Whether you have chickens or buy farm eggs from your local farmer's market, you know that golden yolky goodness is hard to beat. Here's how to make sure you know the safety and freshness of those farm eggs and other basic information about pasture-raised eggs. 🤍
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Farm Fresh Eggs 101
First some chicken egg basics: you probably know hens lay eggs, but did you know, you do not need a rooster for hens to lay? All hens will lay eggs regardless of if there is a rooster around (think human women ovulating). The difference that comes with having a rooster is that almost all the eggs will be fertilized. If your flock is all hens, none of the eggs will be fertilized.
FARM EGG FRESHNESS & SAFETY
All eggs are laid with a protective layer on the shell called the "bloom". This protective layer prevents bacteria from getting through the shell into the egg.
If you do not wash your eggs immediately, the bloom stays on the egg keeping bacteria from getting into the egg. The bloom will become less effective the longer the egg sits out and more air will get into the egg.
You can keep unwashed farm fresh eggs on the counter and they will stay good for about 4 weeks. Remember to wash the eggs directly before cooking.
Use the Float Test (detailed below) to check if eggs are still good.
If you wash the bloom off the eggs, they must be kept in the refrigerator because they no longer have protection from bacteria entering the shell.
Keep washed farm eggs in the fridge for about 2 weeks. Again, use the Float Test to check freshness before using.
Once refrigerated (unwashed or not), eggs must stay refrigerated.
How To Wash Farm Eggs
To wash farm fresh eggs, rinse them under warm water and gently rub the shell with your fingers. Pat dry and either use immediately, or transfer to the fridge. Warm water keeps the shell from taking on bacteria — the water should be roughly 20 degrees warmer than the egg.
Do not leave eggs soaking or submerged in water. It is not necessary to wash farm eggs for storage as detailed above in Farm Egg Freshness & Safety, but you do want to ensure you wash them before use to rinse off any bacteria on the shell before cracking the egg.
THE FLOAT TEST
The Float Test is used to check the freshness of eggs. Whether you raise chickens yourself, purchase farm eggs from a local farmers market or neighbor, keep them unwashed on the counter, or washed in the refrigerator, you will likely want to check the freshness of eggs you have been storing.
To Perform the Float Test
Place the egg in a container of room temperature water that is deep enough to cover the egg with at least an inch of water.
If the egg sinks to the bottom of the container and lays flat on its side, the egg is very fresh.
If the egg sinks to the bottom standing up on the tip, it is still good, but should be eaten soon.
If the egg floats, it is no longer good. NOTE: If you crack these eggs, they may not be rotten (use your nose to tell) and can still make for good treats for your puppers.
Remember to quickly remove your eggs once you have performed the Float Test because you do not want to soak or leave eggs submerged in water too long.
Why the Float Test Works
The Float Test checks how long an egg has been around (aka the age of the egg) by gauging the amount of air the egg has taken on. As the egg ages, the shell becomes more porous and takes on more air. An egg with enough air to change the buoyancy of it so that it floats is not fresh enough to eat.
FERTILIZED vs. UNFERTILIZED EGGS
In general, a fertilized egg will come from a flock of chickens that are all hens with no rooster. If a rooster is part of the flock, it is safe to assume almost all the eggs are fertilized. Companies that sell to grocery stores have flocks solely dedicated to egg production, therefor do not have roosters, so you can bet that any eggs you have purchased from a grocery store are not fertilized. If you are getting farm eggs from a neighbor or farmer's market, that may be a different story.
So are fertilized chicken eggs safe to eat? The quick answer is yes. If the eggs are removed from the nesting boxes daily and stored according to the method(s) above, it is safe to eat a fertilized egg. The egg will not develop into a chick unless the conditions are correct for it to be incubated at the proper temperature etc. For more information on this, The Happy Chicken Coop goes into more detail in this blog that I found helpful.
COLOR OF EGGS 101
Why are farm eggs different colors? It is all about the breed of the hen. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of chicken breeds worldwide. Some lay green eggs, blue eggs, brown, olive, chocolate, speckled, white, and even pink.
I like having a mixed flock of hens so that A) our egg basket is always varied and beautiful and B) I can tell which hen is laying what egg. I have also found that some of our breeds are more tolerant of the heat and will keep laying over the summer. Others are more cold-hardy and lay more over the colder winter months. My Ameraucana, Patsy, lays blue eggs all summer long but as soon as the temperature dips, our egg basket starts to be taken over by the brown eggs of our Black Sex Link, Reba, and Black Copper Marans.
A note on the color of egg yolks: Different hens will have different color egg yolks as well. All on the spectrum of yellow to gold to orange, egg yolk's color changes due to the hen's diet. A hen with a more varied diet will have darker yolks because of the varied vitamins and minerals they eat with a more robust diet (insects, plants, vegetables, etc.) That is why more commercial store-bought eggs have a more yellow yolk — their diet is less varied, typically fed a grain-based diet. In general, the further a hen gets away from a caged, grain-fed lifestyle, the darker their yolk will become. Full-time pasture-raised hens with a varied diet will, in theory, have the most orange yolks because they have access to a wider vitamin/mineral intake, which in turn means the yolks will have more flavor.
FREE-RANGE vs. PASTURE-RAISED
Egg labels in stores can be very confusing and the terms are not very regulated. The closest in-store label you will find to farm fresh eggs is "Pasture-Raised Organic" but because there is little to no regulation, it is hard to tell exactly how these hens are being kept. I've listed the terms below in the order of least amount of space (and least humane life) to most amount of space per hen, healthy (and most humane) life for hens.
No Label a.k.a. Caged (spending almost entire life inside in a small cage)
Cage-Free (typically packed into indoor spaces without much room)
Free-Range (some access to outdoors, but typically very little space per hen, still crowded)
Pasture-Raised (most space per hen, still little regulation)
Neighbors, farmers markets, or getting to know the pasture-raised company you are purchasing eggs from is the best way to get an idea of how the hens are treated and the kind of diet they have.
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Where do you get your farm eggs? Tell me in the comments!