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

January 29, 2019
Eggs in a Carton

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Raising chickens for eggs? Let’s talk about how to collect, clean, store, and hatch chicken eggs as part of our Raising Chickens 101 series.

Once you’ve eaten farm-fresh 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 want to collect eggs every morning; hens cackling loudly are a sign or clue that they’re laying. I usually have another look in the afternoon, as well.

Oddly enough, 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! (Especially natural dyes, as pictured here.)

Naturally dyed Easter egg.

Cleaning and Storing Eggs

Eggshells have a “bloom,” a natural coating that protects the egg from bacteria. Avoid washing your eggs if you can; instead, 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 like 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 mark 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 and don’t peel cleanly.

Hatching chicken eggs

Hatching Chicken 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 non-broody 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 all the work of hatching and raising—and you get free chicks!

If you do decide to get an incubator, a forced-air model with an automatic egg-turner is recommended, as eggs will need to be turned four to five times a day. The temperature inside the incubator should be between 99° and 102°F, while the humidity should remain between 55 and 60%. Chicken eggs will hatch after approximately 21 days. Check with your local cooperative extension service for more information.

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.

See what to do when chickens stop laying eggs.

More of Raising Chickens 101

See more of our beginner’s guide to raising chickens:

About This Blog

Interested in raising chickens? Here’s our Raising Chickens 101 series—a beginner’s guide in 6 chapters. We’ll talk about how to get started raising chickens, choosing a chicken breed, building a coop, raising chicks, chicken care, collecting and storing eggs, and more. The author, 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!

Reader Comments

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Germinal Spot

Why do I see a germinal spot at times and other times do not, even when the eggs are not really fertilized. Also have never noticed one on commercial eggs. Why is this?
Thank You,

Red spots on egg yolk

Despite what many folks think, these red spots indication of fertility. They are just blood vessels that have been ruptured during the laying process or from rough handling of the egg. A spot actually indicates that the egg is fresh though you won’t often see spots and it’s perfectly edible though many people remove the spots for aesthetic reasons.

Washing eggs

Well, I think I messed up. I hand washed a dozen fresh eggs using cool water and Dawn dish soap. Should I refrigerate them now and how long will they last?


Yes, refrigerate the eggs if you’ve washed them. They should last 1-2 months in the fridge, though they will have a better taste if eaten sooner.

Washing eggs

Never use any soap thay is not Organic. Eggs breath and will absorb what is put on the shells or what the eggs are put in. Dawn soap is Not safe to wash the eggs in. I raise and sell free range, organic chicken eggs...

laying year round in Central NC

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.

That might be relative-during our relatively mild Central NC winters, our hens layed year round, while living in a unheated shelter (cedar shaving insulated) with fenced in outdoors area. These last two Winters-I have had to mow grass in Dec, Jan, and Feb-something I have never had to do before!


Thank you for all of the change Chickens and eggs caring

collecting eggs of unknown age

there is a brooding feral chicken in my yard - she's been there at least a week, maybe longer. are her eggs still edible even after they've been developing, and up to how many of the 21 days gestation period? if i push her off and take the eggs, will she come back if i leave her a few?

Feral nesting situation

Well, I've partially answered my own questions: she let me take a couple of eggs before she scarpered off in a very agitated and truculent manner...there were 17 eggs! I took 10 and left 7. The fetuses were quite well developed - I'guess half way through the gestation period. Not at all appetizing, to me, but the two feral cats I feed polished them off, a little hesitantly. They enjoyed the fetuses well enough, but took their time over ingesting the yolk.
After half an hour, mama reappeared looking rather flustered and investigated the territory surrounding her nest. Seemingly satisfied, she reentered said nest and resumed brooding. Papa also appeared as part of the reentry process, surveying the scene with a protective, authoritarian air. Duly satisfied, he crowed once and strutted off back in the direction from whence he had come..........
I'm curious to see whether she lays more eggs, and whether the existing ones proceed to maturity given her half hour absence. Que sera sera.....

time out of frig

If an egg is not washed ( removing the bloom) , can it be left on the counter for a few days???

I'd like to know this answer

I'd like to know this answer too


How long can eggs stay on counter is sbout3 months as long as they haven't been washed

I have 36 years of raising layers

I live in Northern Indiana, my flock is free range, organic and kitchen scraps fed. I allow them to die of old age. I have many hens and 1 of my 2 roosters (Joseph) and many of my hens are more than 12 years old and the girls are still laying strong. They know they are my pets but shy away from strangers. I find talking to them and telling them "Thank you girls for the good eggs, and thank you too boys for doing your jobs" does make a differance. They lay year round and I keep a light on 24 hrs year round for them. They don't lay as well if friends tend to them if I am out of area for a bit. Rather funny. I raise many Araconna and have lots of beautiful many coloured and freckled eggs. They sell fast. You can keep eggs 3 plus months in the frig. I have kept them hanging in a basket in my kitchen for 2 plus months in mild temperatures with no trouble. Store bought eggs ARE washed in bleach water. Remember eggs breath. That bleach water IS getting into the egg white and yolk. Never use regular soap to clean. I use Mrs. Myers organic dish soap. A couple of drops to sink full of water. Air dry on a matt.

