ELLSWORTH — A perennial roadside attraction, these days farm-fresh eggs are for sale on every highway, side street and lane. Or so it seems. On a span of a few spare miles on Route 1 overlapping between Orland and Ellsworth, three to four backyard poultry farmers advertise their fresh eggs. It depends on the day, as signs go up and down depending on how productive the laying hens were and how large a flock.
And while roadside vendors of other popular items often settle on a collective price — say, $3 for a bundle of campfire wood — the price for a dozen freshly laid eggs is all over the barnyard.
A dozen go for $2 on Gilpin Road in Orland. The going rate is $5 for organic eggs in Surry. Five-dollar dozens are also for sale on Castine Road in Penobscot. Orland egg sellers Harold and Brenda Reynolds charge $3 on Route 1, but they arrived at the price sort of by happenstance.
“To be honest, I think my father-in-law said it would be a good price,” Harold Reynolds said.
Harold and Brenda keep 40-odd layers who produce two to three dozen eggs a day, and they regularly sell out, Harold said. “If we had more, we would sell more,” he said.
Freshly laid farm eggs have a different nutritional value than store bought, with lower cholesterol and saturated fats and higher amounts of vitamins and omega-3’s. The shells are thicker, and the yolks a dark and rich yellow compared to store bought, because backyard chickens eat a diet heavy in grass, bugs and worms, while commercially raised chickens are raised on corn-heavy feed.
And while no license is required to prop up a sign and a cooler at the end of the driveway (unless you have 3,000 or more laying hens), there still are state regulations to follow, mainly concerning proper labels on the carton.
Sarah Brown owns six older chickens and 11 chicks, and said once the chicks grow up, she will sell fresh eggs along with her pies and breakfast sandwiches at Wild Fern in Sedgwick. For now, she uses them in her egg sandwiches, mainly sticking with two hardy breeds: Buff Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds.
“We’ve done pretty well with them,” she noted.
Behind the rapid increase in backyard chickens and the eggs they produce is (surprise!) the pandemic, which left many people at home with more time to try new things — such as owning chickens, according to agdaily.com, an industry online publication. “People of many walks of life were looking for ways to stay busy while thinking more deeply about where their food comes from and wondering about food scarcity. Because of these trends, evidence points to chickens surging in popularity among landowners.”
Colin Powell and Emma Sweet have raised chickens for years in Castine to help feed their growing family but last year, after increasing their flock size, they are selling them on the Shore Road for $4 a dozen.
“It occurred to us if we put them out on the roadside they would sell,” Powell said. “We’d tried it in the past — I don’t know what was different about this year, but it just took off. And people now expect them … We sell out all the time.”
One change might be that they now wash the eggs before placing them out in their roadside cooler, he said. “Now we do, and that’s made a difference.”