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Clean eggs

March 27, 2010

Spring time is when people think of chickens and eggs.  After a winter rest, chickens begin laying eggs again with a vengeance. It is nature’s way of giving the hen enough time to raise her own chicks before the next winter.  Of course, we step in and take over to harvest those eggs, for food or profit.  Most hens will never get to set on her own clutch or even have the worry of raising her own chicks.


It’s OK for us to step in, and husband the chickens, but in doing that we must truly husband them.  We humans are especially good at taking complex situations and tweaking said situation to make it simple.  That’s where it’s easy to get into trouble.  Take for instance free range.  It sounds so good on paper, the chickens roam free, eating morsels of their choosing and pay us back for their freedom by expressing their natural instinct to lay their eggs in a safe place that is hopefully safe from pillagers (us).  Personally, I can’t afford free range on my farm, and I think it is highly over-rated.  I hate hunting for eggs, I hate feeding the wildlife, and chickens are notorious for “helping” in the garden.  I always think of the irony that most people who demand free range chicken and eggs, are usually the ones howling about free range cattle on public lands, or in my area, private land.  A controlled pasture situation that provides fresh range and takes the land into consideration is far preferable to free range/no management systems.  To me free-range in a town yard is still confinement to a certain extent when you think that a chicken will normally range 200 yards away from her home every day in search of food – most urban lots don’t meet the criteria either.  We all just conveniently justify how we do things to make it sound right in our minds.

While we are so busy marketing our free range eggs, and having daily Easter egg hunts, we are forgetting that we need clean eggs.  This is where the husbandry part kicks in.  Depending where you live, to sell eggs you may have to wash them.  The regulations are different everywhere.  Some people interpret that to mean that the eggs can get as dirty as they can get, because they have to be washed anyway.  Well, the problem with that is, that an egg shell is porous, and if it gets wet and the temperature is cool, the pores open up and if any bacteria is present it can be drawn inside the eggshell.  Then the temperature warms up on sunny day, and those pores close up again, and there you have it, bacteria inside and outside the eggshell.  This is most likely to happen when eggs are laid outside in the bushes and tall grass.  And it is the quickest way to get some food borne illness tied to your farm or kitchen.  Or if your trying to hatch eggs, the bacteria from dirty, washed eggs may be the problem.  The ideal for hatching would be eggs that never got wet, dirty, or washed by humans and that still are protected by the bloom left by the hen.


We found when we were selling eggs the easiest thing to do was to strive for clean eggs.  Our hens were pastured outside during the grazing season, and housed in large hoophouses on deep bedding during the winter.   Their nest boxes moved with them.  Since we were putting our reputation on the line, we followed a few simple rules:

♥  Ample nest boxes for the flock, 10 birds per hole is plenty.  They use some nests and leave others alone.

♥  Fresh nesting material as needed, to keep the nest soft and clean.

♥  Floor eggs go to the pigs.  No telling how old they really are.  Not worth the risk.

♥  Eggs with a turd attached also went to the pigs and NOT in the egg collecting basket.

♥  We gathered the eggs several times a day to minimize breakage and the subsequent dirty eggs and/or egg eating.

♥  Perch curfew at 4:00 pm was strictly enforced.  Nest box perches were strictly closed at the last egg gathering of the day, no exceptions.  That kept the loitering and littering in the nest boxes confined to the daylight hours.  If you think chickens poop a lot during the daylight, you should see what they do at night in their sleep.  You really don’t need that in your nest boxes or near your eggs.

♥  Don’t sell or give away any eggs that gross you out.  I’m not saying that I never used cracks or stained eggs in my kitchen, but we tried to never sell them.  We were asking a premium for our eggs, we wanted to sell premium eggs.  Quality control is important.