Thank you

So much for all the information!

forgetting to collect

I get busy and forget to collect my eggs sometimes. How many days can an egg lay in the pen & still be safe to eat. I usually find one or two a day since they've started up again this spring. However, I've forgotten for about 5 days or more and I found 11 eggs today. Are they good?

Where can i see the answer of

Where can i see the answer of this question.

I have 36 years of raising layers

If its not hot weather but cooler you ought to be fine. Trouble with not gathering often is the nests can get too full and eggs get cracked then the hens start pecking at the broken ones. Test eggs in plain water, no salt needed, a rotting egg will have gas developing and cause it to float. A fresh egg sinks to bottom of glass or a still fresh but not very fresh will bob a little but not float. Crack questionable eggs in a separate bowl before adding it to your cooking as a precaution.

I would like to know the

I would like to know the answer to this question as well any info would be greatly appreciated thank u

how long eggs last

You shouldn’t worry if it’s been a few days.  When eggs are sitting at room temperature, they can last for weeks.  The eggs, before being washed, have a natural coating that seems them more protected. Of course, you can test your eggs yourself. If they do not sink to the bottom of a bowl of water, they are not fresh.


Are the safe to collect and eat within a week

Baby chicks

Can someone tell me when i can put my baby chickens out in the coop, they are now about 4 weeks old and about 75 % feathered ...

tranferring chicks to a coop

You want to wait until they are fully feathered, about 6 to 8 weeks. Especially if they will be introduced outside with no supplemental heat. It will also depend on the outside temperature and what the chicks are used to, whether they are big enough to fend for themselves if you have to gradually introduce them to other chickens in the coop, etc.

tranferring to the coop

when do you tranferr to coop

fresh eggs

I like to eat a same day fresh egg from my chickens, is this safe. I have heard the older generation say that an egg should not be eaten on the day it is laid. Is this true?

Eating fresh eggs

Eggs can absolutely be eaten same day, same hour even, of being laid. Too fresh eggs, when boiled, don't peel the shell off easily as eggs a couple or more weeks old ones do.

chicken eggs

i some days forget to collect eggs how long can they sit in the nest and still be safe to eat?

how to get the hen back on her eggs

hi we moved our hen and eggs to stop the other hens killing the chicks and now the hen wont sit back on then what can I do please



I have been letting my hens

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.

Leaving the eggs to see if they'll hatch?

No, You shouldn't leave them there, They'll only hatch if you have a rooster and has mated with your hen. Also if your hen lays the egg and leaves it, you should collect it asap because She might peck and eat the egg, and if the hen lays and sits on the eggs, then she is a broody hen and you should get her some fertilized eggs and then she'll hatch the eggs. Hens will lay eggs which are always unfertlized, meaning that they will never hatch, Now if your hen has mated with a rooster, The egg can be fertilized and if the hen leaves the fertilized egg, you shall pick it up and incubate it for about 22 days and it will hatch!

are eggs that have soft and

are eggs that have soft and pliable shells still safe t

are eggs that have soft and

are eggs that have soft and pliable shells still safe t

Even if using this mornings

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

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?

Okay,I don't know if this

Okay,I don't know if this will answer your question. But my buddy has chickens and he had the same problem. This sounds kinda weird but it's really not if you do it. It's kinda interesting at times. When I go out and feed my girls,I stoop down with them and just chill with them for a minute or two. I can put my hand in front of there face and they won't do anything they will just come up to me and get petted. There way mellow. I told my buddy to try that and it seems to of worked for him. His are mellow now.

How can I make my Broody stay

How can I make my Broody stay off the nest?

Why do chickens lay soft

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

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

I love your sight it has

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

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.

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

The Editors's picture

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

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,

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

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 ???


If you are talking about the

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

When I was a kid my brother

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.

I have one Americauna hen

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

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

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

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

First, understand that

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 = 84 eggs. 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 only have 7 hens and get

I only have 7 hens and get around 3 dozen eggs a week. We collect any where from 5 to 7 eggs a day.

Great article! I am a first

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

Thanks for a nice helpful

Thanks for a nice helpful article!


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