Our chickens are fun and friendly, and we enjoy having them in our lives, but let’s be honest: We’re in it for the eggs. Keeping laying hens is an educational experience—a daily lesson that reminds us that our food is the product of another being’s energy and hard work. It can be frustrating when our girls’ eggs get lost, crack or lose their freshness. Lucky for us chicken keepers, the egg is a resilient little thing. By following the five tips below, your hens’ freshest eggs will always be ready for your skillet.
1. Use a Nest Box and Keep It Clean
Every chicken keeper needs to provide a nest box to his or her flock of laying hens. Providing nest boxes for your laying hens is a basic courtesy and creates a safe, reliable space for egg laying. With comfortable nest boxes, hens will return day after day, ensuring you know exactly where the eggs are. (No Easter egg hunts around the yard looking for wayward eggs!)
Thankfully, chickens aren’t picky: The ideal nest box is warm, dry, dark, and free from drafts and moisture. It should be lined with soft bedding, such as hay, straw or pine shavings. Standard-sized hens will need a nest box of about 14-by-14-by-14 inches, and cozier accommodations of 12-by-12-by-12 inches will do nicely for bantams. One box for every four to five chickens in a flock is more than sufficient. Regularly clean out nests by removing and replacing soiled bedding. Clean nest boxes equal clean eggs!
2. Collect Eggs Daily
No matter if it’s rain or shine, make a daily trek out to the chicken coop to collect eggs daily if you want fresh, safe eggs to eat. In mild temperatures of 45 to 60 degrees F, eggs will be safe for a day or so if you forget to collect—it happens to everyone once in a while! Be especially diligent about collecting in very hot weather, when eggs can spoil quickly, and very cold weather, when eggs are prone to cracking).
3. Don’t Wash Your Eggs
You read that right! Each egg is laid with a protective coating called a cuticle or bloom, which shields the egg’s interior (presumably a developing chick) from bacteria. When the egg comes into contact with water, the bloom is washed away, leaving the egg’s contents vulnerable. If you’ve followed the first tip and your eggs are coming out of clean nest boxes, chances are they’re clean, dry and poop-free. These are perfect candidates for not washing.
If your eggs are soiled or otherwise very dirty, you should certainly wash them before using them. Warm water and a mild soap are the best tools for this job. Remember that the egg’s shell is incredibly porous and eggs are prone to absorbing odors—especially if they sit for a long time in a refrigerator. Of all the eggs you collect, use the washed eggs first.
4. Store at a Consistent Temperature
The egg’s bloom is really an amazing thing: With this protective coating in place, an egg can safely sit at room temperature without spoiling for several weeks or more. However, there’s a catch: If the temperature in your home or kitchen fluctuates daily, as most kitchens do, your eggs won’t last very long at room temperature. Also, the warmer the storage temperatures, the more likely it is that an egg will spoil. The safe option is also the simplest: Place your unwashed eggs into the refrigerator, where they’ll last up to 6 months.
5. Throw Away Rotten Eggs
This goes without saying, right? Well, in the world of backyard chicken keeping, you’d be surprised how many not-so-fresh eggs make it to the kitchen. Once they’re out of the coop and into your home, it can be hard to tell between cracked or rotten eggs and freshly laid eggs. To keep from getting confused, any questionable suspects should be tossed into the compost heap right away.
Resist the temptation to toss potentially rotten, raw eggs back to your birds: Other than possibly making them sick, you could be inadvertently encouraging egg eating, a rather naughty, cannibalistic habit chickens can develop. Once the habit is established in a flock, it’s nearly impossible to break. If you find that you have an egg eater in your midst, refer back to tip No. 2, and beat them to the punch.
Get more egg tips from HobbyFarms.com:
- 6 Solutions to Egg-Laying Problems
- How to Start an Egg Business
- 7 Chickens to Raise for Colorful Eggs
- 5 Steps to Get the Best Eggs Possible
- 6 Duck Breeds to Raise for Eggs