Caring for Your Fresh Eggs

Nature has designed the eggshell as the perfect packaging material. It allows air to enter but is an effective bacteria barrier. Eggs can keep for weeks before spoiling, but the fresher they are, the better they taste. Gather eggs at least once a day during mild weather and more often during summer’s heat and winter’s bone-chilling cold. Store them in egg cartons in the refrigerator with the smaller pointy side down.

The best way to prevent dirty eggs is to keep chickens and the litter dry and to always have fresh, clean linings in nest boxes. Most homeowners can produce the very best nest material:

  • Let a patch of summer lawn grow to seven or eight inches high
  • Mow the patch on a dry day.
  • Rake the clumps of cut grass into loose windrows so air can circulate, and let them dry a day or two.
  • When completely dry, the grass will keep forever.
  • Dry lawn grass can be formed into a cup shape in the nest, and it keeps eggs clean while cushioning them to prevent breakage.

Dirty eggs need to be gently washed and dried before refrigeration. If an egg is not dirty, it is not necessary to wash it off. Eggs are coated when they are laid with a nearly imperceptible substance called bloom that creates a barrier for bacteria. Eggs will keep longer if the bloom is not washed off. Wiping eggs with a dry cloth is sufficient unless they are very dirty.

You should collect your eggs at least once per day, especially in extremely hot and extremely cold weather. In heat the eggs will decompose at a faster rate then normal, while in the winter the eggs can actually freeze and the shells become brittle and can crack or break.

 If you are questioning whether or not an egg is still good, try the water test:

  • Submerge the egg completely in a bowl of cold water.
  • If it floats it is bad. As an egg decomposes the moisture inside is replaced by oxygen and other types of gas. The more decomposed the egg, the more gas is inside it and the lighter it gets. This is why a spoiled egg will float.
  • If the egg sinks completely or sits at just a slight angle, it should be fine to use.


Solving Egg Eating

It’s frustrating to gather eggs and discover broken shells and a gooey mess in the nest. The culprit is often an egg-eating hen.

Providing bedding in your nestboxes can help prevent egg eating

For chickens to deliberately break open an egg to dine on its contents is rare, but every once in a while it happens. If you drop and break an egg the hens will gobble it up. So, use care when collecting eggs, keep nests clean and watch for predator chickens. Sometimes many eggs are lost to just one or two culprits and the bad habit continues.

Egg eating is most common in crowded coops. Squeeze too many hens into a small space and all sorts of squabbling and bad behavior result. Reducing the flock or expanding the coop may solve problems, including egg eating.

Some chicken keepers believe feeding eggshells as a source of calcium for their hens encourages egg eating. Others disagree, but it’s wise to avoid feeding shells if egg eating is suspected. A commercial oyster shell supplement is inexpensive and can simply be kept out for free choice feeding for your flock.

The best way to solve an egg eating problem is to prevent it from happening. Some simple preventative measures include:

  • Provide plenty of nestboxes so several hens don’t need to crowd into a nest. Nest cramming usually results in a broken egg and eating temptation.
  • Provide chickens with nutritious food so they aren’t tempted to find nutrients in eggs. Laying hens should have free access to a commercial layer ration as well as free choice oyster shell.
  • Put soft clean material in the nest to reduce breakage. Hay, wood chips, or manufactured nest cushions help.

If you already have an egg eating problem in your flock there are a few things you can try to stop the behavior. Some tips to stop an egg eating hen are:

  • Make sure you have the reason for egg eating identified and remedied.
  • Collect eggs frequently to give less chance of them being eaten.
  • Identify the egg eater(s) and isolate her so she can’t pass on her bad behavior.
  • Place fake wooden eggs or golf balls in the nest boxes to discourage pecking.

Once it is learned, egg eating is a very hard habit to break. If your offender doesn’t change her ways, your only option may be removing her from your flock.

The Scoop on Poop – Composting Chicken Waste

from "Lifetime Compost Tumbler"
Chicken waste can be composted in a pile or a tumbler.

Chickens provide wonderful enjoyment, entertainment and food in form of eggs and meat. But just like any other animal, they also produce waste. It’s a part of chicken keeping that may not be too pleasant, but to keep your coop and chicken spaces clean, free of odors and free of flies you need to have a good plan for waste disposal.  Luckily, there is a good way to re-purpose this waste in the form of fertilizer for your garden. One hen creates about 1 cubic foot of manure every 6 months, and that manure can easily be composted.

Chicken manure is high in nitrogen and needs to be composted before applied to your garden to avoid burning or harming your plants. Composting chicken manure is a fairly simple process that does not require too much labor or equipment. All you need is a compost pile or tumbler (Lifetime Compost Tumbler, pictured, is available online), some gloves and a shovel.

Here are some easy steps to start composting your chickens’ waste:

  1. Add manure to the compost pile or tumbler and then add your additional items for compost. Additional items can include vegetable waste, leaves, wood chips, shredded newspaper, etc.
  2. Wet everything down and rotate every 3 days or so. Rotate and mix everything at least 3 times. 
  3. Add more compostable items over a period of weeks as desired, continue to rotate.
  4. Let rest for 2 to 6 months. This resting period will  to allow all the materials to break down into rich organic matter that won’t harm your plants.

Once you are done, the material should be crumbly, dark and have a sweet earthy scent. At this point you can add it to your garden and turn it or till it into the soil. As with any fruit or vegetable from your garden or the store, be sure to wash crops thoroughly before consuming.

