Let’s be honest; if you have chickens, it’s all about the eggs! Farm-fresh eggs are fresher, tastier, and more nutrient-rich than grocery-store eggs. Once you’ve had them, it’s hard to go back. But how do you collect, clean, and store farm fresh eggs?
How Often Do Chickens Lay Eggs?
Every chicken breed produces eggs, even ornamental breeds, but egg size and production vary. If maximum egg production is your goal, then you can’t go wrong with a Wyandotte, Australorp, Barred Rock, Delaware, Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, or Speckled Sussex. These breeds are known for their egg-laying prowess. While no chicken lays an egg every day, a good layer will generally produce 5 to 6 eggs a week during the spring and summer months.
Depending on the breed, most hens will start to lay eggs between 18 and 24 weeks old. From then, hearty layer breeds will lay 5 - 6 eggs per week for the first two years of their lives. After the three-year mark, egg production will slow. If your flock's primary purpose is eggs, you’ll need to consider replacing your flock with younger birds every few years.
Keep in mind that many birds will not lay eggs in the colder winter months when much of their energy is diverted to keeping their body temperatures up. But, there is such a thing as “winter layers,” and those breeds include Chantecler, Rhode Island Red, Buckeye, Australorp, and Orpington.
How Will I Know When My Chickens Are Ready to Start Laying Eggs?
The first sign to watch out for is a move called “squatting.” When you approach a laying hen, she will drop and squat in front of you, showing submission in the same manner she would show a rooster. Once you witness squatting, it will only be a matter of days till you see your first egg.
The next sign is referred to as “egg song.” Be ready for it. Your chickens are about to get loud. They will squawk very distinctly and very loudly when laying an egg. You will know she is screaming, “I’m laying an egg! I’m laying an egg!!”
How to Collect Eggs
It’s best to wait until your hen has left the nesting box to collect eggs. If she is still sitting on them, you may be the recipient of a few indignant pecks before you get the eggs free. Once your hen has left the eggs, simply pick them up and place them gently in a basket, pouch, or, well, let’s be honest, pockets. (I have four different, very pretty egg-collecting baskets. I forget to take them with me every time and end up with pockets full of eggs!) Place eggs gently, taking care not to put pressure on them.
When to Collect Eggs
It’s a good idea to have a consistent schedule for collecting eggs. Most chicken keepers will gather eggs twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. If the weather is extremely warm or cold, you may need to collect them more often.
The frequent and regular collection ensures that the eggs don’t get soiled or damaged due to hen traffic in the nesting boxes. Do your best to keep nesting boxes clean and discourage sleeping (and pooping) in the nesting boxes by providing ample roost bars above the height of the nest boxes.
What Color Will My Eggs Be?
Almost everyone is familiar with the white eggs that are predominant in the grocery store, and brown eggs are synonymous with “farm eggs.” But the truth is that eggs come in a whole rainbow of colors. Easter Eggers will produce eggs in a range of blues and greens. Olive Eggers will deliver light green to dark olive eggs. Marans will provide you with deep russet eggs. Or, if you’re looking for a pinkish cream, check out Light Sussex, Mottled Javas, Silkies, and Faverolles.
Remember that each hen is her own lady, and she may surprise you with eggs you weren’t expecting. But, you can try to determine what color of egg a hen will lay by looking at her ears. Yup, ears! Birds don’t have external ears as humans do. Your chicken's ear is a small circle or oval of skin on the side of the head, next to the ear hole. This is not a fail-proof method, but generally speaking, except for Easter Eggers, Olive Eggers, and other specialty breeds, If her ear is white, your hen will lay white eggs. If it’s red, she’ll lay brown ones.
Cleaning and Storing Eggs
Fresh farm eggs are laid with what is called “bloom” on them. Bloom is a natural coating created by the hen to protect the egg from bacteria. If you wash the eggs, it removes this protective layer, so avoid washing them whenever possible. If they are overly dirt with mud or poop on them, you can gently brush this away with a dry brush.
During the process of laying an egg, a hen’s body deposits a natural protective coating on the eggshell, commonly referred to as the “bloom.” Scientifically speaking, the egg “cuticle” is a protective layer of protein that coats the egg, sealing the otherwise porous shell. The cuticle, or bloom, prevents bacteria from entering the egg, keeps it fresher longer, and prevents both the loss of moisture and the introduction of contamination.
When eggs are washed, the bloom is also washed away, thus leaving the eggs more susceptible to spoiling. That’s why the best practice is waiting to wash your fresh eggs until right before you use them. This practice will extend their shelf life.
To wash eggs, simply use warm running water and rub any soiled spots gently by hand to remove excess debris, then allow them to dry completely before storing. There is no need for harsh soaps, vinegar, or other cleaning agents, and these items can enter the egg after the bloom has been washed away. Remember that if you plan to sell your eggs, most states require them to be washed first.
Fresh eggs aren’t processed in the same way commercial eggs are; this means you can store fresh eggs differently than store-bought eggs. In the commercial egg industry, eggs are washed and pasteurized before being packaged for market. Pasteurization is done to kill bacteria and pathogens present at the time of pasteurization, but it also destroys the bloom and provides no long-term protection. That’s why store-bought eggs must be stored in the refrigerator, but fresh farm eggs can be stored on the counter.
Most resources say you can store fresh eggs at room temperature for 2 to 3 weeks but should refrigerate them after that. Unwashed fresh eggs can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 months. It’s important to note that once eggs have been refrigerated, they should be kept in the fridge, washed or not. According to the USDA, refrigerated eggs should not be left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature.
We store a basket of eggs on the counter at all times and rotate older eggs into the refrigerator for more extended storage. Each carton is labeled with its refrigeration date to help us to ensure that we always use the oldest eggs first. A pro tip for storing your eggs is to always place them into cartons with the rounded side up and pointy end facing down. The rounded end contains an air sac, and when left in the upright position, it acts like a little balloon of insulation, helping to reduce evaporation and moisture loss.
For more long-term storage, you can use a technique called “water glassing.” Water glassing involves submerging clean, unwashed eggs in a solution of pickling lime and water to seal off the shell. This process will preserve your unwashed eggs for 12 months or more. You can read all about this technique over at Farmhouse on Boon.
How to Tell if Your Eggs Are Still Fresh
If you got your rotation mixed up or aren’t sure which eggs are the freshest, you can test them with a glass of water; this is called the float test. Simply fill a glass or bowl with cool water and gently place the egg in question inside.
Fresh eggs will lay on the bottom of the glass. Older eggs will stay on the bottom but “stand up” slightly. Middle-age eggs will float but remain submerged. The higher the egg floats, the older it is, and anything that bobs to the top should be considered non-edible.
Hopefully, now you feel confident in collecting, cleaning, and storing the eggs your flock provides. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below. Help spread important food safety information by sharing this article. And, as always, until next time,