Farm Fresh Eggs

Even though it has been a few months since I’ve started getting eggs I’m always looking for better ways to utilize them.  I’ve learned a lot about eggs, both store bought and farm fresh.  Most would think eggs are a no brainer but fresh eggs have plenty of character unique unto themselves.

It all started before the eggs came in.  I knew I needed nesting boxes for the chickens and secluded areas for the ducks.  That was simple enough but I learned quickly that animals don’t always do what we want them to.  Before long, the ducks were laying eggs anywhere and everywhere.  Under bushes, in the middle of the yard and even under the chicken roosting bars surrounded by fresh poop.  It was literally a daily Easter egg hunt and every so often I’d find an egg in a new location not knowing exactly when it had been laid.

This lead me to scouring the web for ways to tell if my eggs were fresh enough to eat.  What I found was a plethora of information that severely change my view of store bought eggs.  One article noted that eggs can be stored safely for weeks or even months.  It went on to note that in extreme cases, eggs laid during peak laying time might not be seen at market until a good 5 months later.  Mind blowing?  Now, I was no longer worried about an egg left under a bush for 2 days.

A simple float test can tell you whether or not an egg is fresh.  I compared a store bought egg with my fresh egg and sure enough my fresh eggs stayed on their side at the bottom of a glass of cool water.  The store bought eggs stood up in the water and hovered over the bottom of the glass – still good, just older.  The longer an egg is around, the more moisture is lost from it’s shell and replaced by air.  If your egg completely floats to the surface, it’s not fresh enough to be edible.

Next came tackling the poop adorned eggs, the ones found under the chicken roost.  I know I’m not the only one disgusted by the fact their farm fresh eggs are covered in poo so I set off to learn the best way to tackle this crusty issue.  

When birds lay eggs they have their own natural defenses to protect their young against invasive bacteria.  When an egg is expelled it is covered in a coating called bloom.  This bloom coats the egg and reduces the permeability of the shell therefore reducing the amount of bacteria that can enter the egg.  When you wash an egg, you take away this protective mechanism.  Not only that, depending on the water temperature used, you can also cause the internal egg membrane to pull away from the shell and suck in all those nasty germs!

To remove poo it’s best just to lightly scrape off the offending matter.  Set the egg aside to use first and wash it just before you use it.  I usually explain to those who receive my eggs exactly why they are not washed.  In the end, it’s the safest way to keep your eggs.

Cracked eggs?  The bloom won’t help this situation.  My dogs enjoy eating our cracked eggs and when cooked those eggs can even go back to feed the chickens and ducks.  Just be sure the eggs you are circulating back into the flock look different than the eggs they lay.  You wouldn’t want them pecking at your good eggs looking for a treat.

Before too long I did end up with far too many eggs for a family of 3 to eat.  This opened me up to yet another dilemma, how and where do I store them?  Well, there are far too many options out there to discuss here.  From oiling, freezing, dehydrating, refrigeration, pickled, limed or on the counter top, there are multiple ways to keep your eggs for future use.

The solution that worked best for me was simple,  I give them away to those who can use them.  I buy empty cartons and have friends save their egg cartons which I can fill and return with healthy farm fresh eggs.  Yes, I could sell them but I’m really not looking to make a profit from my 8 laying hens and 4 ducks.  It’s a hobby that provides for my family as well as my friends.  And, in case you are wondering, I store my eggs in the fridge – it’s a habit that is hard to break.

Beyond that, I just needed to get creative and add more eggs to our diet.  The most convenient way to do this was to hard boil eggs which could be used in salads, sandwiches and as deviled eggs.  This lead me to tackle another issue, hard boiled farm fresh eggs don’t peel well.  

Due to their high moisture content, the membranes cling tightly to the egg whites.  The result is a visually unappetizing egg.  All chunked up and bumpy I knew these were not the kind of eggs I would ever serve at a dinner party.  

Once again I scoured the internet trying to find a solution to my problem.  I boiled with baking soda and water with no measurable difference.  I even tried to shock my eggs in cold water after they boiled but it did not help.  Some swore by oven baking eggs in their shell but it had mixed reviews.

It wasn’t until I ran across a recipe for steamed hard cooked eggs that I had a glimmer of hope.  The reviews for this method were promising so I gave it a try.

– STEP 1 –   Bring steamer to a boil and place room temperature eggs into the basket.  Steam for 15 minutes.

– STEP 2 –  Remove eggs, crack the large end of each egg and place into a bowl of ice water for 20 minutes.  

– STEP 3 –  Peel eggs.

I was quite impressed with the overall results of this cooking method.  My fresh eggs peeled much easier and finally I had hard cooked eggs that didn’t look like Edward Scissor Hands had peeled them!  

The only thing I would note is to steam eggs a little longer if you have larger eggs.  Two additional minutes would be sufficient enough for a total of 17 minutes steaming time.  Some of the whites in the larger eggs were still a tad bit soft but all of my yolks were cooked to perfection.

Besides the obvious point that eggs make great source of fat and protein, they are also a good indicator of the health and happiness of your flock.  Well cared for hens will lay many eggs if you provide them with a proper diet, the egg quality and overall production will be a direct reflection of that.  The more vibrant the yellow yolk is, the more nutrients they contain.  An overly runny egg white can hint to a bird feeling under the weather.  Eggs laid without a hard shell can indicate a need for more calcium in their diet (this is common for new layers).

Early on in a bird’s laying life you can see all sorts of egg issues.  My first instance was an egg laid with no shell, it only had a membrane.  It’s common to find these gems dropped from the roosting bar or even at the bottom of a duck pond.  In most instances the bird will go on to lay hard shelled eggs as it matures and their reproductive system settles into the process.  These eggs always go to my dogs as the soft shell does little to keep out bacteria.

My next experience was with a wrinkled egg.  From the searches I’ve done it can indicate disease but most likely in new layers their system is kicking into high gear and eggs are crowding their system.  In my case this egg crowding was supported by other odd looking egg matter being present (see above photo).  The wrinkled egg was safe to eat but the other matter missing a shell was gobbled up by my dogs.

You may also find various size discrepancies in your new layer’s eggs.  From the initial tiny egg with no yolk to a monster sized egg containing two yolks.  This too is normal and completely edible.  

Different types of bird eggs are also unique not only in their size but their make up.  In this I mean that larger eggs have more calories.  The yolks may be larger or more rich in certain fats.  Or, the protein makeup of the egg white can be so different that they can either be tolerated or not.  Egg allergies can react differently dependent upon the species of bird and their egg contents.  Just because you are allergic to chicken eggs doesn’t mean you can’t eat duck eggs or vice versa.

With our daylight hours dwindling as we head into winter I remind myself that egg production is never a given.  Fewer hours of light mean a slow down in production and a well deserved rest for my birds.  I haven’t seen a duck egg in nearly a week but my chickens are holding a steady 8 eggs per day.  I may just try my hand at dehydrating some eggs before my girls decide to take their break!

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