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The Exquisite Egg: Raising Chickens with Style at the Fancy F

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The Exquisite Egg: Raising Chickens with Style at the Fancy F

February 26, 2018

Eggs already come in what is surely one of nature’s most inspired versions of packaging. But how to create a container that improves upon the familiar pulp or plastic carton?

Catherine (Caity) Delphia is a Johns Hopkins–trained medical illustrator and graphic designer who also is a passionate chicken farmer. She and her partner, Aaron Dunn, a landscape designer, together own and run The Fancy F, a year-old, 15-acre enterprise in Hillsdale, in New York’s Hudson Valley, where they raise heritage and rare-breed chickens that produce colorful eggs. And to showcase their product, Delphia took it upon herself to create an egg carton that gets noticed.

Photography by Caity Delphia of The Fancy F.

The Eggs

 An Easter-ready sampling from the Fancy F. Delphia and Dunn produce eggs in six shades: olive, blue-green, white, light brown, dark brown, and chocolate.
Above: An Easter-ready sampling from the Fancy F. Delphia and Dunn produce eggs in six shades: olive, blue-green, white, light brown, dark brown, and chocolate.

To learn her sideline, Delphia began by volunteering at a range of farms—CSA vegetable and meat farms, a tree and topiary farm, and the kitchen garden on a private estate. Along the way, she and Dunn fell in love and began raising chickens at their one-acre suburban home in the Berkshires. After a several-year search, they found their current place, a former thoroughbred farm that had been derelict for a decade. The cleanup is still in progress, but they’ve been able to significantly increase production (they raise six varieties of chickens, plus a small herd of Nigerian spotted goats, mini donkeys, and Randall cows) while still holding down their day jobs.

The farm&#8
Above: The farm’s green eggs come in two tones: “true olive” and “minty.” They’re bred mostly from Marans and Araucana crossbreeds. Alas, the different colors don’t produce different flavors, but the eggs themselves are pasture-fresh and meant to be eaten—though, Delphia admits, often people find them too pretty to crack.
&#8
Above:”I wanted to really push the visual presentation of what one dozen eggs could be,” Delphia says.

Taking inspiration from the paper cartons in use from the early 1900s through the 1950s, she contacted an old-school box manufacturer in Ware, Massachusetts, and “brought back a piece of history—with some modifications and a modern print.”

Delphia designed her cartons to have &#8
Above: Delphia designed her cartons to have “a wonderful reveal.” Her chevron pattern is an abstracted version of the subtle lacing known as birchen that some birds have on their necks.

These chocolate speckled eggs are from Marans chickens.

Shades of palest green and blue from a variety of chickens: Araucana (the breed made famous by Martha Stewart and her paint colors), Crested Cream Legbar, and Sapphire (&#8
Above: Shades of palest green and blue from a variety of chickens: Araucana (the breed made famous by Martha Stewart and her paint colors), Crested Cream Legbar, and Sapphire (“ours are F2s, which makes them extra special”).

Fancy F eggs are available at the Copake General Store in Copake, New York, and in NYC at Foragers, which has locations in Chelsea and Dumbo. You can also get them direct from the farm: 87 Underhill Rd.; Hillsdale, New York.

The Chickens

A silkie hatchling: Delphia and Dunn keep two 30-egg incubators in their basement. &#8
Above: A silkie hatchling: Delphia and Dunn keep two 30-egg incubators in their basement. “Every once in a while, you catch one that is just about to break out of its shell. It never gets old.”

A bantam breed (half the size of regular chickens), silkies, Delphia says, “make the ideal pet chickens: soft and fuzzy with unique plumage, they’re docile and broody, meaning they like to sit on eggs—they’ll even sit on eggs that aren’t theirs.”

The Fancy F&#8
Above: The Fancy F’s white-egg layers are three spotted varieties, from left: a Silver-Spangled Hamburg, Exchequer Leghorn, and Appenzeller Spitzhauben (“which have fantastic mohawks”).

The couple get their chickens from a range of sources: hatcheries, chicken shows (“the Poultry Congress every January in Springfield, Massachusetts, is very fun”), Rare Breed Auctions (“like an eBay for chickens but pricey”), and chicken swaps (“enthusiasts organize these: You meet in a parking lot and buy and exchange chickens”). She recommends Backyard Chickens as a great general online resource.

Louis, a Lemon Cuckoo Standard Cochin rooster, was &#8
Above: Louis, a Lemon Cuckoo Standard Cochin rooster, was “the most wonderful rooster of all time—and the only one of his breed in the US.” Delphia reports he died last month, “but we have his son here and are hoping we can keep the population going.”

At the Fancy F, there are 10 to 12 roosters at all times. Delphia says that they—and their neighbors—don’t mind the crowing, but warns: “Every rooster has a different crow: They range from beautifully melodic to awful, high-pitched cackling.”

Delphia&#8
Above: Delphia’s portrait of their Frizzled Paint Standard Cochin: “I thought she looked like a peony, so I put her next to a bunch for comparison.”

Cochins are one of the Fancy F’s specialties: “They’re super poofy and comedic—they have a really nice presence,” Delphia says. “Their eggs sadly, aren’t all that exciting: They’re small and light brown.”

The Coop

Dunn designed and built the farm&#8
Above: Dunn designed and built the farm’s mobile coop on site and scaled it to fit on a found wheel base from an old hay wagon. It’s approximately eight feet wide and 16 feet long (200 square feet inside). Here, the frame has just been completed.
Dunn finished the coop with local hemlock and white cedar shingles (&#8
Above: Dunn finished the coop with local hemlock and white cedar shingles (“we used underlayment shingles, which are cheaper than red cedar”).

The couple report that their chickens tend to live three to five years. Along the way, however, there are a lot of casualties, mainly due to hawks. Once, while they were tending their chickens before dawn, a fox swooped in. Now they wait until daybreak to do their rounds.

The interior has enough space for around 0 birds (&#8
Above: The interior has enough space for around 100 birds (“it’s recommended that chickens have at least two square feet of ground room each,” says Delphia). Opposite the nesting boxes are three-tier roosting poles, and high-ranking hens perch on the ceiling rafters.

The feed they use—a mix of cracked seeds, corns, oats, soy, oyster shells, and minerals from a local granary—affects the yolk color but not the shell.

The coop sits in a pasture. Every week it gets shifted around the property, which enables the chickens to supplement their diet with grass and insects and also helps preserve and fertilize the land.
Above: The coop sits in a pasture. Every week it gets shifted around the property, which enables the chickens to supplement their diet with grass and insects and also helps preserve and fertilize the land.

Stay tuned: Delphia and Dunn are planning to open a vegetable, perennial, and tree nursery this spring. Follow their doings on Instagram at @thefancyf.

Come along on three more farm visits:

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