This nest box happens to be an antique Jamesway, we used some of these 15 holers, and numerous 10 hole nests.  They are relatively lightweight (compared to wood), easy to move from field skid to winter housing, and the most important – easy to clean.  With removable plastic nest bottoms they were very easy to maintain.  I know some people balk at spending any money when any old wood box or plastic milk crate will do, but the peace of mind a commercial style nest box brings is well worth it.  We purchased a lot of our nest boxes from Smith Poultry Supply, they carried Kuhl and Brower products which we really liked, and even with shipping, the costs were less than what was available locally.  We learned our lesson going in on a “deal” with some pastured poultry friends who found cheaper nest boxes.  It sounded too good to be true.   It was.  The poorly made – but inexpensive to buy nests, cost us money in broken eggs and difficult maintenance.  It never pays to cheap out on the farm – people who think nothing of going out and buying new tires for a utility trailer for occasional use, will be the first ones to cheap out on a nest box that they have to use every day.   It doesn’t take many egg sales to pay for a nest box, and they last years.  Or even for the small backyard flock – a $100, two hole nest box that can be kept clean and sanitary is a good investment compared to a $20 DVD, or one dinner out for your family.  Think about it.


The hinged perches can be shut to deny access to the nest at night, but left down during the day for a place for the hen to light before entering the nest box.


It’s important too, to keep the area in front of the nest boxes clean and dry.  High traffic areas like feed and water should be located away from the nest box with the hopes that the hen will wipe her feet a little on the bedding before entering the nest box to lay.

The demand for farm fresh food is growing, and the scrutiny on small farmers by regulators is growing too.  The risk is high, especially with eggs and dairy products.  And some of the rules are good ones, no one wants to eat contaminated food.  It is up to us as small farmers or even subsistence growers to keep everyone (family and customers) safe by just practicing a few simple steps to ensure that.  And if you’re a consumer of local products, inquire about the egg procedures where you are buying eggs, and better yet, ask to gather eggs at your particular farm, and see for yourself.  Things to look for and avoid:  are mud yards (I know about mud, our mud season is from October – April), Easter egg hunts, and dirty eggs in buckets or baskets.  Inquire about mortality rates too (of all species on the farm)  – all clues to something wrong with the picture.  I have seen conditions on small farms that mirror large confinement operations.  Sometimes the farmer is new to the game and just doesn’t see it, or is getting counseling from sources that worship the conservation districts and ag colleges.  Or sometimes the farmer just doesn’t care.  It is up to you as a consumer to learn animal husbandry too.  Food safety begins long before the item ever gets to your kitchen.  Raw milk is really under the microscope and with the proliferation of urban egg wranglers, I believe eggs will be next.

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. Mitty permalink
    March 27, 2010 10:16 am

    A very valuable post. Thank you.

  2. March 27, 2010 10:43 am

    WOW, I never knew half of what you said. Great post!!! I think I’ll be a bit more careful but I still think a little poop isn’t bad for us to build our own immunity to such stuff…..I could be wrong. Especially the cold/hot absorption thing….never knew. How’d you get to be so smart???!!!

    • March 27, 2010 11:28 am

      Diane, I agree about what you’re saying about the too clean thing, but I think I get enough bacteria just in the normal course of the day doing chores. I don’t wash my eggs, and I don’t refrigerate them either. I think I am not being a neat freak that has to clean everything I touch, just ask my MIL. But definitely an egg can be a bad area for bacteria. Look on blogs and you’ll see some filthy eggs…

      One thing I forgot to mention about poop on the eggs, is depending on the how the poop is formed, runny, etc., it may mean you have a chicken that is having digestive troubles. Check the pants – if they’re clean, there probably won’t be any chicken diarrhea on eggs either. A big gigantic solid poop, just means the egg and poop were in the same place at the same time. We usually separate kitchen from toilet in our homes, it’s not that hard to do it in the barn too.

      • March 27, 2010 2:00 pm

        Any suggestions for when things are so muddy from all the rain we’ve been having. They haven’t been listening when I tell them to wipe their feet! Things seem to be especially dirty then. Once things dry out, I’ve got clean eggs again. So tell me, if I bring in eggs and wash in hot soapy water then rinse in cold….didn’t I just open the porous shell that has manure on it, with the hot water and close it up again with the cold, thus allowing the bacteria in? Did I say that clearly? I think our state may require washing in bleach! Isn’t that horrible. I’ll find out, cause I’m finally ready to sell eggs. I wont’ use bleach. So there has to be an alternative for cleaning.

