This is the time of year that all those chicks we bought in February have started laying. With that comes a lot of questions about eggs. I would say the majority of people go to the store, buy their dozen white (or brown if you’re the adventurous type) egg, stick them in their refrigerator, and never give them another thought. Until they see something crazy like a blue egg.
Do you need a rooster to get eggs? This is probably the most common question we hear. The answer is no. Chickens, like people, have so many eggs available to them. You can’t get a chick without a rooster, but the eggs come whether the hen wants them or not. Makes sense when you think about it, right? Like I said, most people really don’t think about it. That’s OK. Most people don’t have to.
Hens start laying eggs at about 20 weeks of age. We have nesting buckets set up for our girls, but it usually takes the young ones some time to figure it out. In the past week I’ve found eggs in the middle of the yard, in the ducks’ nest and even in the poop bucket. Yep, the poop bucket. The particular hen seems to really like it in there, so I emptied it out, threw in some hay, and now it’s her personal nest. Silly hen.
Some of the young ones have figured it out, and lay the eggs where they’re supposed to. We have several nesting buckets available, but there seem to be some favorites. I don’t understand it, but it makes sense to the chickens. They will stand in front of the empty buckets, while they wait for their favorite to be available. For some of them it can be quite a wait because the young girls aren’t entirely sure why they’re in the bucket, which means they aren’t entirely sure when they’re done.
Where do all those different colors come from? Different breeds of chickens!!! We’ve been asked more than once what we do to “make” our hens lay different colored eggs. We don’t do anything. Different breeds lay different colors. Ameraucanas, for example, lay the pretty blue eggs. Wyandottes lay light brown eggs, and Marans lay dark brown eggs. Even within the breeds, there will be some variations in the shade of color. We actually select our birds based on their egg color. This year we’re shooting for more different shade, and are even hoping some of our blue eggs end up closer to green. We’ll see.
Now, here’s something I never thought about before having chickens. They have to work their way up to full-grown eggs! When they first start laying, their eggs are teeny and adorable. We try to save the little ones for Reta Jean because she thinks they’re special, just for her. Over the first couple weeks of laying, the eggs will gradually increase in size, until they’re “mature”. Fortunately, once they reach a certain size, they quit getting larger. Some hens naturally lay larger eggs than others, and sometimes you’ll see an abnormally large egg that’s ended up with two yolks, but that’s part of the magic of having your own chickens.
You can usually tell when the hens are laying because of the noise. Most of the time they cruise around, contentedly cluck-cluck-clucking at each other. When you start hearing the BROCK-BROCK-BROCK, that’s an egg coming. When the youngsters start laying, I head out as often as I can following the “egg song.” Sometimes they get confused and decide to eat their eggs, or at least peck at them until they’re flat. This is a hard habit to break once they start, and it makes a big mess.
I don’t know about other people, but we seem to have a delivery nurse. One of our older hens has taken it upon herself to make sure there is always enough noise to properly welcome the new egg to the world. For all I know, she isn’t even laying eggs herself anymore. I used to run out, thinking someone was having a severe problem, or was maybe dying. Now I know it’s just the town cryer.
When eggs are first laid, they are covered with a thin membrane call the “bloom.” This prevents bacteria from getting into the egg. If you don’t wash your eggs, they can sit on the counter for several weeks. Once they’re washed, they need to be refrigerated. Even if they’re not washed, once they’re refrigerated, they need to stay that way. When you’re getting 10-15-20 eggs a day, it makes more sense to not wash them and keep them on the counter. Otherwise, you won’t have room for anything in the refrigerator except eggs. Since they’re laid in nests, they should stay pretty clean on their own. If necessary, they can always be cleaned right before use.
We tend to eat, use or give away our eggs within a week of them hatching. In comparison, grocery store eggs are probably hatched 6 weeks before you take them home. Anybody who thinks there isn’t much of a difference needs to think again. A couple of weeks ago Carly ran out of our eggs, so got some from the store. Reta Jean took one bite and said, “These aren’t Gabba’s eggs!” Carly told her they were from the store. Reta Jean said, “I don’t want eggs from the store, I want eggs from chickens.” See? Even a two-year-old can tell the difference.