Warm Weather – Flowers – and Eggs
I love this time of year; it’s not spring yet and winter lets us know, he’s still around. Yet, anticipating a green landscape freckled with colorful flowers, gives me something to look forward to in a few short weeks. The excitement of things to come makes me smile as the days slowly warm with lingering sunlight.
It’s also the time of year we start planning. Right now, we’re planting seeds for our container gardens and planning out where everything will go. It’s also the time of year my hens start producing more eggs. While we gather eggs year around, except for in extremely hot or cold weather, spring and fall are our biggest egg production seasons.
With my excitement for spring comes the duty of a responsible backyard chicken farmer. As well as the well-being of our flock, knowing about the eggs they produce is just as important.
The Laying House – The Coop and Nest
Because of the direct relationship to the condition of your eggs, I must mention flock management. While feeding your birds a balanced ration is important, coop and nest management is also important.
• Chickens like to hide their eggs and pick some of the strangest places to nest. Because of this, I recommend keeping your flock in a fenced area. By letting your hens nest wherever they choose, there’s a higher risk of broken eggs and knowing how old the eggs are is difficult.
• Clean, clean, clean, and more clean. Keeping the nest area clean and dry makes for better eggs. Muddy runs and damp, dirty nesting material results in dirty and stained eggs. I recommend cleaning the laying area once a week however, a minimum of two weeks is okay, making sure you remove all wet litter and the run has good drainage.
• For a small flock of 15 hens or less, you need a minimum of four nesting boxes while larger flocks need 1 nesting box for every 4 to 5 hens. Make sure the nests have a deep clean layer of litter which helps control egg breakage and absorbs waste.
Chickens are early layers with most of the eggs laid by 10:00 am. If possible, collect the eggs as soon as possible after laid. Sometimes you can’t collect until later in the day and that’s okay, however collecting early lessens the chance of breakage and the eggs becoming too dirty. I advise collecting eggs twice daily.
Hens can develop egg eating habits. By collecting eggs often, the chance of breakage is less and you lessen the risk of the hens learning to eat an egg. Collect your eggs in an easy-to-clean container; plastic egg flats or wire baskets work great, and make sure you don’t stack your eggs too high. Never stack more than 5 layers deep. The higher you stack your eggs, the more likely breakage will occur.
Egg Cleaning and Handling
This is a hotly debated subject: should I wash my eggs? I never wash my eggs until right before I use them. Washing your eggs will cause them to go bad quicker. Brush them off before storing them, only if you have to. My best advice; store them the way you find them.
Just before laying her eggs, the hen’s body adds a protective coating to the shell, known as bloom. Leaving this protective film on the eggs helps keep out bacteria and traps moisture inside the egg, resulting in a full, rich egg with a bright orange yolk. Many farmers never refrigerate their eggs because the bloom is so protective. Once you wash the egg or wipe it down too much, you destroy the bloom and the egg needs refrigeration. If you’ve ever been to Europe, you will notice, fresh eggs are never refrigerated because the farmers leave the bloom on them.
A fresh egg with bloom intact will keep all high quality nutrients, when kept at room temperature, for up to three months. When you crack open a fresh egg, you’ll see a bright orange yolk and the albumen, or the jelly substance surrounding the yolk, is slightly cloudy.
Quick Science Lessen The cloudiness of the egg white, or albumen, of a backyard egg looks cloudy. This means the fresh egg has carbon dioxide present. With a factory farmed egg, the albumen is clear. This means the egg was washed which allowed the carbon dioxide to escape through the porous shell or the egg is old. The more gas that escapes, the more transparent and runny the white will be.
Commercial egg producers wash their eggs as well as running them through a chemical wash. These chemicals seep into the pores since the eggs are no longer protected by the bloom. The chemical washes cause a reaction in the egg. The yolk shrinks and turns pale, while the albumen becomes clear. Farm eggs may have a clear albumen as well but this usually means the clearer the albumen, the less fresh your egg is.
Chilling or Not Chilling
Whenever I tell people I don’t chill my eggs, they look at me like I’m crazy. Then I hear the usual questions…“ They’ll go bad, won’t they?” or “Won’t you get salmonella poisoning?” My answer: “If they’re backyard eggs…no.” The United States is one of the few countries requiring mass producers wash their eggs and keep them refrigerated. Once the protective coating is gone, the egg becomes susceptible to bacteria. All store-bought eggs need refrigeration or the risk of salmonella is high. Because of this, it’s important to understand the difference between a factory farmed egg and a backyard chicken farmer egg.
Eggs shells are nothing more than permeable membranes with thousands of pores covering the surface. When the hen lays an egg, her body covers it with the protective bloom coating. This mucous secretion quickly dries after laying, to seal the shell’s pores. This makes it impervious to bacteria while reducing moisture loss. Moisture loss will speed up egg deterioration.
Caution: NEVER leave eggs at room temperature if you don’t if they’ve been cleaned. You must refrigerate all cooked eggs.
If you’re a backyard chicken farmer, the ideal method for storing eggs is in a dry place with a room temperature of 65° F to 70° F: maybe a pantry, cupboard, or on the counter in a decorative egg basket. I never refrigerate my eggs as long as we eat them within a couple of months. Even after two months, we still use properly stored eggs; they just don’t cook as well.
When I do refrigerate any eggs, I still do not wash them. I only wash my eggs right before I use them. As long as you keep your nesting area clean, there is little if any dirt on the egg shells when you collect them. I recommend you keep designated nesting boxes for laying and not allow your hens to sleep in them. Make sure you position the nesting boxes in an area where your flock can’t roost above them. This makes the nests healthier and easier to clean. Our eggs are so spotless, I just put them directly into the cartons, not even wiping them off. However, if I find a really dirty egg, I wash it under running water and either use it immediately or store it in the refrigerator.
Because of the layout of large-scale factory farms, they cannot oversee nest hygiene. This causes dirty and poop covered eggs. To make eggs more appealing, commercial producers wash and sanitize eggs with various chemicals; everything from chlorine to per acetic acid. This strips the eggs of their natural “bloom” coating, making them vulnerable to bacteria.
Have you ever noticed how a cold egg left in a warm room will sweat? The egg’s pores expand with varying temperatures which causes bacteria to seep into the egg. This happens to any egg; factory farmed or backyard eggs, washed or not. Once you refrigerate eggs, even freshly laid with bloom intact, never keep it on the counter. Take it straight from the cooler to the cooking pot.
In the spring and fall, our hens usually lay so many eggs, we can’t eat them all. Usually, by the end of May, we have enough eggs to see us through the summer months when the hens don’t lay as often. What I don’t keep for our use, I give away. And if I still have too many, I sell them.
Always check your local ordinances for selling fresh eggs. In Oklahoma, as long as you are not selling to a farmer’s market, and you sell ungraded eggs directly from the flock, you’re free from rules governing larger commercial flocks.
The basic points for collecting and storing eggs.
• Consider keeping your flock in an enclosed area to avoid lost and broken eggs.
• Don’t let your hens sleep in the nesting boxes.
• Never wash your eggs unless you plan to use them immediately or refrigerate them. The best rule of thumb is store the eggs in the same condition as you gathered them in.
• If your eggs are refrigerated, keep them refrigerated; never store at room temperature. If your eggs are from your own flock, you can keep them at room temperature for several months as long as you don’t wash them.
• If you sell your surplus eggs, store them as you find them, never washing and cleaning them. Avoid selling at the farmer’s markets since many areas require special permits for selling at the markets and you usually have to wash and keep your eggs cold.