        • March 27, 2010 6:20 pm

          The best suggestion would be to not let them out until they have laid their egg, usually by noon the biggest share will be done, they won’t suffer if they are locked in for a while until business is taken care of, or if that doesn’t agree with you, you need to bed the high traffic areas during rainy periods. We did that when our chickens were outside, lots of rainy days here, but I still preferred spreading a bale of straw in front of the nest boxes to washing dirty eggs. Plus we moved the whole shebang every three days anyway so there was no buildup to speak of, just more fertilizer for the pasture.

          Check your state regs to find out what is required to sell eggs. Hydrogen peroxide might do the trick, instead of bleach. You may find out that if your selling less than 30 dozen a week, you don’t need to follow the guidelines as close. It varies from place to place – although a dirty egg is a dirty egg, it shouldn’t matter if you sell one dozen or 200. Just proves the food regs are not there for food safety, they are there to keep the little guy out. That being said – you still want clean eggs.

          I just used water and I didn’t ever put clean eggs in with dirty eggs.

          I washed my eggs in the kitchen sink so here is my method: Disinfect sink. Fill sink with water that is 20 degrees F higher than egg temperature. (This will close the pores.) Place eggs in water, let soak no more than 1 minute, drain water. Wash/rinse under warm running water. Let dry in egg rack. Disinfect sink – again. Package eggs after thoroughly dry.

          While the eggs are in the water bath quickly look for leakers and discard or put in your pile, those are the cracks. You won’t find all the cracks this way, but it saves having it break while you are washing.

          We tried for no more than 10 dozen a week to wash, out of 350 dozen. If the number was higher than that, we looked to see what was going on at the hen wikiup.

  3. March 27, 2010 11:04 am

    good advice. Thanks for it and the pics of nest boxes. It’s pretty confusing to make these choices as a newbie.

    • March 27, 2010 11:29 am

      Hayden, thanks – I don’t have any little cute ones, but boy a nice nest box and a well trained flock are worth they’re weight in gold(en eggs.) Definitely a tool worth having.

  4. March 27, 2010 11:21 am

    We have our laying hens in tractors and really like the system — they don’t mess with my mulch in the garden, but they do fertilize between the raised beds. At this time of year, I can also use the tractors to weed up new ground. However, three tractors with three birds each is really all that our two acre garden/orchard/yard can handle, especially in the winter months, without turning into a mud bath.

    This spring, we’re going to expand to grow some of our own birds for meat. I’m currently thinking of putting up a fence and rotating them through some pastures in the weedy/brushy powerline cut and adjacent woods. Presumably, this is the kind of setting that people have been raising chickens in for centuries, but I’m having a really hard time finding any sources that talk about how many birds can rustle up most or all of their food in an acre of that kind of wild pasture. Do you have any idea? It still wouldn’t be really free range, but I think it’d be a good compromise for adding more chickens to our farm in a sustainable manner.

    • March 27, 2010 7:42 pm

      Anna, it sounds like you have good system for your hens! The people who used to babysit me, were subsistence farmers, and they kept a flock of about a dozen hens plus a few setters that raised a brood each year for replacements. They let their chickens out at about 11:00 each am, and let them range in their shelter belt which consisted of about 2 acres. They did not supplement with feed much at all, just scratch and scraps from the kitchen. So it worked for them, it seemed the chickens got the most from turning over the leaves under the trees. Always something there to find each day. Hope that helps 🙂

  5. March 27, 2010 11:36 am

    I found this interesting because I sell a few eggs and my claim is that I have clean eggs. Clean chicken coop, clean nest boxes= clean eggs. A neighbor also sells eggs and I wouldn’t eat anything that came out of those pens. They are filthy in the carton too. If I get a dirty egg I just chuck it…there is plenty more where that came from.

