As a small farmer, whether you're raising laying hens for your own family or selling them at a farmers market, you want to be sure the eggs are fresh, clean and safe. Collecting chicken eggs and cleaning them is important for healthy eggs and hens.
Collecting Chicken Eggs
Before you worry about cleaning them, you have to gather the eggs. There are things you can do to make sure that the eggs you gather are as clean as possible, minimizing the amount of cleaning you must do.
Gather eggs early and often. If you can manage it, collecting eggs twice a day can help keep them really clean, and also discourages egg eating.
One of the biggest reasons for poopy or broken eggs is allowing them to sit overnight in the nest boxes. Some of my hens seem to prefer to roost on the edges of the nest boxes, or even in them! (Bad hens!) Overnight, they poop on the eggs if there are any in the boxes, or step on them, breaking the shells. This makes for a lot more work if we miss a day of egg collecting.
Keep nest boxes well-feathered. Make sure the hens' nest boxes have plenty of shavings or straw lining them. If there's poop in the nest boxes, clean it out well when you collect the eggs and replace the straw or shavings. Likewise, if a hen has broken an egg, clean out the mess thoroughly, removing all wet or soiled straw. Here are some tips to encourage hens to lay in the nest boxes.
Cleaning Chicken Eggs
Learning how to clean eggs properly is key to keeping your family -- and your customers, if you're selling eggs -- from getting sick. Make sure if you're selling eggs that you check with your County Extension Office for the local and/or state regulations governing the cleaning of eggs for sale where you live.
Learn more about how to safely clean chicken eggs.
Once your eggs are clean and dry, package them in egg cartons and label with the date they were collected. Store them in the refrigerator. You don't have to store eggs in the refrigerator, but they will last longer this way. Eggs are good for one month after the date of collection when stored in the fridge. (I actually find they're good for a few weeks after this, but I'd never sell them or even give them away that old. I bake with them or hard boil them.)
Use the float test to check egg freshness: Fill a bowl with water and place eggs in it. An egg that floats has too big an air pocket inside the shell; the contents have evaporated too much and it's likely spoiled. Compost it. You can also use a strong light to see how much air space is inside an egg; this is called candling.