Chicken Eggs - fresh for you and yours
Twenty years ago I dreamed of fresh chicken eggs as part of a frugal living and self-sufficient lifestyle. I'm not dreaming anymore.
We get lots of eggs every day, and we enjoy fried eggs, scrambled eggs, omelets, quiche and just about anything else you can imagine.
Let's look at the business of chickens laying eggs. It really isn't difficult to do (because the chicken does it), and it can be a fun part of frugal living.
Let's discuss key topics about chickens and their eggs. I'll keep this at a top level since you don't need to be an expert to start with chickens.
Tell Me about Chicken Eggs
Brown is the most common color of egg from a chicken. You can also get white eggs (duh, I see these in the stores), but fewer breeds lay white eggs. Most breeds lay a brownish egg.
Eggs also come in pastel blues and greens if you get special birds designed to lay colored eggs. They are fun to see, but I stick with the brown and white eggs since they are a larger size and often produced in greater number than the colored eggs.
The photo to the left shows more than 90 eggs. That was about 3 days effort by several dozen girls in the coop. Notice that some of the chicken eggs are brown, tan, brown with a rose hue, and some are a pastel green or blue.
With this number of eggs, you'll be eating fresh, selling them, giving them away and doing lots of collecting from the nests. In my case, I shared chicken eggs with friends who helped with the feed in exchange for eggs.
Each week friends would come by to pick up about 5 dozen eggs. It's a good approach to getting fresh eggs if you don't want to have a bunch of hens around your own place. A miniature co-op for chicken eggs, and something fun to do with friends.
If you're having a hard time deciding what to do with all those eggs, perhaps I could give you some suggestions. Ellen loves quiche, and I enjoy it too. My favorite is fried eggs done in a "western" or "ranch" style where you have lots of diced onions, peppers and whatever else you like mixed up in the pan with the egg fried right on top.
I suppose I'll have to offer some egg recipes for my hungry friends interested in being egg self-sufficient.
Anyway, chicken eggs range in size from small to jumbo. Sometimes you'll get a tiny egg that looks more like an egg from a bird nest. Sometimes you'll get an egg that is so big you can't fit it into an egg carton. Both situations are rare.
The very largest chicken eggs are often double yolks.
As you might imagine, eggs are often egg-shaped, but some can be a little squatty or rather elongated. Like a tiny or extremely large egg, odd shaped eggs are rare.
The surface of an egg is usually smooth and consistent in color, but you will also see eggs that are rough, wrinkled, and speckled.
Be prepared for just about anything - all are good to eat, regardless of size, shape, texture and color.
Chicken Eggs and Biology
Chicken eggs come from chickens. That wasn't so hard was it? You're going to be an expert in chicken eggs in no time.
And, I should point out that the chicken came before the egg, because without the chicken there would be no animal to produce the egg. Also, there would be no animal to hatch the egg and care for the young. So far so good?
Now for something a bit more difficult. Young female chickens are called pullets. As a pullet ages and begins laying eggs, we refer to them as a hen. Hens will lay eggs irrespective of the presence of a rooster (the adult male chicken).
If you want fertile eggs, then get young male chickens (cockerels) along with your pullets. Otherwise, the hens lay infertile eggs that are exactly like fertile eggs in every respect except they can't produce a baby chick.
Roosters fertilize the hens, not the eggs. The rooster will stand on the back of the hen while she lifts her tail. It's the same mating technique used by turkeys, hawks and other birds.
Enough biology for now. Onto the story of chicken eggs.
Every breed of chicken lays eggs, but each breed has different characteristics, so you'll need to know a little bit about at least a few birds if you are going to be successful.
Here is the best place to learn about breeds of egg laying chickens. Although I don't recommend this as a laying breed, it's a point of interest, so I mention it here in the discussion of chicken eggs because the bird shown below is known as the "Easter egg chicken" because it lays colored eggs.
Araucana - also known as the Easter egg chicken. These birds are generally brown feathered with a flipped up tuft of feathers near their neck and ears. They lay smaller eggs that are typically pastel green and blue in color.
It's fun to see the colored eggs, but I wouldn't get them for egg production due to the smaller size of the egg and less robust production. If you're looking for green eggs and ham, and a nice conversation starter, this is the bird to have in your flock.
When Do They Lay?
There are two answers to this question. First, let's look at when a new pullet starts to lay, and then let's discuss when during the day they typically lay their eggs.
Chickens lay eggs after they reach maturity. If you get your chicks in April, you might see egg production by July, but more likely August. So, don't be concerned that your girls aren't laying right away. Sometimes it takes a little longer for them to get into full production.
