If you’ve never owned backyard chickens, there are a few things about fresh eggs that you might not have ever known. Fresh eggs are actually quite different from store-bought eggs in a number of ways. Not only are they better for you nutritionally, particularly if the hens are free range (and I mean truly free to roam the land), but fresh eggs have a few other aspects that one should keep in mind before getting a flock of your own.
Free Range Yolks Are Darker and Tastier
Depending on how much the hens have been able to free range, the yolk can be considerably darker than we’re used to seeing from store bought eggs. I remember the first time I cracked one of our home grown eggs. I was shocked by a dark orange yolk- very different from the pale yellow I was used to from conventional eggs. I was almost afraid to eat it. Was it safe?
Of course, that darker shade is only evidence of a healthy diet of grass and bugs, and is not only perfectly safe to eat, but is much tastier and nutritious than those other anemic versions.
Fresh Eggs Last For Months. Unrefrigerated.
When an egg has just been laid, it is covered with a special protective coating called the “bloom”. You can’t see it or feel it, but it’s there. This coating helps protect the potential developing chick from being exposed to bacteria through the porous eggshell. When that bloom has been washed off, that layer of protection is lost, and eggs begin to spoil due to bacteria being absorbed through the shell.
Store-bought eggs have been washed before being packaged, so they have a very limited shelf life. Fresh eggs, on the other hand, will last for several months even without refrigeration as long as the bloom has not been washed off, and the eggs are stored in a cool environment.
The Float Test
One down-side to having completely free range hens is that those silly girls will lay their eggs in the craziest places. There have been times when I’ve come upon a nest of eggs underneath a fallen log out in the woods, and I have no idea how long they’ve been there. I could have just thrown them away, but what if they were still good? There is a way to test their freshness.
Put the eggs in a deep container of cool water. If the eggs sink to the bottom and stay there, they’re still good. If they float to the top, they’re bad. If the egg sits up on its end on the bottom of the container, and acts like it wants to float but doesn’t quite get off the bottom, it’s a little old but still good enough to eat.
Of course, once they’ve been in the water the bloom has been washed off, so you’ll want to refrigerate them and eat them withing a week or so.
Could There Be A Chick In There?
Before I had a flock of my own, I had no idea how the whole chick-and-egg thing worked. I was scared to death that I’d crack an egg and there would be a chick in there.
Yes, it is a possibility. But only under certain conditions. Here’s what you need to know…
- Eggs must be fertilized before you can have chicks. If you don’t have a rooster, there is zero chance of a chick being in your eggs. If you do have a rooster who has access to the hens, chances are very good that the eggs you are collecting will be fertilized.
- Fertilized eggs must be sat on, or incubated, before they will develop into chicks. If the egg isn’t kept warm, the embryo will not grow. Fertilized eggs are perfectly fine to eat, even if a hen has been sitting on it for a day or two. Any longer than that and and you’ll begin seeing blood spots and evidence of development. Which is still safe to eat, just not very appetizing.
- If you discover a hen sitting on a clutch of eggs, and you have no idea how long she has been there, you can use a method called “candling” to see if there might be a chick developing in there. Take the eggs in question along with a flashlight into a dark room. Hold the egg, pointy side down, over the light, and cup your hand around the base of the egg so that the light shines through the shell. If it’s dark in there, or if you see blood vessels or even movement, just put it back under the hen and let her hatch her babies out. If the light passes through the egg, the egg is still fairly new and okay to eat.
The Odd Ones
Sometimes fresh eggs don’t come out as we’d expect. Sometimes they’re very small- particularly when the hen is still young and is just beginning to lay. Sometimes they’re teeny tiny! It’s always fun to find these little “wind eggs” in the nesting box. Sometimes eggs are laid without a shell, or without a yolk. Sometimes you’ll get a double-yolker. And sometimes the shell might be wrinkled, or speckled! It all depends on the chicken’s diet, her age, and just random flukes her body produces. That’s the great thing about farm fresh eggs- they come in all sizes, shapes, and colors!
Hard Boiling Fresh Eggs
If you’ve ever tried to hard boil a fresh egg, you might know the feeling of wanting to throw the whole darned thing against the wall. That shell just does not want to come off! You can give them a couple of weeks to sit before boiling them, so that the membrane has time to break down and loosen from the shell, OR… you can use this trick:
- Fill a medium sized pot with enough water to slightly cover your eggs, and bring it to a full rolling boil.
- Carefully submerge room temperature eggs into the pot.
- Bring it back to a boil, reduce heat to med/low, and continue a light boil for 15 min.
- When finished cooking, pour off the hot water and cover the eggs with ice cold water. Allow them to sit until cool. The shells will slip right off!
When I start getting more eggs than I know what to do with, I freeze them! Simply crack them into a large ice cube tray (I like to break the yoke), allow them to freeze solid, then transfer them to a ziploc bag. During the winter when your hens have stopped laying, or at least slowed down quite a bit, you’ll still have quality eggs to bake with.
Yes. Sometimes They Get Dirty.
It’s true. Farm eggs don’t always get brought into the house sparkling clean. Sometimes they’re muddy. Sometimes they’re even pooped on. It happens. Just wash it off with warm water (you can even use a little soap if it’s that bad), and put the egg in the fridge to be eaten in the next week or two. If the muck is still fresh, I usually just wipe the egg in the grass before bringing it inside. Packing your nesting boxes with fresh bedding really helps to keep the eggs clean, as well as having the boxes somewhere away from the roosts (so the hens don’t poop on the eggs overnight). But you can still expect some yuck every now and then.
You’ll never understand until you have a flock of your own, just how satisfying it is to walk out to the chicken coop in the morning, and return to the house with breakfast. People, this is how life is meant to be!
I’d love to hear what you were surprised to learn about fresh eggs when you got your first flock!