The initial anticipation and excitement of waiting for pullets to start laying is often replaced with slight panic when eggs start rolling in. Once the hens get the hang of it, they just seem to keep on giving without a pause button. Your family starts eating egg-related dishes nonstop- scrambled eggs at breakfast, boiled eggs in picnic boxes, and quiches throughout the day, but still, you can’t seem to get through the egg supply fast enough.
You may have started wishing chickens laid date-stamped eggs so you can keep track of the freshness a little better. However, knowing how to clean chicken eggs, track and store your eggs correctly will give you a bit of a breather when you are rewarded with a deluge from your coop.
How To Collect, Clean, And Store Eggs Correctly
As simple as this sounds, there is no one correct way of cleaning and storing eggs that everyone agrees on. Some backyard chicken keeps wash their eggs and refrigerate them immediately, while others have a far more straightforward technique of simply inspecting each egg and storing it at room temperature.
No matter which eggy camp you are in when it comes to washing and storage, there is one important takeaway that you need to remember:
If you wash your eggs, they need to be refrigerated immediately.
Washing significantly reduces an egg’s shelf life, and bacteria has a much better chance of penetrating an egg than if it is left in its original new-laid condition.
You will develop your own system of collecting, cleaning, and storing eggs depending on your setup and the number of birds you have. Some tried and tested guidelines have been developed that you can modify to suit your setup. These will ensure your fresh eggs are safely handled and stored and stay fresh for as long as possible.
Why You Should Consider Not Washing Your Eggs
The United States Department of Agriculture has indicated that small-scale chicken owners don’t need to wash their eggs. This may surprise many, but in most parts of the world, it is unheard of to wash a perfectly clean chicken egg that has been laid in a clean nesting box.
Mother nature provides an invisible shield around unwashed eggs called the bloom. This cuticle helps to keep bacteria and dust away from the precious internal contents. It is the very last layer that is added to the completed egg before you hear all the excited cackling and squawking from your coop that lets you know that a new egg has been laid.
The reason is that washing the bloom off an egg can sometimes let more bacteria into an egg than removing anything harmful from the outside. Simply washing your hands before and after handling fresh eggs seems more beneficial than any actual shell scrubbing activities.
How Often Should Eggs Be Collected?
Chicken eggs should be collected as soon as possible after they are laid. Of course, unless you set up your desk inside the chicken coop, you won’t be able to nab each one as it makes an appearance, so most chicken keepers (me included) have standard collection times.
Eggs must be gathered at least once in the morning (twice if you have a lot of chickens) and then again during the afternoon. This is a rewarding chore that most chicken parents enjoy because it always feels like finding perfect little rewards inside the nests. I have always let my kids (and now granskids) collect the eggs as it is one of the favorite chores at our house.
The number of hens you have will determine the way you collect eggs. Most people use a small basket or bucket to gather eggs, but if you only have a few chickens, egg-collecting aprons are super cute, and best of all, they are unisex and come in kids’ sizes! No matter your collection method, always keep a separate, washable plastic bucket handy to place eggs that are irregular, dirty, or broken, so they don’t contaminate the others.
Some golden rules about collecting eggs from the coop:
- Never disturb hens while they are laying. They will let you know when they are done!
- Collect more often if the weather is very hot or cold. Heat spoils eggs quickly, and freezing weather can cause them to crack.
- Do not leave eggs in the nests for long periods as it attracts predators and may lead to undesired egg-eating behavior from the chickens.
- Collect your eggs every day. Don’t skip days, or you will lose track of when they were laid.
- If you find a broody hen, remove the eggs from under her immediately.
- If you want your broody hen to brood (when you have a rooster in the flock and the eggs are fertile), move her to a separate brooding box with some eggs or clearly mark the eggs she is incubating using a thick permanent marker. Check under her daily and remove unmarked eggs as it is not unknown for other hens to squash in alongside a brooding hen and continue adding to her stash. If the situation is not closely managed, this can become a disaster of mixed fresh and old, half incubated eggs. If you want to stop her broody behavior check out my article here.
How To Clean Chicken Eggs
This is where the jury gets a little divided; however, when it comes to whether or not to clean chicken eggs, everyone agrees on two things:
- Any eggs that are cracked or broken must be discarded. Bacteria has had an opportunity to get in, and the egg is no longer safe to consume.
- If the eggs are dirty or have poop on the outside, they must be cleaned. Once you have washed the egg, it must be refrigerated as clean chicken eggs have a signifcantly reduced shelf life.
However, some people feel more comfortable routinely rinsing their eggs, and, of course, all soiled eggs must be washed. Use clean water that is slightly warmer than the egg. A gentle flow of running water from the tap works well, especially for soiled eggs, so that any poop immediately washes away and eggs do not float about in contaminated water. Only wash eggs using water. You can wipe or scrub them gently. Then gently pat them dry and refrigerate your clean chicken eggs immediately.
An unwashed egg can stay fresh for around two weeks at room temperature and for about three months in the refrigerator. If you wash your eggs, you must immediately place them into the fridge, where they will last up to 2 months.
How To Store Eggs Correctly
If you have backyard chickens and a Farmhouse theme going on in your kitchen, it can be tempting to have a gorgeous bowl of fresh eggs as part of the décor. It looks great, but that type of egg storage needs to be done with extreme caution. The horror of one day choosing a long-forgotten egg from the bottom of the bowl will haunt you for a long time!
Once you have established a nice routine of collecting eggs from your coop regularly, make the next step carefully recording the date of collection on either the eggs or the box. An ordinary pencil works perfectly on the outside of an eggshell, but most people find it easier to label the outside of the boxes rather than individual eggs.
Check each egg for cleanliness and then store it pointy side down in the egg tray. The flatter end of an egg is where the air pocket between the contents and the shell is located. So ensuring that this is on the top will keep the egg fresher for longer as the yolk will remain centered in the egg.
Whether your eggs are unwashed or washed, everyone agrees that they will last longer in the refrigerator. Heat is the biggest enemy of a fresh egg and can quickly cause a deterioration in egg quality.
If you want to have a gorgeous display of fresh farm eggs in a bowl on your counter, use unwashed eggs. Mark the collection date on each egg with a pencil and use eggs from your display bowl frequently to avoid unpleasant shocks. You can also buy an egg spiral dispenser where the lower eggs are eaten first – you just need to make sure you get through them in two weeks.
Knowing how to collect, clean chicken eggs and store eggs is an essential part of the enjoyable adventure of owning your own chickens. Once you find your egg collection and processing rhythm, you may even find you can share your precious haul with envious colleagues and neighbors.
David Cameron is a passionate chicken enthusiast. Growing up, he always wanted to be a veterinarian and loved animals. After graduating from veterinary school, David spent over 40 years as an equine veterinarian. He and his wife retired a few years ago and moved to North Carolina. Here, David’s love of chickens grew even more – he now has 7 chickens and 6 quail. If you have any questions about chickens, feel free to reach out.