How Much Will a Baby Chick Eat?

Owners of new baby chicks often wonder how much the chicks will eat. Join Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart as he explains how much baby chicks eat in their first weeks of life, as well as tips on how to get them eating quickly.

Please leave comments, questions, and your own suggestions below!

Are you feeding treats correctly?

As a poultry owner, I love the feeling I get when I feed a treat to my flock. They see me coming with grapes, blueberries, or grain and they come at a high speed run (well, as fast as that waddle/wiggle/chicken run can go). I feel like a hero, the chickens love me (at least while the goodies last), and we are all happy. It’s so much fun, I am always tempted to throw out just a little bit more… but the old adage “if a little bit is good, more is better” is something that’s not a good practice when feeding treats to your flock. In fact, you can seriously harm the production, health and well being of your birds by overfeeding treats.

First, let’s clarify. What exactly is a treat? For our purposes a treat is anything that you feed your birds that is not grit, oyster shell, or a commercial ration (layer feed, all flock, etc.). Note: As soon as your birds have access to anything other than pellets or crumbles you need to provide grit free choice. We don’t count oyster shell or grit as treats; these are additives that help with digestion (grit) and calcium supplementation (oyster shell). Anything else, however, should be considered a treat and fed appropriately. This includes scratch grains.

The commercial feed that our birds eat are formulated specifically to deliver the correct amount of protein, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and energy to our birds in perfect balance. Adding other things to their diet (like scratch, kitchen scraps, etc.) can throw off this delicate balance and result in deficiencies in the diet. Deficiencies can manifest themselves in many different ways in our flocks, including feather pecking, egg eating, decreased egg production and poor overall feed utilization and performance.

So how do you know how much to feed your birds when it comes to treats? There is a good method to follow that will keep the treat portion within the recommended 10 – 15% of your birds’ diet.

  1. Pick your treat of the day and make it something your birds really enjoy! Mealworms, fruits, vegetables and insects are all good treats.
  2. Give your birds only what they will clean up in 15 minutes. Do this one time a day to prevent unbalancing their diet.
  3. Be a hero to your birds and enjoy your 15 minutes of fame!
  4. Repeat daily.

Getting Ready For Eggs!

Summer is just around the corner and your spring chicks are approaching puberty, which means you can anticipate the arrival of eggs soon! Assuming they’ve enjoyed good food and care, the young hens, called pullets, begin laying sometime between their 16th and 24th week of age.

Discovering a hen’s first egg from your own hand-raised chicks is a thrill. Pullet eggs are tiny and look like gems in the nest. Although the first eggs your birds lay may be small, irregularly shaped and/or inconsistent, don’t panic! The eggs should norm out over time in size and frequency.

If your pullets are over 16 weeks of age, now is the time to switch them to a layer feed, as laying hens need special nutrition. Producing eggs places great nutritional strain on a hen’s body. Just think of the calcium she is giving up each time she lays an egg! Look for a layer feed that has the minerals, vitamins, protein and other nutrients needed to help keep your birds healthy and productive. Now would also be a good time to supplement calcium by putting oyster shell out or sprinkling it on the coop floor for hens to discover and eat.

Are your pullets ready to lay eggs? Here’s how to tell:

  • Chickens will be between 16-24 weeks old
  • Pullets look full grown with clean, new feathers
  • Combs and wattles have swollen and are a deep red color
  • Bones in the hen’s pelvis will begin to separate.

To check if the hen’s pelvis bones have begun to separate, cradle the hen between your side and arm with the hen facing your back so you see its rear end. Carefully hold the bird’s feet so it can’t kick. Place your other hand gently on the hen’s rear end. If three prominent bones are close together, don’t expect eggs for a few more weeks, but if the bones have separated, expect eggs soon!

Pullets like to lay eggs in privacy, and it’s important to have nest boxes in place before the first egg arrives. These can be purchased or made of lumber and should be approximately 10-12 inches square and about 18-inches deep. Install one nest box for every two to three hens and place them from one to three feet above the floor. Line the nests with straw, dried grass, wood chips or even shredded paper to help keep the eggs clean.

In no time at all, you’ll have an abundance of eggs – right from your own backyard!

A dirty way to keep poultry clean!

At first the term dust bath seems like an oxymoron. Like “jumbo shrimp”, the two words just don’t seem like they belong together. But believe it or not, getting themselves completely dirty is the best way for chickens to get clean! Dust baths also help chickens stay cool and keep parasites away.

Chickens that are allowed to free-range will naturally find a cool, dirty spot to take a dust bath. If allowed, they usually enjoy digging up mulched garden beds (soil is cool under the mulch) and making a chicken-sized impression!

Chickens in your coop still need dust baths, so remember to give them the opportunity to get dirty. Fill a kitty litter pan or other shallow plastic or metal container with sand or a mixture of particles that can even include some fireplace ashes. Diatomaceous earth is also an optional addition to this mixture. It is a non-toxic powder made from fossils of freshwater organisms that has many uses, including being a natural way to keep parasites off your chickens. It is available at most feed stores.

In addition to keeping pests at bay, dust baths are great for keeping poultry cool on hot summer days. Since they cannot sweat, regulating their body temperature involves using the cool earth for their version of a shower! The particles of dust or sand settle in next to the chicken’s skin and help absorb any excess oil and moisture, making the chickens “clean”.

So, whether in a coop or roaming the yard, be sure to offer your chickens the opportunity to take a dust bath. You will get a laugh observing them enjoy their dirty way of staying clean and cool!