Art is an Egg featured in Blue Ridge Life Magazine

Last Spring, Paul Hudspeth made Easter baskets for all his neighbors. But instead of filling them with colored plastic eggs and jelly beans, he filled them with eggs from his farm that just happen to be beautifully - and naturally - multi-colored.

"About three years ago, I saw a picture of a green chicken egg on the internet and I thought, "How the hell does someone do that?" said Paul. "And that's how I really got started breeding birds in earnest for the aesthetic beauty of the chicken eggs."

Don't buy them by the carton, buy them by the palette. 

Don't buy them by the carton, buy them by the palette. 

Story by Jeanne Tal Williams Photosgraphy by Norm Shafer

Story by Jeanne Tal Williams
Photosgraphy by Norm Shafer

From the obvious colors (like white and brown) to the more rare (like a glossy gold, a matte pink, and an olive green), Paul's chickens' eggs really span the rainbow, which is why he sells them not as "cartons", but as "palettes."

Paul's been a backyard chicken hobbyist since the early 2000's but after 15 years with just 15-20 birds, he decided it was time to grow the flock. So in May 2014, he started building. First a new coop, then a 4,000 square foot pen, four breeding pens and a 400 square foot dusting pit; and then an automated watering system so he wouldn't have to carry enough water for 200 birds a day.

But after living with his pet chickens for so long, Paul wasn't ready to treat his newest chicks as anything less than the feathery friends they are.

"My chickens have always been pets," said Paul, who was an engineer with Apple for many years before becoming a registered nurse and then a semi-retired chicken hobbyist. "People who have backyard flocks, we know their names and personalities and we know when they're doing well. That aspect never changed for me. These are still my pets."

These days, all of his birds are banded and identified, but even still about 100 have names and all of them have personalities - like Rob, who was born with a defective eye and no depth perception. "He had no feathers so I started calling him Zombie and that turned into Rob Zombie which just became Rob." said Paul. "And that bird will chase me down when I walk across the yard, He adores me."

And the feeling is mutual. "I love everything about my birds," he said. "The interactions and politics between the chickens - you're watching these little baby dinosaurs do their thing!"

Paul just recently started peddling his palettes at farmers' markets and a few local spots, but he's been sharing his eggs with neighbors and selling directly from his farm for quite a bit longer - including to folks like Max Trombly. Max and his wife met Paul while hiking the Appalachian Trail and staying at his farm when it was just getting started. 

"I was just incredibly impressed," said Max, who calls himself a local foodie. "It's just the most beautiful place. If I was a chicken living in that place, I would be the happiest chicken in the world - although I don't know if chickens appreciate mountain views."

Max said that in addition to the views, he loves being able to see the chickens - Paul welcomes customers at his farm - and how the birds roam freely through Paul's 11 acres. "Seeing happy chickens roaming around was a big part of what impacted me and made me say I want to support this kind of business." said Max, who eats eggs almost every day and buys 4-6 palettes at a time from Paul. "And I think one of the things that draws me to him is Paul is such an enthusiastic guy and he's so passionate. I try to seek out people who are passionate about their art, their craft, and their livelihood."

Plus, says Max, the eggs are gorgeous. 

"Everything Paul's ever handed me has been perfect and wonderful."