    • March 27, 2010 7:46 pm

      goatgirl, I know exactly what you mean – it’s the same with milk, yuck! It’s not worth it, and it isn’t really that hard to keep things clean. Now house cleaning is a different story… .

  6. March 27, 2010 12:28 pm

    Great advice! We have a few chickens and we sometimes sell our extra’s to the fellows where my husband works. I never keep the very soiled eggs but the ones with little bit that will rub off lightly with a dry paper towel are allowed to stay. Those ones I keep at home. I don’t wash mine either but I do keep them in the fridge. I love my chickens. They have a small pasture that they hunt and peck in and seem to be very happy and they lay their eggs in the nesting boxes…thank heavens! Love your blog! Have a great weekend. Maura

    • March 27, 2010 7:48 pm

      Maura, thanks – sometimes eggs can get dirty, but if it is an everyday occurrence, something should probably change along the supply chain.

      I bet your hubbies co-workers are ecstatic to get those fresh eggs 🙂

  7. March 27, 2010 8:32 pm

    What a lot of useful information. I agree about making sure you have good nest boxes. I had to replace mine recently, and I am glad I decided to go for the quality over cheap. I love the removable plastic bottoms.

  8. Tammy permalink
    March 28, 2010 11:19 am

    Great post and lots of good information. I think we have been very fortunate with our hens as we have lost very few to predators over the years and ours are all free range. When my hens first begin laying, I lock them in the chicken house for a couple of days and feed and water them there. They learn to lay in the nesting boxes (very similar to the ones you have pictured) and very rarely do I get birds who don’t lay in the house and in the nests that have been provided for them. Out of about four dozen eggs I am getting now, there might be four or five birds that lay in the feed room in the barn rather than in the provided nests. As I add new birds, they seem to learn from the older birds about mostly laying in the nesting boxes. Maybe we have just been incredibly lucky, but it has worked for us!

  9. March 29, 2010 1:26 am

    We raise chickens and sell the eggs. I’m with you in the fact that I only sell the very best to my customers. I use the smaller eggs, and the ones that I know others would not want to buy. Our chickens free range all day and go to their coop to lay their eggs and sleep at nite. I am sure there are a few that get laid in our field, etc., but I don’t go hunting for those. During this time of year, we let a few of the hens sit the eggs. There is nothing cuter to me than to watch the baby chicks follow their mommas around, and boy, those momma hens are protective 🙂 Good post!

  10. mumsie permalink
    March 30, 2010 4:23 pm

    Another great post, Lordy woman – I can’t keep up with them! Lots of great information for both the backyard chicken enthusiast and Pro alike! I HOPE YOU WRITE A BOOK! You are an excellent writer and your down to earth sensibility and humor come through with every post. Between your excellent writing and invaluable repository of practical farm knowledge, I’m sure your book would quickly become a classic. thanks again!

  11. March 30, 2010 6:05 pm

    Great egg post. It’s all good to know. I was planning on selling my eggs to the neighbors who have asked. Next year I will have 12 layers. So far the hens always go to the nest boxes (although they are allowed to run around our acre on sunny days. (the rest of the time they are locked up in the coop). But – even though they lay in the box, those eggs can get dirty!! (especially in rainy Oregon weather)

  12. Becky permalink
    March 7, 2012 9:05 am

    Have just found your blog. Loved it. We have 13 layers and one rooster. I collect about a dozen and a half a day. Have to wash one here and there, but for the most part things are good. My question is, from all the investigating that I have done, I am still confused. I would like to still collect each day, but I would also like to allow some to hatch. How do I go about doing that. I know it might sound like a really silly question, but we are relativly new to this. We are trying to supply the majority of our needs here at home, with gardening and so forth. Thank you for your time and have a great day…..

    • March 7, 2012 3:05 pm

      Becky, how do you get a dozen and a half out of 13 hens? To get them to hatch you need a broody hen (one who will set on her eggs for the duration. Do you have any that are reluctant to get out of the nest? When they are broody they make a different clucking sound and don’t want to leave the nest. If you take them off, they will run around and come right back to the nest while clucking. Or you could use an incubator.

