I may not eat eggs, but that hasn’t stopped me from learning a bunch of tips and tricks related to the funny little round things. I am fascinated by them in general; the hen lays one nearly every day and it contains all the information required to make a new chicken. And it looks so pretty!
We have both chickens and a duck that lays, and they lay very different looking eggs.
^ The outsides of the eggs are obviously easier to examine than the insides, but the insides are the most important parts to monitor to ensure freshness (if you are eating them) and/or fertilization (if you are looking to hatch chicks). One trick I learned to ensure freshness is the water test. Fill the sink with cool water and place the eggs in. If they sink and lay flat on the bottom then the eggs are still fresh. If they touch the bottom but have started to point upwards, they are not as fresh but still eatable. If they float on the surface then they are spoiled and should be tossed.
I haven’t figured out how long an egg is good before it spoils, every time I have tried this test they were all fresh and sat on the bottom of the water. We do get between 5-10 a day, so unless we end up with a pile of hundreds they are likely to be fresh if we have them. (We did just sell 4 full dozen to J’s boss for use in the restaurant, though. And we still have 1 doz of duck eggs and an additional dozen chicken. Maybe I should start using them for something ha) I have read that eggs are good between 3 weeks and 1 month if stored in the fridge. Funny side note: in other parts of the world eggs are not refrigerated and they do not spoil. J (who is English) often keeps eggs out on the counter, and so does my Dutch step-father, and they haven’t been poisoned yet. (Here is a link discussing this very topic)
Another tip if you have access to fresh eggs; don’t wash them! As the egg is being prepared inside the chicken, a protective layer called “bloom” is added to the outside of the shell. This coating seals the pores of the shell and prevents bacteria from entering the egg. It also helps to prevent moisture loss. This protective coating helps the egg to last longer! If you wash it off it will reduce the amount of time the egg remains fresh. In the USA if you wish to sell eggs this coating must be washed off, for some reason. But the USA also requires refrigeration which other countries have proven is not necessary, sooo perhaps America is just paranoid (very likely, which you may have noticed in the above link where the original poster was afraid her eggs had spoiled after 4 hours out of the fridge). I do wash our eggs if they are dirty, which often happens if we don’t collect them quickly enough and they get trampled – particularly by the ducks as they are just about the messiest birds in the world.
Egg candling is a trick I picked up this season when the hens went broody (I now call this episode “The Broodening” as it was in truth fairly disturbing and there weren’t that many survivors – Pod was our only successful birth!) “Candling” implies that a candle be used to illuminate the innards of the egg, but we are living in 2015 so I use an iPhone flashlight. I’m so modern.
By holding the egg in question up to the light source the insides will glow.
^ This is a duck egg lit up by the flashlight. As you can see the shell is revealed to be fairly transparent, which I mentioned earlier.
Eggs contain a small air pocket on the rounded end. This is very important for the chick, who will have it’s beak pointed towards the air bubble and use it to breathe its first breath. When storing eggs they should always be placed bubble/fat side up, pointy side down. I’m still not 100% clear on this, but have read that the air sack is the only inner portion of the egg that contains any kind of bacteria (though a very small amount). The white part (“albumen”) of the egg is less susceptible to bacteria, but the yolk does not contain the same bacteria-killing enzymes and therefore is more perishable. The air sack should be kept away from the yolk, and storing it bubble side down could cause the air sack to rise and come in contact with the yolk, which may cause spoilage. The woman who initially got us into chickens says to always store the bubble side up because it makes them easier to incubate. According to her, even eggs that have been in the fridge for several days can still be used to hatch new chicks if stored properly.
Using the flashlight on the rounded end of the egg you can see the air sack clearly. I didn’t take any photos during the Broodening, but when I illuminated fertilized eggs the chick appears as a dark shadow but the air sack remains clear. Similar with spoiled eggs, the albumen becomes dark but the air pocket remains clear.
Thus concludes what I have learned about eggs this year. If we encounter another broody hen in the near future I will be better about photographing the development process with the light. We also learned this year that if we want to have more successful hatchings we should separate the broody hen and her clutch of eggs from the rest of the flock. We were told this at the start of the summer, but thought we would leave nature to do its thing and see what happened. What happened was that a lot of the eggs were broken by other hens and as a result I had to remove many very smelly and under developed chicks that had been killed. 😦 We don’t need to reproduce our chickens at too rapid a pace, but like the idea of being able to add to the flock naturally. We will likely invest in an incubator next year to see if we can do it that way instead.
Until that day we continue to sell our eggs on the driveway. A new storage box is in development, it will be much nicer looking than the cardboard box or mini cooler haha.