Whether you live in the country or urban setting, raising chickens can be a wonderful experience. They come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Their personalities are often larger than life and they can be quite social. In fact, I frequently recommend people to get chickens if they are just starting out with homesteading (or are in areas that allow backyard chickens). Hens are relatively simple to care for, requiring shelter, food, water, and a clean living environment.
In turn, they produce eggs, entertain us with their antics, shallow till soil (if allowed to free-range), consume bugs and grubs, and they provide a natural fertilizer which in turn can be used in gardens. They are truly consumers and producers for the urban or country homestead.
But before you rush out to buy chicks, remember that proper hygiene must be maintained. This is especially important if you plan to either sell or consume the eggs.
Steps to Ensure Good Hygiene
- Gather eggs at least twice per day. Most chickens lay eggs in the morning so the first trip to the coop should be before noon. A second follow-up check should be done by mid-afternoon. By gathering eggs frequently, you will help reduce the likelihood of eggs being broken or becoming dirty by a hen who decides to do something else in the nest box besides laying an egg.
- If in doubt, toss it out. Sometimes free-range chickens will find a spot in a garden or pasture to lay their eggs, rather than making a trip back to the chicken house. If you come across a clutch of eggs and don’t know how old they are, do not consume them. This also applies to eggs in the nest box that are cracked or broken. Debris may have breached the egg shell and contaminated the egg itself.
- Allow at least one nest box per every three to four chickens. By having ample nest boxes, you reduce ‘traffic jams’ of a nest box. Multiple hens that crowd a single nest box are more likely to step on and break an egg that has already been laid. (Yes, there are exceptions. We have one nest box per chicken, yet when it comes time to lay, they all want to use the exact same nest box.)
- Clean nest boxes frequently. This is often the most basic step, but is usually the dirtiest job of the chicken coop. Once a hen is in a nest box, she may leave behind a ‘chicken nugget’ (as my husband calls it). Hens do not simply get into the box, immediately lay an egg, then leave. No, the nest box becomes their own personal spa. They get in and settle down for some quality nest box time. My hens frequently set on their eggs for some time after laying, only leaving if they become hungry or thirsty. And in a few instances, only leave if I disturb them as I reach under, searching for an egg.
- Provide nesting material in the nest box. This step is perhaps the most simple and easy to perform. By adding straw or wood shavings, you provide a bed for the egg. A hen sometimes will be in the standing position when she lays and even that short distance for the egg to drop will result in a cracked or broken egg. But the egg stands a better chance of remaining in tact if bedding is provided.
- Clean eggs if they are dirty. In some circles this is controversial as washing the eggs can remove the cuticle or bloom which resides on the outside of the shell. The job of the cuticle is to help protect bacteria from entering the interior of the egg. However, for some patrons, a dirty egg is not acceptable. But according to Colorado State Extension, “If eggs need to be washed, the temperature of the water should be at least 20F warmer than the egg. This will prevent the egg contents from contracting and producing a vacuum.” This prevents bacteria from being pulled into the egg.
So you see, proper egg care is not only practical, but possible in a home setting. Remember gather at least twice per day, toss out any questionable eggs, have at least one nest box per three to four hens, clean nest boxes frequently, provide nesting material, and clean eggs if they are dirty. While it may take some time, your efforts will be greatly rewarded. If you follow these steps, you and your patrons can safely enjoy home-raised eggs.