If you are used to buying grocery store eggs in the US, you expect eggs to be white, clean, and refrigerated. When you start raising your own chickens, though, you’ll discover that what you’re collecting in the nesting boxes isn’t quite what you find in the giant fridge at the local supercenter.
And that’s a good thing!
Freshly-laid eggs are healthy, delicious, and anything but uniform. Depending on the breeds and ages of the birds in your flock, your eggs will vary in size and color—from white to shades of brown to blue and green. Freshly-laid eggs can go straight from the nesting box to your kitchen and into your hungry tummies.
But what if the eggs you collect are covered in…icky stuff? Read on for what you can do about dirty eggs.
Look at your coop
If you’re finding a lot of dirty eggs in the nesting boxes, the cleanliness of your coop might be the culprit. Chickens don’t exactly walk around muddy puddles or piles of droppings—they’ll walk straight through, getting muck all over their feet. Basically, whatever is on the ground is going to end up in their nesting boxes.
Keeping the floor of the coop clean goes a long way to having clean eggs. Take extra care to clean out your coop if the weather is wet and the ground is muddy. Don’t waste time cleaning up when water gets into the food and makes a soggy mess. Try laying down sand or pine shavings to make sweeping out droppings and muck quick and easy.
Give them space
Make sure you have enough nesting boxes for your flock. If there are too many hens per box, they could try to lay at the same time and break the eggs already there, and having too many eggs in the same place could lead to breakage.
Aim for at least one nesting box for every 5 chickens, and fill the boxes with lots of soft, clean bedding to encourage laying and protect the eggs.
Gathering your eggs often will prevent a backlog of breakable eggs (and also discourage other bad habits like egg eating) and protect the eggs from getting dirty later on when other birds climb in to take their turn laying.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, eggs will get dirty. When it’s clear that you need to clean an egg before you can eat it, follow these cleaning guidelines.
If it’s not dirty, don’t wash it
Eggs have a natural protective layer, called the bloom or the cuticle. This invisible layer protects the egg against bacteria and dirt. When it’s removed by washing, it greatly reduces the shelf-life of the egg, even in the fridge. So unless you can see visible ickyness, skip the wash and pop the egg straight into the fridge in a carton, small side down.
No, we’re not talking about the drive through that gives you the nifty hangers. Since egg shells are porous, water can cause bacteria to actually enter the eggs. Instead, use something slightly scratchy like fine sandpaper, an abrasive sponge, or a loofah. That way you can rub the yuck off without putting more yuck in.
If the dry rubbing doesn’t work, you can use water if you follow the right steps. First, never use cold water—that will introduce the most bacteria. Instead use water warmer than the eggs (but not hot enough to cook them) and spray instead of dunk. Dry them with a clean towel.
If you’re really concerned, or you’re preparing eggs to sell, you can follow up the wet-washing with a sanitizing spray of bleach diluted in water. Spray the eggs and let them air dry. (If you are selling your eggs, check with your local health department about what cleaning is required by local law.)
While some people think that unrefrigerated eggs taste better (and the egg’s bloom does keep it protected from bacteria), if you wash your eggs, they need to be refrigerated immediately after washing.
If in doubt, throw it out
If you come across an egg that is particularly gross, or just won’t get clean, save yourself the worry and throw it out. There should be plenty more where that came from.
If you’re vigilant about cleanliness and regular gathering, you’ll enjoy lots of delicious egg breakfasts (and more!) without the worry of dirty eggs. Stop by our shop for all the chicken supplies you need.