Although some people raise chickens for meat, to show, or as pets, probably eggs are the first thing people think of when they think of chickens.
Different breeds produce different shell colors of eggs. Inside they’re the same. White eggs come mostly from Leghorns, a breed known to be super egg layers. They can be high strung and noisy, and are typically not recommended for your first chickens.
Brown eggs come from heartier breeds, and are traditionally more practical for outdoor production. Although this is usually a good trade off for small-scale enthusiasts, at the commercial level farmers want Leghorns.
Easter eggs usually come from Araucanas (a breed from Chile), and range from turquoise to deep olive (shades of blue, green and pink). The “Easter egg” name comes from them being similar to colored eggs that are popular at Easter. Buyers love these eggs, and they usually can be sold at a premium.
The science seems to fluctuate about how nutritious eggs are versus concerns about cholesterol. My wife and I take the view that there may be some bad things in eggs, but on the whole there’s way more good stuff – in addition to being delicious. We probably eat eggs for breakfast 4 or 5 times a week.
For calorie counters, egg whites (not eating the yolk) is a good way to get some protein from the eggs and avoid most of the stuff people are worried about.
There is a view that backyard chicken eggs, often called farm fresh eggs, are tastier and more nutritious than store bought eggs. The science does not seem to support either of these assertion. I tend to live my life in an evidence-based manner, so my view is that our eggs are more “ethically sourced” than objectively superior.
Chickens will begin producing eggs when they are 20-24 weeks old. Their egg production peaks at around 32 weeks, and declines thereafter. Our hens are 2 years old and still producing at a good rate, so this decline isn’t necessarily dramatic.
The egg will form in the chicken’s body over 26 hours, before being laid. Chickens only lay eggs during the day – they are very responsive to daylight – and thefore they will typically lay their eggs later and later in the day, until they eventually skip a day, then start laying early in the morning again.
There are a few takeaways from this. We were worried at one point that one of our hens wasn’t laying. We’d sometimes get 3 eggs from the 3 chickens, but we weren’t sure if one chicken was producing 2 eggs. This wouldn’t be the case (only 1 egg every 26 hours), so if you ever get as many eggs as you have hens in a single day, that means they’re all laying.
This also gives you the rule of thumb that you can expect about 2 eggs from every three hens in your flock. A really productive chicken, of the right breed, may give you 250 to 300 eggs a year.
I had one man stop off of the street and ask about our chickens. I’d already told him we didn’t have a rooster, and he asked how we could get eggs without a rooster. The chickens produce eggs with or without a rooster. It’s just that in the absence of the rooster they will be unfertilized – they won’t develop into chicks.
It isn’t a problem if the eggs are fertilized, they still completely edible, and you won’t see much of a difference if you collect them (and eat them) soon after they’re laid. A chicken can keep producing fertilized eggs for up to 1 month after having sex with a rooster. Balut is a southeastern Asian delicacy where a 15 day old duck embryo is boiled and eaten out of the shell – often with beer.
Candling is the process of holding eggs up to a light source to check whether or not they are fertilized.
Chicken Care With Respect to Eggs
A chicken has to be healthy and reasonably low stressed to be producing eggs, so if you aren’t getting eggs, thinking about the general chickens’ health is your first step.
The Oyster Shells I referred to in a previous post are provided to get the chickens the calcium they need to form eggs shells.
When eggs are laid, you want to collect them as quickly as is convenient. If eggs are left for an extended time, hens might go broody – staying in the bedding box on the eggs trying to hatch them.
It’s also possible for hens to start eating eggs – which you REALLY don’t want to have happen. Once they’ve got a taste for them, they will start breaking open all your eggs on you. One solution to correct this behaviour is to put some golf balls in their bedding box. They’ll look like eggs, the chickens will peck them, but when they’re too hard to break they’ll start avoiding things that look like them – such as the eggs you want!
One idea some chicken keepers come up with is to feed the chickens their eggs shells back to them, in order to save money on oyster shells. I tried this for a while. It seemed to be working great, then at least one chicken started breaking open eggs so I stopped.
What do you find interesting about chicken eggs? Have I missed anything important here? Anything you’ve wanted to know that isn’t covered?