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Raising Chickens 101: Collecting, Cleaning, and Storing Chicken Eggs

February 28, 2012

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Raising chickens for eggs? Let's talk about how to collect, clean, store, and hatch chicken eggs in this fifth installment of our Raising Chickens 101 series.

Once you’ve eaten farm eggs, it’s hard to go back to grocery store eggs. Fresh farm eggs, free-range or not, are delicious, with bright yolks and firm whites. Give your hens ground oyster shell or a similar calcium supplement, available at farm suppliers, for strong eggshells.

Collecting Eggs

You’ll collect eggs every morning; hens cackling loudly are a sign or clue that they’re laying. I usually had another look in the afternoon, as well.

Chickens like to eat eggs as much as we do. Most egg-eaters learn on broken eggs and then begin to break eggs themselves. Chickens are opportunists and will pick at whatever looks edible. If you clean up broken eggs immediately and throw out any “eggy” straw or shavings, you can prevent egg-eating. A chicken that learns this habit can’t be cured, and others may follow her lead. You don’t want the chickens eating your eggs—you want them yourself!

You can tell what color eggs a hen will lay by the color of her ear. Yes, her ear. Birds don’t have external ears like humans do, so look for a small circle or oval of skin on the side of the head, next to the ear hole. If it’s white, your hen will lay white eggs; if it’s red, she’ll lay brown ones. There’s no difference in flavor or nutrition, but white eggs show the dyes more brightly at Easter!

Cleaning and Storing Eggs

Eggshells have a “bloom,” a natural coating that protects the egg from bacteria. Avoid washing if you can; instead, a wipe with a dry, rough cloth.

If the eggs have a little manure on them, you can wipe with a damp cloth for small spots. A really dirty egg can be submerged and scrubbed with a vegetable brush. Always use warm water; cold water will make the egg shrink inside the shell and will draw in bacteria.

Let eggs air-dry thoroughly before putting them away. (I liked to sort them by color, darkest to lightest, but that’s just me!)

Put them in dated egg cartons, and store them in the fridge on a shelf, not the door, where they will get jostled with every opening/closing. For partial cartons, I marked each egg in pencil with the day it was collected. Fresh eggs are good for a month in the refrigerator.

A cooking tip: To make deviled eggs, use week-old or older eggs, not this morning’s. The shells of really fresh eggs stick rather than peel cleanly.

Hatching Eggs

If you want chicks, you’ll need a rooster. As a rule of thumb, 10 to 12 hens per rooster is a good ratio. While you could build an incubator and supervise the development of the eggs, it’s easiest to let the hens take care of hatching.

A hen that is getting ready to nest becomes “broody.” This means that she wants to hatch her eggs. She’ll sit “tight” on the nest and resist having her eggs collected, whereas a nonbroody hen will let you reach under her to collect eggs. A broody hen may even peck or screech at anyone coming near. There are ways to discourage broodiness, but why would you? The hen does the work of hatching and raising, and you get free chicks!

Farm chickens can live 4 to 7 years and lay eggs for most of that time. Every year they go “off-lay” (stop laying eggs) for several months. This happens over the winter, when there’s too little daylight to trigger egg-laying. They’ll begin again in the spring.

Next, I’ll talk about what you might do when your hens go “off lay.”  See when your chickens stop laying eggs.

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Elizabeth Creith has fifteen years of experience keeping chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys on her farm in Northern Ontario. She currently dreams of a new flock of fancy chickens. Elizabeth and her husband also have six and a half years experience running a pet store. On top of that, she's kept more animals than you can imagine from cats to cockatoos!


I have been letting my hens

By Kimmers420

I have been letting my hens roam the yard since purchased a week or 2 ago. Today I just noticed that one of them had laid 4 eggs. I do not know how long they have been there done my husband usually cares for them and he also didn't know we had eggs. Should I leave them there and see if they will hatch? Also I would like to know how long I have to pick them up if I want to eat them.

are eggs that have soft and

By Dana Barnes

are eggs that have soft and pliable shells still safe t

are eggs that have soft and

By Dana Barnes

are eggs that have soft and pliable shells still safe t

Even if using this mornings

By Beklynnlansdon

Even if using this mornings eggs, steaming them for 20-23 (minutes depending on size) the shell comes off perfectly. I have found this is the best way to hard boil day old or week old eggs.