Chicken eggs are most likely to be laid in the morning. Expect that by noon, all your eggs will be in the nests. At first, you may get eggs throughout the day, but your hens should settle down into a pattern of laying in the morning.
Let the girls get used to their environment and get on their own schedule, and you'll have your eggs by noon at the latest. It's important to know when the last eggs are laid because in the winter months, you'll want to pick up the eggs before they freeze in the colder weather.
Chicken Eggs in the Nests - Summer and Winter Concerns
In the warm summer months, you'll want to collect, clean and refrigerate your eggs regularly, but it won't hurt if eggs stay in the nests for a few days in between collecting. The warmer weather typically won't present a problem if your nests are shielded from direct heat.
Don't leave your chicken eggs uncollected for more than three days because you risk:
- spoilage due to heat
- breakage from chicken traffic
- cracked eggs from "egg drop"
- dirtier eggs from chicken traffic
In the winter, the primary concern is freezing. As long as the temperatures stay around 28F or higher, you'll likely not see any freezing of eggs that are gathered each day. If eggs are left in the nests for a couple of days at or below freezing, you might have some cracks develop, but most likely you'll just get a little "egg slush" developing inside.
If your weather is in the teens or twenties, you'll need to make certain the eggs are collected each day to avoid freezing and breaking. Collecting your chicken eggs soon after laying is the best idea, but you can usually get away with letting them sit out there a bit longer if needs be.
The photo right shows freeze damage to an egg. It's obvious this one has been outside below freezing too long.
The photo lower left shows a hairline crack in an egg. The crack runs vertically about one third of the way left from the narrow end of the egg. This could have been caused by freezing, or it could have been damaged by the hens.
Factors that help eggs last longer in the cold:
- temperatures just a little below freezing
- frequent visits by layers (fewer nests for more birds)
- birds that are "broody" and want to sit on and hatch the eggs
- sunlight warming the nests (face nest openings south)
Frozen eggs can be thawed and used immediately, or saved for pet food. Humper loves raw and cooked eggs, alone or mixed in with his ground beef. If it were up to him, we would have several cracked eggs each day.
It's probably a good idea to have some styrofoam cartons for your frozen chicken eggs to thaw out in. These type of cartons are easy to wash and so a little egg white dripping onto them won't be a concern.
Nest Boxes for Hens and Chicken Eggs
Nest boxes are easy to make. Just about anything that allows the bird to enter and feel comfortable will do just fine as a nest box.
I like a nest box that is about a one foot cube, with the front top edge covered by a few inches to provide a bit of an enclosure for the chicken. The front bottom edge should also be raised a couple of inches to keep the straw from coming out.
Put a nice thick bed of straw in the box, and the girls will get it all made into a nice rounded nest for themselves. The straw is largely a way of making certain the eggs don't break when they are deposited.
If you don't make nest boxes available, you'll have chicken eggs everywhere.
Also, don't allow the hens to use the nest boxes until they start to lay eggs. You want them to use the box as a nest, not as a home or toilet.
Multiple hens can use the same nest box. I have 14 hens and they use only 3 nest boxes. Much of the time one of the nests has nearly all the eggs, another nest only has an egg or two in it, and the third nest is often empty.
Below are the nest boxes for the girls. On this day, it appears as though two are favorites and one isn't.
All nest boxes are exactly the same, so it appears that whoever lays the first egg starts a trend that the others tend to follow. No one ever said that chickens were smart.
Gathering Chicken Eggs
This is easy. Start with the nests that have no chickens in them, and simply remove the eggs one or two at a time and place them into a container where they will be protected for the trip back to the house.
Egg cartons, buckets lined with rags, or just your undershirt pulled out in front of you make fine devices for carrying chicken eggs.
If a chicken is on the nest, just slowly and gently go under the bird with your hand to find the eggs that have already been laid. One chicken can cover a dozen eggs or more, so just because you can't see an egg doesn't mean it isn't there.
If you have a broody hen, she'll want to hatch the eggs. She'll want to guard the eggs from thieves such as yourself, but don't be discouraged. Talk to the her and proceed with your egg gathering. You'll probably get pecked a few times, but it doesn't hurt much. Just make certain she doesn't cause you to drop the eggs.
Then, off you go cleaning eggs before you store them.
And, I have some egg storage tips for you as well.
Wrapping it up...
So, there you have it. Fresh eggs from your very own flock of feathered friends that each day support your interest in frugal living and healthy eating. Obtaining chicken eggs is rather simple, and if you can provide a cheap source of food for "the girls," they'll help you maintain a focus on fun and frugal living.
Done with Chicken Eggs, take me back to Backyard Chickens