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I have been keeping chickens for well over 20 years, and I have to say, the exchange of services between me and the hens never ceases to amaze me.
I offer my hens a safe home, with food and water available all day long. Occasionally I throw them a few scraps from the kitchen along with the odd tasty treat from the compost pile, and in return, they each lay me an egg daily.
In my opinion, it is a fair swap!
If you are new to chicken keeping, you may find yourself with questions about how best to collect the eggs, if and how to clean them, and how best to store them so you get the maximum shelf life from your eggs.
In this article I will share the tips and tricks I have learned from collecting, cleaning, and storing, probably thousands of eggs over the years.
Collecting chicken eggs from the nestbox
When it comes to collecting the chicken eggs from the nestbox, there are essentially three things you need to ask yourself;
What time of day should you collect the eggs?
In my experience, chickens can lay their eggs at any time during the day. Chickens almost always lay during daylight hours, and it is very rare for a chicken to lay an egg after dark.
For me, the best time to check for eggs is about an hour after I open the coop door and let the girls out, and then again when I shut my chickens up at night.
There are no hard and fast rules about what time of day you should check for eggs.
How often should you collect the eggs?
You need to check for eggs at least twice a day; if you can, three times a day is even better.
Checking frequently has 4 major benefits. Firstly, chicken eggs are fragile. The longer they sit in the nestbox, the greater the chance a chicken will blunder into them and break one.
Chickens actually love the taste of fresh eggs (yep, it’s odd, but that’s nature for you!). Believe me, you do not want your chickens getting a taste for their own eggs, because, once they do, they will actively break the eggs and eat them..
Removing the fresh eggs two or three times a day reduces the chances of any eggs getting broken.
Secondly, the more eggs that are sitting in a nestbox when a chicken goes in to lay, the greater the chance she will get broody and decide to sit on the eggs.
Researchers have found that a major factor in a hen becoming broody is her finding a nest full of eggs.
The third reason you should collect the eggs several times a day is that a nestbox is a fairly unsanitary place, and eggs left in the nestbox can become covered in mud (especially in the winter) and chickens will happily poop directly onto the eggs.
Although nature has designed the chicken egg shell to be a barrier to bacteria, the sooner you get the eggs from the nestbox to the kitchen, the safer they will be.
The fourth and final reason you want to remove eggs from the nestbox frequently is predators. Snakes, rats, and raccoons are just three animals that will happily enter the chicken coop and eat the eggs.
The more frequently you remove the eggs, the lower the likelihood a predator will enter the coop to steal them.
What is the best way to collect the eggs?
Although it is clearly a cliche, in my experience a wicker basket is genuinely the best way to collect chicken eggs.
If you don’t have access to a wicker basket, a plastic container laid with straw will also work well.
Ideally, whatever container you use, the bottom should have a soft material, such as hay or straw to cushion the eggs, and prevent them from rolling around in the container. It is surprising how easily an egg shell will crack when one egg knocks against another one.
Unless you are just collecting one or two eggs at a time, don’t try to carry them in your hands. I have dropped more eggs than I care to admit.
Typically you will have eggs in one hand, then you are trying to close the nestbox with the other, before locking it. Then you have to get out of the closure, before locking that door too. It is a recipe for disaster.
Investing just $20 or so in a proper eggs basket (like this one I recently ordered from Amazon) will save you so much time and money in dropped eggs over the coming years.
should you clean Your chicken eggs?
Here is an interesting fact for you, chicken eggs have a natural coating that keeps bacteria out.
In theory, it does not matter how much mud, poop, and bedding is stuck to the outside of the egg shell, the egg inside will remain clean and safe to eat.
By cleaning the egg, you actually wash off that protective coating, increasing the chances of bacteria penetrating the shell and affecting the egg inside.
However, for me personally, washing the egg and removing that invisible protective layer is still a must. I don’t want a basket of eggs in my kitchen or my refrigerator that is covered in mud, straw, and poop.
Even though I am aware by washing my eggs I am removing that protective layer, I still do it.
If my eggs are heavily soiled, which is more often the case during the wet winter months, I will place the eggs one at a time under running water, and carefully remove as much of the mud and poop as I can.
During the drier summer months, when the ground is firm and the chickens rarely have muddy feet, I can usually get away with just lightly wiping my eggs with a dry cloth or piece of paper towel.
One top tip that I can share to help keep your chicken eggs clean in the first place is to change the bedding in the coop and nestbox more frequently.
During the winter months, my hens end up living in a very muddy chicken run and the bedding in the coop gets wet and matted within just a few days. By changing that bedding for fresh, dry bedding, much of the mud and poop will fall off the chicken’s feet before they get to the nestbox, meaning the eggs are much cleaner in the first place.
Many new chicken keepers think eggs are covered in poop because they pass through the chicken’s bottom, but in fact, almost all the poop on a hen’s egg comes from the chicken’s own feet.
How To Store Chicken Eggs?
Chicken eggs have evolved the ability to stay fresh for a number of weeks. In the wild, a chicken’s ancestors may lay their eggs over a period of one to two weeks before starting to sit on them, during which time, the eggs have to remain ‘viable’.
When we collect and store chicken eggs at home, they can easily remain fresh for 3 weeks or more from the day they are laid (assuming the room they are stored in is not exceptionally warm).
Even after 3 weeks, the eggs can continue to be stored safely using a number of different methods (see more below).
When storing your eggs, it is essential you keep track of when they were laid, so you know how old each egg is. I have found the following two methods to be essential when keeping track of how old my eggs are.
I use an egg-skelter similar to the one in the image.
An egg-skelter is an ideal way to keep track of which eggs are the oldest and which are the freshest.
Providing you always take the eggs you want to eat from the bottom of the egg-skelter, and add the fresh ones only to the top of the egg-skelter, the eggs will remain in chronological order.
If you need to store your eggs for longer than 3 weeks, there are a number of options available that will allow you to increase the lifespan of your eggs.
The following methods can also be used to preserve eggs when you have a glut. It is not uncommon for a homesteader to be swamped by eggs in the summer, then have to buy eggs from the store during the winter months when the hens stop laying.
How Can You Check Eggs Are Still Fresh?
If you find yourself in a situation where you are unsure if the eggs you have are still fresh or not, there is a quick test you can do.
Take the egg and place it in a glass of water. One of three things will happen.
Knowing how and when to collect your chicken eggs, along with how you should clean and store the eggs, will help you make the most of this wonderful harvest.
Personally, I check my coops for eggs at least twice a day, but three times is preferable, especially during the summer months when the weather is warm and the hens are laying in full swing.
Using a proper basket or another suitable container lined with straw or hay will reduce the number of eggs you break between the coop and the kitchen.
Storing eggs properly, and using them in date order will cut down on the number of eggs you waste due to them being past their best.
If you found this article interesting, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘Will A Fox Take My Chickens?‘.