I feel like I should start talking to my hens in Russian (although my conversation would be mainly limited to ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’ and ‘cheers’.) That’s because they have been laying Fabergé eggs.
These opulent creations go back to 1885, when Tsar Alexander III commissioned a young jeweller, Peter Carl Fabergé, to create an unusual Easter gift for his wife. On Easter morning, the finished item duly arrived at the palace. What at first appeared to be a simple enamelled egg was something far more intricate and extravagant. The egg contained a golden yolk, which contained a golden hen, which contained a miniature diamond model of the royal crown embellished with a tiny ruby egg.
The Empress was so delighted by this exquisite gift (I’m imagining Queenie-style squeals of delight) that the Tsar commissioned Fabergé to produce a new egg for her every Easter. One year, Fabergé produced a particularly exceptional piece featuring diamond encrusted ribbons of leaves and roses alongside three large sapphires. It is thought that it would have been worth around £20 million pounds at today’s prices. However, the first eggs that Fabergé made were by no means the most expensive items that the Imperial Family bought from him. Their value at the time was thought to be somewhere in the region of £1,500.
Back to my hens. It was last Autumn that we finally decided to acquire some chickens. We go through eggs by the dozen and thought it would be a good idea to produce our own. We’d been talking about it for a while but we knew we’d have to do a seriously good job of housing the chickens because, being on the edge of the woods, we often have foxes in the garden. So here was our shopping list…
- – Digger hire for 2 days to dig a 3 foot trench around the pen area
- – 100 metres of chicken wire
- – 100 metres of tension wire
- – 20 large 10ft fencing posts
- – 1 bag of staples
- – 1 large, wooden hen house with 2 nesting boxes
- – 1 large tin of external egg shell paint for painting the hen house
- – 1 large bag of wood shavings and straw mix
- – 1 bag of grit
- – 25kg of layers pellets
- – 25kg of mixed corn
- – 2 galvanised water containers
- – 1 large game feeder
- – 1 magnificent cockerel called Duncan (to keep the ladies in check and to create idyllic soundtrack to our lives in the countryside)
- – 2 bantams and 5 hens
My husband proceeded to build a splendid enclosure – a proper Fox Fort Knox. We released our new point-of-lay hens into their new hen run. Then we waited for our first egg. We waited…and we waited…and then we waited a bit more. It was nearly 3 months before our plucky little black silkie was the first to deliver the goods, producing a small but perfectly formed cream coloured egg. Of course, we were delighted but we were also aware that this first egg had cost around £750.00. OK, so not quite in the same league as the US$9.6 million achieved for the 1913 ‘Winter Egg’ but the Winter Egg didn’t end up in a sponge cake.
Taking a closer look at the chickenomics of our situation, the ‘pay per lay’ value of our hens’ eggs is thankfully decreasing. We have added another 3 layers to our little brood and they’re beginning to lay quite nicely. I think I’ll hold off on the Russian for the time-being.