She is the Egg Mom
Evelyn Rollason slips on her colorful chicken boots and heads to the henhouse with a wire basket and a container full of salad scraps tucked under her arm. Her babies, as she likes to call them, hear their mother hen coming as soon as the screen door slams. A commotion of clucks, chicken chatter, and ruffling feathers follows.
“It’s all things chicken around here,” Rollason laughs as she explains how, just four years ago, she started with only eight hens but because of what she refers to as “chicken math,” her flock has quickly multiplied.
She now has 26 Barred Rock hens at her Columbia home nestled in the middle of the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve and National Wildlife Refuge property. She’s the proud owner of another 70 or so babies at her relative’s house and is fixing to get 75 more newly hatched chicks any day now.
But the hens that gather around her on this particularly sunny day in early February are – clearly – her very favorites. “I’ve named them all Lucy,” Rollason says. “I yell it and they all come running.”
There is no doubt these chickens, which flock to her and demand her attention, rule the roost around here. And there’s definitely a pecking order among the Lucy clan.
“I think I’ve ruined them,” Rollason admits as she pets a hen and describes in detail her chickens’ favorite snacks, funny quirks, the meanings behind their chicken song, and how they knock at her back door by pecking on the glass.
She shares stories like any proud mama would and smiles fondly as she recalls their first experience with snow.
Yes, Rollason is crazy about her hens. She feeds them only their favorite meals, which include fresh fruits, vegetables, and special treats like bread and sunflower seeds. In the late evenings, especially during the winter, Rollason will give the Lucys cracked corn to help increase their body heat before they go in to roost.
“They’ll eat just about anything and they also love watermelon,” Rollason says, adding that the hens will devour scrambled eggs. Crushed eggshells, she said, are good for them because it makes the shells of their newly hatched eggs even stronger. And oh, the Lucys are on a strict non-GMO diet.
While Rollason and her family may know these chickens the best, they aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy their hens’ bounty. Rollason spends at least one day each week traveling to the Outer Banks to deliver dozens of eggs from her “Lucys” to her faithful customers – customers who just love to see her coming through the door with an armload of recycled cartons filled with eggs that are just about as fresh as you can get.
Rollason has earned quite a reputation around the beach and fully embraces a few of the nicknames she’s earned for herself over the years. She is known by many of her regulars as “the egg lady,” but her favorite is “the crazy chicken lady,” an affectionate label her son has given her.
As the Lucys head out of the henhouse each morning, they empty out into the wide open backyard, coming and going as they please until it is time to roost at dusk. To say they are free range would be an understatement by any definition.
Without really needing to say it, Rollason points out, “We don’t eat our chickens here. We just love having them wander around the yard.” It’s quite obvious these feathered friends are as loved as any family pet.
Evelyn’s fiancé, Joe Brickhouse, said one of the Lucys follows him everywhere he goes, sitting on the table in the shed as he works.
“We don’t leave them out if we are not home because of the Red-tailed Hawks. They can be a problem,” Brickhouse added.
Rollason’s chickens are a tightknit bunch, having been together since they were born; and they definitely “own” the place they call home. In fact, they exude an air that just says, “No one here but us chickens.”
The hens produce beautiful eggs in various shades of brown all year round, but fall and winter are their slow times of year. When production wanes, Rollason will often alternate her deliveries to customers so there is enough to go around. She sells regular eggs and jumbo at $3 and $3.50 per dozen.
When the hens first begin to lay, the eggs are often larger and sometimes have two yolks. Eventually the eggs get smaller, but then become larger again as the hens mature. “They will lay well for about four years before they start slowing down,” Rollason says.
For now, the eggs of these feisty barred rock hens are in high demand. As for Rollason, she is enjoying every minute.
The egg lady will tell you that chickens make as many as 20 different sounds and that those sounds have different meanings. And as she stands next to the henhouse dubbed “skid row,” she can easily rattle off a dozen phrases that she calls “chicken language.” These range from “mad as wet hen,” “empty nest syndrome” and “flew the coop,” to “nest egg,” “mother hen,” and “chicken feed,” just to name a few.
Her all-time favorite chicken phrase, however, is “the rooster crows, but the hen delivers the goods.” One way or another, she jokes, chickens are a part of everyone’s life.
Rollason has about 25 regular customer stops, ranging from banks and shops to neighborhood groups and local businesses. But as far as profit, Rollason says there’s little.
“I make $1 per dozen, if that,” she says. So why does she do it? From the smile on her face when she starts talking her chicken talk, right down to her chicken boots, Rollason simply loves what she does.
The rest, you could say, is just chicken scratch. ♦