Thursday, October 16, 2014

Caring for Your Eggs

At my house we have a backyard full of farm animals. We've got goats, chickens, and ducks. While the goats do little to earn their keep (unless destroying anything they can fit in their mouth counts,) the ducks and chickens actually provide something useful: eggs! Eggs from your backyard are the best eggs ever! Especially if you allow your birds to free range. Our birds have the run of the yard. The chickens scratch and peck, and find bugs and seeds to dine upon, while the ducks eat the bugs that have drowned in their pool, or that are hiding under the plants that they graze on. I introduced my ducks to grass when they were just little yellow ducklings, so now they really love to munch on it! It is a smart idea to set up a designated area for your birds to make a nest and lay their eggs, otherwise it will be Easter egg hunting on a daily basis. It has been a challenge for me to find a box that the chickens will lay eggs in, but that won't get stomped into oblivion by curious goats. Recently I found a sturdy egg crate at a local thrift shop. I'm hoping that this will be my solution! Check for eggs every day. Take them inside and out of the heat or cold. I typically wash my eggs every few days. I let a nice pile build up in my egg basket, then wash the whole batch. Since eggs have a coating on the outside which keeps them protected from germs and bacteria, it is okay to leave them at room temperature for a few days, or even as long as a month, if they are kept in a cool, dark location. Washing your eggs washes away this coating, therefore your clean eggs should be kept in the fridge to protect against illness.
The tools of the trade.
When you have a stack of eggs ready to wash, gather up some egg cartons, a clean damp towel, and a spray bottle with a dilute bleach and water solution. Rub your eggs just enough to remove any dirt or debris from the outside (feathers, straw, mud, manure, etc.) Don't scrub the whole egg top to bottom. You want to keep as much of the protective coating in place as possible.

See the weak spot at the top?

As you are wiping your eggs off, watch for cracks or weak spots. A dark spot on the shell of an egg is typically an indicator of a crack or weakness. Press gently with your thumb and listen for the crack. If you hear or see your egg crack, discard it.

Ready to be spritzed!

Once your eggs are all inspected and wiped, lay them out on the counter and give them a good spritz with your bleach solution. Roll them around and spritz from another side, just to be sure you get even coverage.
Thirty good-looking eggs!

After your eggs are washed and spritzed, they can go into an egg carton, or flat, and be put in your refrigerator. If you have more than one carton, number them so that you know which carton to use first. This way, you can use up the older eggs before they go bad.

If you would like, you can weigh and label your chicken eggs for the purpose of cooking or baking. I use a kitchen scale, set to weigh in grams, to weigh my eggs, and write the size on the bottom of the egg with pencil. Weighing in grams seems to be a bit more accurate. The sizes of chicken eggs are as follows:

Jumbo - Greater than 71 grams
Extra Large - Greater than 64 grams
Large- Greater than 57 grams
Medium - Greater than 50
Small - Greater than 43 grams
Peewee - Greater than 35 grams

L-R: The smallest chicken egg, largest chicken egg, smallest
duck egg, and largest duck egg in my basket.
Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs, typically weighing as much as, or more than, a jumbo chicken egg.
Merle the duck's giant, monstrous, jumbo-sized egg.
Duck eggs are also higher in cholesterol, and have a higher yolk to white ratio, which makes them quite tasty. All the bad stuff tastes so good, right?

Treat your duck eggs much as you would chicken eggs. Be sure to cook your duck eggs thoroughly, though, as there may be an increased chance of salmonella associated with them. Also, keep duck eggs away from ready to eat food items, and wash your hands after handling them, for the same reason. Don't want to scare you away, just giving you the facts!
See the itty-bitty fairy egg?

On occasion, a bird will lay an egg smaller than a peewee egg. This is commonly referred to as a fairy egg, and is typically not a complete egg. It is sort of a random event, but occurs more frequently in new layers, or in older birds who are ending their laying career.