."

The hens producing these eggs don't spend their lives in tiny cages under artificial lights, being pumped full of chemical-laden industrial feed and hormones. Instead, they run around outdoors, squabble amongst themselves, take dust baths, scratch for bugs, worms, tender green herbs and sprouts, and probably mate frequently with a rooster. In the world of chickens they lead social, fulfilled lives.

Last Sunday, as I occasionally do, I visited with friends in Abalá, a pueblo less than an hour's drive from Mérida. Often when I am in the pueblo we take a walk, visiting one of the local cenotes, birdwatching, searching for orchids and unusual wildflowers, or perhaps walking the paths out to the ranch and looking at the family's twenty-or-so head of cattle. However on this visit, by the time we got to the pueblo the weather was already pretty hot, so we spent the remainder of the day staying in the shade and not moving too much.

The result was that we had plenty of time to hang out with the chickens. We prepared the daily feeding that supplements what the birds find foraging in the yard and made sure they had fresh, cool water. A bit later we shooed the birds into the coop so that the hens could lay in clean, dry grass where the eggs would be easy to gather later on.

There are about a dozen laying hens here, and three roosters. Although they mostly look alike to me, I have discovered that their keepers know each animal individually. I now know which hens are the best layers, and that one, although fully grown now, has never laid an egg. She may be headed on a one-way trip to the kitchen one of these days. The same holds for a confused rooster who jealously fights to keep the other males away from the hens, but never mates with them himself.

I learned about the old great-great-grandmother white hen who continues to lay as prolifically as a youngster although at the age of five or six she ought to be far past her prime. There were some jokes that the secret of her youthfulness has to do with "getting plenty" of attention from a much younger rooster. She is prized for her large eggs and is a favorite, more like a pet, in this family.

Although they may know their stock pretty well, country people who raise their own food normally don't get too sentimental about animals. Chickens around here rarely die of old age. Although the old white hen may be an exception, most of these birds eventually end up in dishes like the rich mole we ate Sunday afternoon. The killing is not something anyone in the family likes to do, but it is necessary if they are occasionally going to eat meat. And culling older and less-productive animals makes room for the younger generations.

But the best reason in my book for having chickens in the patio is for the eggs. These huevos de patio are organic and fresh daily. Eating these eggs, we know exactly what we are consuming. Sunday evening after getting home from Abalá I ate an omelet made from eggs that I had gathered, still warm from the hens' bodies, that very afternoon. It doesn't get much better than that.

You may be wondering why there are no photos of the chickens. The reason is that until I got home with the eggs pictured above and ate that omelet, I wasn't planning to write a post about this. But the omelet was that good. I'll try to write again about the backyard chickens, and include photos, in a future post.

Text and images copyright 2014 by Marc Olson

11 comments:

  1. The first thing guests from the North notice is our fresh eggs that our dozen chickens work to produce. The second things guests notice is that we don't refrigerate our eggs and they go bonkers and tell us how bad that is.
    We stop that conversation by telling them how many chemicals and other stuff NOB chickens are fed and that our eggs never sit long enough to even come close to how long the eggs are in storage before they are distributed NOB.
    That usually stops the conversation. Half of the guests then go home and start looking for non commercial sources for their eggs.
    The other half grow funny appendages and keep enjoying mutated and chemical full eggs.

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    Replies
    1. Tancho, living where you do, you're fortunate to have plenty of space for chickens. Here in the city it's a little harder. I have considered ways to have my own layers in the patio, but it just doesn't work out space wise, and these days you can get into hot water with the authorities for having animals in town. So until until I find a country place, I've got to be satisfied with the occasional gifts of good eggs from these friends.

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  2. As always, a very nice piece. And extremely timely. During my two-week no-carbohydrates test, I substituted eggs for a lot of different things. Mexican eggs, in general, taste far better than the eggs up north. But I have no idea who supplies them to my local grocer. I should ask. Or I should buy a place where I could raise my own chickens. There are far too many hungry cats and raccoons where I live right now.

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  3. Benne' RockettMarch 29, 2014 at 9:36 PM

    I guess I had better inform my neighbors that they aren't allowed to have chickens! Always a good read, Marc!

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  4. What a lovely word picture!

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  5. Marc,
    We kept a few birds up north for many years. I contrived a 3'x3'x6' bottomless cage which had a roost pole and a layer box. Each day I would drag the cage onto fresh grass, where the three birds would scratch and turn the earth, and dine on organic layer pellets, free from those antibiotics, which is fed daily to commercial birds. Mine produced a few eggs daily with very orange yolks from all the fresh grass.

    Before reducing the flock to three, we had a rooster. But Mary didn't appreciate his badly timed "clock" which rang at all hours. So I had to resort to tucking him in each evening. I would snatch him off the roost pole in the barn, after dark, and stuff him under a tub until we rose in the morning. That way, he had to tone down his own alarm clock to where we couldn't hear it. ~eric. MeridaGOround. com

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  6. Did you find that the younger chickens have harder egg shells than the older ones? I read about this recently. And since I haven't know any "personally" since my youth, I have been curious about why that is. The color of the natural shell seems to, at times, be determined by the color of the chicken, and not its nutritional value.
    I do notice the taste difference not only in different cartons, but in different countries.

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  7. Urban chicken keeping is the rage here. Our neighbor two backyards over has 17 hens...no roosters allowed though! Chickens are allowed as long as they do not smell or like I said NO roosters...I can hear them clucking sitting on my deck...never been offered fresh eggs however!

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  8. Some hilarious rooster portraits: ~eric
    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2014/03/slide-show-rooster-pageants.html#slide_ss_0=9

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  9. After watching the following show on TV, I so wanted some chickens myself. Watch the show, and you may decide you don't need a lot of space.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/video/raising-chickens-in-manhattan-_6GUZlC6SBmE6GlaayXZYg.html

    Beware, however--even the subject is a bit addictive.

    Here's another link about doing it all safely. http://jcdhe.jocogov.org/sites/jcdhe.jocogov.org/files/docs/Fact%20Sheet/cdc_healthy_pets_intown_flocks_0.pdf

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  10. I think it comes down to return for effort: is keeping your own birds worth the return? The fresh eggs are nice, real nice but they come with a price. Cleaning the coop is a big price. I grew up in the country, cleaning my parents chicken coop was way down my list of favorite chores, gathering the eggs was ok but mucking out the coop-oh my! In the country, neighbor ladies would call up my mother and ask what I or my brother would need to muck out their coop. I set my price at least three times what I charged for horse and cow stalls twice the price of pig pens. No one ever quibbled of the price, it is not a pleasant task.

    The chicken litter is a powerful fertilizer, straight up, it will turn the plants white overnight, too much salts of nitrate in the dung. We made a chicken crap tea out of it, 5 gallons of crap to a 55 gallon drum of water. We would water our garden with the tea but not every time we watered, even diluted 10 to 1 it was a 'hot' fertilizer. We would make up barrels of the stuff in the spring and water the orchard trees with tea; I always felt better using it on plants that had not starting making fruit.

    The return on chickens is something that has a lot of factors, the eggs and fertilizer are a return, I always hated killing the birds, the biggest reason I don't keep chickens today but chickens taste pretty good. They make a good bit of racket, the pecking order process is a another thing: a chicken with its head pecked raw or worse makes a person wonder if it is worth it.
    And Yes, the fresh eggs are good.

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