      • Becky permalink
        March 8, 2012 5:12 am

        Good Morning matronofhusbandry,
        No I do not have any that resist getting off the nest, they are all pretty eager to go out each day, usually around 12-12:30 pm. They are all Rhode Island Reds, somehow we managed to get one rooster in the bunch, did not order them that way, just happened. I am not meaning to be smart or disrespectful, but why would I not get that many each day? They did start out slow around Christmas time, one or two here and there but then right after the new year they really turned on. Thank you for your time and have a wonderful day…

        • March 8, 2012 7:11 am

          Becky, it sounds like they are not broody, and most breeds have that bred out of them these days. RIR’s included. I don’t think you’re being disrespectful, but I thought you said you had 13 hens, and usually a chicken only lays an egg every 26 hours or about one a day, that’s how I came to that conclusion.

        • Becky permalink
          March 8, 2012 9:33 am

          Wow, I learn something new everyday. Thank you for the info. Yes, I do have 13 hens and 1 rooster, I collected 19 eggs yesterday and today I collected 17. So I am not sure as to the theory of things, but am happy with the quanity. I think that we may go more along the lines of using an incubator for hatching. I really am so very thankful for the information gained on this site. Have a wonderful day….. Becky

        • March 8, 2012 9:40 am

          Wow, I wish I could get my chickens to do that! 😀

  13. Becky permalink
    March 8, 2012 10:26 am

    Do you think that with them giving so many each day that they will end their laying cycle in a shorter time? Sure it is a silly sounding question, but makes me wonder….

    • March 8, 2012 12:14 pm

      Becky, that’s a good question…usually the breeds are listed by how many eggs they lay a year before molting. It would make sense that they might stop sooner since making an egg is hard work!

  14. Jeanette permalink
    November 11, 2012 10:48 am

    Very great information for me…a beginner. I did find a great nesting box recently for ten dollars from out of a friends family farm. It is a Trade Jamesway metal : one with circular holes and one with square holes…I only have four hens and one rooster…Only three of the hens are laying so far, and we typically get three eggs a day. My husband initially made a home made (four nest) box and that is what is still there. But I would like to replace them with the new boxes….In your opinion would the hens make a good adjustment to new nesting boxes….I mean, do I need to “talk it over ” with them first or just change it? Also, I have two (ten hole) boxes…is that way too many for four hens anyway….??? I do plan on getting a few more…next spring…Also, they roam around all day and head inside the coop in the evening. In the winter I’ve heard that they may need extra lights on to continue laying??? Just wondered if you had any info about that…and if so, how bright….currently there is a “night light” soft light in the coop. ….lots to learn.

    My husband loves the eggs and we just share with family members, but he really hates the chicken poop that has appeared here and there on the cement that surrounds our inground pool. We have five acres for them to roam, so I didn’t imagine that they’d come that close to the pool….Its not like theres piles of poop around the pool, just here and there….but I guess thats just gonna be how it is unless we penn them up! ?

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!
    Jeanette

    • November 11, 2012 6:57 pm

      Jeanette, I would just change after they are done laying for the day, usually after noon or so. That will give them time to investigate and get their minds right for the next day’s egg laying 😉

      Chickens need about 14 hours of light per day to lay during the winter. However some continue to lay anyway, a lot depends on their age, what stage of molt they are in or not, and if they are getting enough energy in their feed to support egg laying. The egg laying is the first to go if the hens aren’t getting enough to eat, or aren’t able to keep warm and dry. Chickens can take a lot of cold but not wet, so let that be your guide.

      Yes, chicken poop is a fact of life with chickens, it’s up to you do to decide if it’s worth the effort to fence them away from your pool etc., it may be that the electrified poultry netting like this would do the trick and still let them free-range in another direction.
      http://www.premier1supplies.com/fencing.php?mode=detail&fence_id=96

      Best of luck with your chickens, nothing beats fresh eggs!

  15. Brent permalink
    September 21, 2015 10:25 am

    Would you be willing to sell your chicken coop?

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