The arrival of August means that egg sorting on our farm takes on a more selective tone. Instead of being placed into trays for later packing into cartons, our eggs are subject to meticulous scrutiny. This usually entails my spinning, stroking and carefully eyeballing each egg while my sons laugh their heads off. These apparently amusing actions occur three times a day with each collection and continue through the middle of the month. No, I don’t develop a yearly egg fetish. I’m simply searching for a set of matching beauties for egg competition.
Showing poultry at community, county and state fairs is a long-established tradition for breeders, fanciers and 4-H participants. An increasingly popular offshoot of this pursuit is egg competition and exhibition: presenting a dozen eggs for assessment and judging. The judges—fair trustees, volunteers or even American Poultry Association representatives—inspect the entries carefully to determine which deserves the blue ribbon. Show categories vary from fair to fair, but typically the divisions include white egg, brown egg, blue egg, and all other varieties (also called AOV) egg. Some fairs include divisions by layer age (eggs from a pullet vs. eggs from a hen), while others further categorize eggs by size. A rare handful of exhibitions go even further: cracking open an egg from each entry to judge the color of the yolk and the clarity and viscosity of the albumen.
The fairs we enter don’t judge an egg’s interior, but they do examine each submission critically. The first year we entered an egg competition was the last year I attended the appraisal. Watching the judges peer at every single egg, sometimes two or three times, was far too nerve-wracking for me. Nowadays I just drop our little competitors off, wish them the best of luck, then steer clear of them until our family visits the fair (typically several days after the judging is done). We’ve been fortunate in that our eggs have won the blue ribbon at every single fair we have entered. It may well be because our girls lay great eggs, but it also boils down to knowing how to select and properly enter your eggs in what amounts to a beauty pageant in a carton.
Understand What You Are Entering
A common error I’ve seen from those new to egg competition and exhibition is not understanding the departments, sections and classes that comprise the hierarchy of a fair entry. The majority of fairs publish what is called a “premium book,” which lists not only the fair schedule but every single possible entry available, from llama fleece to hand-embroidered baby quilt. Eggs fall under the department of poultry. And also the department of agriculture. These are two totally separate contests, held in two different fair tents. Entering your eggs in poultry does not preclude you from entering eggs in agriculture. However, they can’t be the same eggs, as your eggs cannot be in two places at the same time. Decide whether you wish to compete in poultry, agriculture or both.
Once you’ve selected your department, you need to select your section. This will usually be “open,” unless your child (under 18 years of age) is entering eggs. In this case, the section is “youth.” There are fairs and exhibitions where youth is automatically entered into open, but usually the two are kept separate.
Finally, determine your egg class. White eggs means only eggs that are white; pale beige and tinted pastel are not white. Brown eggs means any kind of brown, soft tan to the deepest chocolate. Blue eggs normally includes green eggs, as they stem from the same blue gene. AOV means precisely that: speckled eggs, pink eggs, black eggs and anything not covered by the previous class descriptions.
It seems pretty clear, but every year a couple of egg competition entries are disconcerted. At one fair three years ago, a set of eggs entered in AOV was disqualified because the participant had assembled a dozen brown, white, and blue eggs as her entry. Another confused competitor entered a dozen beautiful blue eggs in a different fair several years ago. One the show card, the judge scrawled “DQ — NO EASTER EGGS!” Yes, Paas might have contributed to the vivid blue of her eggs.
Make Sure Your Eggs Match
Knowing that you are entering a dozen brown (or white, or blue or AOV) eggs is only the first step. The next (and most time-consuming) step is selecting your eggs. It’s not as easy as just packing up 12 eggs. The first year that we participated, a judge opened a carton containing a dozen brown eggs, shook his head and pushed it to the side without a second glance. The eggs within were all brown, but they were different shades of brown. It was almost as if the entrant had gone to the trouble of selecting eggs that best displayed the range of browns his or her hens could lay. Nice idea, but that only gets your eggs eliminated. Your fair eggs have to be as identical to each other in color as possible.
Beyond color, however, your eggs also need to match in size and shape. You might have the snowiest white eggs around, but if three of them are tear shaped while the rest are perfect ovals, that’s no good. Likewise, a dozen aquamarine eggs will get nowhere if half of them are jumbo and the other half are small. All 12 eggs need to be as close to identical as possible.
Inspect For Inconsistencies
Once you’ve set aside your contenders for the egg competition, it’s time to inspect them again, but this time for any blemishes that might diminish their perfection. Calcium deposits are a no go; put any eggs with buildup on their shells back in the “sell” pile. Similarly, rough sections on an eggshell are undesirable; every egg should be similarly smooth and silky. If there is any dirt (or worse) clumped onto the egg, eliminate it. Scrubbing the dirt off will remove pigment and make the egg appear patchy. Finally, hold each egg up to a bright light to check the thickness of its shell. If you have any that appear thin shelled, remove those from the group. The last thing you want is for your egg to shatter in the hands of a judge.
Tips to Consider
Over the years, I have learned that the easiest way to get a set of 12 matched eggs is to get all the eggs from the same hen. This means that I start collecting eggs weeks in advance. By starting three to four weeks (or more) ahead of time, I give the girl laying my perfect dozen the time to lay 12 eggs. The additional time gives me some cushion in case an egg breaks in the nestbox, is dropped when collected or is laid with calcium deposits. To help my hens along in their endeavors, I always put fresh nesting material into their nestboxes. This not only protects the eggs from accidental cracks but also keeps them clean.
Once I start gathering my contenders, I keep them chilled in the refrigerator in a specially labelled egg carton. The “Don’t Eat! Fair Eggs!” markings prevent my husband and sons from using them in an omelet. I store my eggs point down, as usual, to help keep the air sacs viable as long as possible. Fairgrounds are not known for their air-conditioned premises, and non-winning egg entries frequently go into the trash before the fair ends, thanks to the August heat. Even if your eggs win, don’t plan on taking them home (take photos instead).
Always collect extras! Don’t stop once you have your dozen eggs set aside. Collect an additional dozen if possible. This way, if something horrible happens on your way to the fair—for instance, having to suddenly brake, causing eggs to break—you have replacements and can still enter. And, should you arrive at the fair with no casualties, then you can enter one dozen in the poultry department and the other in agriculture.