If I took the natural progress of raising chickens through their evolution, my next blog article would naturally be to build a chicken pen and coop, but I thought care and cleaning of eggs was an idea appropriate for, not just homesteaders, but store bought, country bought eggs as well. I’ll save my chicken coop construction evolution for a later post.
First, just a note about the color of eggs. According to Michigan State University Extension, genetics determine egg color. Or, if you’re not into genetics, just look at the chicken’s earlobes, that’s right their earlobes. If the chicken’s earlobes are white, then their eggs will be white. If they are not white, they will have non-white eggs. As a child, I learned that white chickens lay white eggs, and colored chickens lay colored eggs. And by mixing and matching chicken breeds, you will get a variety of colors. For example, a green egg comes from a cross between a brown egg laying breed (e.g., Orpington) and a blue egg laying breed (e.g., Ameraucana). Finally, there is no dietary difference between egg colors. Notice the different colored eggs in the picture on the right. All these eggs were from Rhode Island Reds. There are color variations even of the same breed. All eggs, regardless of color and breed, are nutritionally the same.
Always remember to wash your hands after you handle fresh, unwashed eggs. Salmonella can be transferred If you aren’t careful. Also, be sure to wash your hands before you handle eggs if you plan to incubate them. Egg shells are porous. Bacteria can transfer through the shell to the embryo. The egg shell is naturally protected by a coating from the hen called a bloom. We are used to not washing eggs from the grocery store, and many homesteaders don’t wash their eggs prior to eating. I’ve seen some pretty dirty eggs come from my chickens, especially if their nesting area was dirty. Please note that the picture in this paragraph IS NOT AN EGG. I certainly don’t want to eat them looking like that. For that reason, we wash all our eggs using a small kitchen brush and cold water. This, unfortunately, removes the natural bloom. To protect the eggs after cleaning, we coat our eggs with food-grade mineral oil. Mineral oil helps protect the egg from bacteria and helps preserve the egg for future use. DO NOT do this if you plan to incubate the eggs.
I also recommend that you check your eggs for freshness. There is nothing is worse than a spoiled egg in your frying pan. You’ll need to air-out your kitchen and endure the most foul smelling odor you can think of. It’s easy to identify a bad egg before you crack it open. Simply put it into a container of water. If it floats, it’s a bad egg. Did you also know that fresh eggs are not very good to hard boil? The shell is hard to peel from a fresh egg that has been hard boiled. An older egg is better and the shell peels right away. I created a simple guide to help you check eggs.
Depending on the diet of your hens, egg shells can be thin and easily breakable. Usually, this is because there is not enough calcium in their diet. As a child raised on Cape Cod, my parents used to have me take clam shells and smash them up with a hammer. Then mix this in with the chicken feed or scratch. Now I live a long way from the ocean, and thankfully there is a solution. You can buy oyster shells already crushed and packaged at your local feed store. I usually purchase mine at Tractor Supply. I free-feed Layer Crumble to my laying hens with 2 or 3 handfuls of cracked corn or scratch mix to my chickens daily. Simply mix the crushed shells in with their scratch or feed. I usually mix a handful of crushed shells with their scratch once a week or so. Sometimes more often if I notice the shells breaking easily. Note: My hens stopped laying for a while last year and were not in molt. After talking with an old timer with lots of chicken experience, he told me that I was feeding them too much scratch and I should reduce the amount. I did that and my hens returned to their productive laying schedule.
Our hens generally lay their eggs in the afternoon. We will often collect our eggs in the early evening. That way the fresh eggs are not left overnight in the coop. It really doesn’t matter unless you have critters who steal eggs, but we like to bring the eggs in so they are preserved as quickly as possible. Word of warning: Don’t disturb a brooding hen (a hen sitting on her eggs). They get angry when you try to steal their eggs. You will need to wait until she leaves the nest. A great resource I use is Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens (Third Edition) by Gail Damerow.
Fresh eggs are a great addition to every homestead. Chickens are easy to care for and when they are done laying, taste good too. If you keep healthy and happy chickens, you’ll enjoy eggs for a long time.