I have 10 chickens that will

By Julie Grady

I have 10 chickens that will start laying in about two weeks or so. Lately when I go down to feed them, a couple of them have seemed aggressive and one in particular came up and pecked me so hard on one hand and the back of one leg that it broke the skin, bled and hurt pretty badly.

What would make a chicken do that? And, what would be the most effective way to stop that kind of behavior?

How can I make my Broody stay

By Jane Lawson

How can I make my Broody stay off the nest?

Why do chickens lay soft

By donna eyman

Why do chickens lay soft shell eggs? Only today and I feed with laying feed with high calcium content.
First time looking at your site. very helpful so far!

Once a hen has hatched out

By Carole Rutledge

Once a hen has hatched out chicks, when can she be expected to lay eggs (Unfertilized?) for collection?

I love your sight it has

By Sean Howell

I love your sight it has helped me out a lot being that I am a beginner Just got 25 babies in Monday

I've been doing quail for

By Sean Howell

I've been doing quail for about 6 months now and decided to start raising chickens. Just got the baby chics in Monday. I googled how to raise chickens and when I found your sight it all made a lot more since. Thanks to who ever you are this sight helped me out a lot.

We are looking to get 8 hens.

By Gene Linton

We are looking to get 8 hens. We are planning to use a 10x10 pen is going to be large enough for them and how big should the coop be for them?

Generally, folks say 4 square

By Almanac Staff

Generally, folks say 4 square feet per girl at minimum. A 6x8 would be fine and a 10x10 gives some nice extra room.

I know someone who hatchs.her

By Judimarie

I know someone who hatchs.her own. She peels them out of their shell as soon as they peck a hole. Many die, i find it inhumane and cruel. I have hatched them with a warm homemade method/no machine.

Thanks for all the good


Thanks for all the good imformation.

My hens are healthy,

By stephanie mulford

My hens are healthy, free-range, and are put in the pen and hen house each evening. So far, I havent closed the door and let them out of the pen about noon. They will put themselves into the hen house each evening and go to roost. My problem is, Im only finding one to three eggs in the hen house. But I just got 16 out of the horse barn, in a window frame between the stalls. I found over 2 doz. in an unused dog house. How do I get them to lay consistantly in the hen house? I will be putting up a door for winter, and have heat lamps for them.

I don`t have chic. I hope u

By Evelyn Nelson

I don`t have chic. I hope u can ease my mind about this question. what is the white stuff attached to the yoke on to the white of the egg ???


When I was a kid my brother

By William M

When I was a kid my brother was convinced that the white stuff was from the rooster and he refused to eat the fresh eggs we had. I knew this was not true but didn’t mind because it left more for me.

If you are talking about the

By nomis1217

If you are talking about the white stings those are called chalazas they hold the yolk in place. Also in the yolk you may see a white spot that is the germinal disk of the egg was to be fertilized that is the part that would eventually turn into the chick

I have one Americauna hen

By miwin1000

I have one Americauna hen who's shells are paper thin even with oyster shell supplements. Can you tell me what's the problem? If I really beef up her diet with tons of calcium foods, they do get better, but I can't keep up that diet forever...too expensive. I'd rather give her away to a farm rescue I know...Also, I have 6 chicks about 6 weeks old. RRR's. Only 1 is about half the size of the others, and her feathers are coming in much more slowly...she seems fine otherwise. Why is she so small? Please respond by email...

when we decide to have

By NancyHedin

when we decide to have chicks, does it matter the breed of rooster? We have a variety of chickens and wonder does it make a difference?

You'll hear mixed opinions

By Almanac Staff

You'll hear mixed opinions but the breed doesn't matter a lot to the hen. Just avoid mixing extra-small and -large breeds. However, the rooster needs be dominant--so he needs to be old enough. If your hens are mature, we'd say he should be at least a year. Also, you need 1 rooster for every 10 to 12 hens.

I have some pullets and some

By amyrenee9

I have some pullets and some red pullets. How many eggs a year can each kind lay?

First, understand that

By Almanac Staff

First, understand that "pullets" are female chicks who do not yet lay eggs. Most breeds of hens will start laying at 20 weeks (4-6 months of age). The number of eggs depends on the hen. On average, 3 hens should give you 2 eggs a day. So, 18 hens = a dozen eggs per week. Note that some hens will lay more often and some will lay less and you might find a hen that doesn't lay at all.

I think your math may be

By Math4Life

I think your math may be off...

Great article! I am a first

By kristinricky

Great article! I am a first time owner and this helps alot.

Thanks for a nice helpful

By Anonymousppat

Thanks for a nice helpful article!

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