Shell Game: Easter Comes Every Day At Round Valley Ranch

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In some respects, every day is Easter at the Round Valley ranch of Amy and Jim Vickers.

Their chickens lay colored eggs, and they lay them all over the place.

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Araucanas are a breed of chicken that has blue-green legs and lays blue-green eggs, including the rare "Siamese" egg. Round Valley resident Amy Vickers holds up a Siamese egg (right) next to a normal egg. "Never in my life have I seen an egg like that, and I've seen thousands of eggs," Vickers said.

"You gotta watch 'em," Jim said. "They'll get in that hay shed if I don't keep it shut. They'll lay them in the back of my truck. Every day is like an Easter egg hunt."

Besides more normal chickens, the Vickers also raise a breed known as Araucanas, a South American chicken that has blue-green legs and lays blue-green eggs. They prefer Araucana eggs because they're reputed to be lower in cholesterol.

"One dozen of those doesn't have as much cholesterol as one white egg," Amy said. "They're highly recommended for people with heart problems."

Eggs, as you may have already gathered, play an important role in the life of this retired couple.

"You know, it's omelets for breakfast," Amy said. "Then a lot of times for supper we'll have egg sandwiches.

"We often go out and get a warm egg and cook it for breakfast. Now that's a fresh egg, and the shells crack very easy.

"When you have to go bang, bang, bang, bang on those eggs, it's because they're old."

Araucana eggs have a dark orange yolk. It's one of the signs that they're fresh.

"The reason those eggs in the store are pale yellow is because they've been in storage for two or three months," Amy said.

"They take those eggs back (when they don't sell) and just put them in a new box and redate them. My husband won't eat them."

The Vickers, who moved from Missouri to Arizona 35 years ago, retired to Round Valley in 1991. Their first priority was a place where they could continue to have animals.

"We can't live without critters, and this place is about paradise," Amy said.

Besides some 25 chickens, the Vickers each have a horse. And then there's Happy Jack, a black Lab mix from the Payson Humane Society.

Happy Jack is a playful, happy-go-lucky guy, but he has a most important job on the Vickers' ranch -- keeping the coyotes at bay. "He just barks at the coyotes all night long," Amy said. "They come right up to the fence to try and get the chickens, and he alerts us that there's something out there."

Prompted by Happy Jack, Amy comes out and shoots the coyotes. But being the animal lover she is, she doesn't actually use bullets.

"I have a cap gun and I come out and go pop, pop, pop, and it runs them off," she said. "It really does."

Happy Jack better be good at what he does, because he has a lot to live up to. His predecessor was a big yellow Lab named Hank.

"He was a fabulous old gentleman," Amy said. "He was trained not to bother the chickens, and he used to let them sit on him.

"One day the neighbors called and said, ‘Your dog is dead. The chickens are sitting on him.' We said, ‘No, he just knows better.'"

The Vickers point out that chickens have personalities too, including one who used to ride around on Jim's lawn mower every day.

The Vickers don't eat beef, but they do enjoy turkey and chicken occasionally -- just not their own chickens.

Besides, with a daily yield of 10 to 18 eggs, the Vickers' chickens are doing their part to keep food on the table.

And we're not, of course, talking your average, everyday egg.

"We get unusually large eggs, and they're always double-yoked," Amy said. "We love them. It's just a good tasting egg."

Boiling tips

Who better to provide some egg boiling and peeling tips at Easter time than the Vickers -- who eat eggs all day every day. Here's what they had to say:

Amy: You boil them real good -- for at least 15 minutes. You can put a capful of vinegar in the water, and if an egg breaks it'll coagulate the egg white and keep it from coming out.

Jim: The colder they are the better they peel. When they're still warm, they're hard to peel.

Amy: Just put ice cubes and water over them, then put them in the refrigerator overnight.

Jim: Actually, store-bought eggs will peel better because they're older.

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