Wednesday, September 25, 2013

From Coop to Kitchen: How to Find a Good Egg, and a Giveaway!

Carla Emery is an expert on raising chickens, so it’s no surprise that she has a few tricks for spotting a bad egg. Here she offers tips for gathering eggs and testing egg quality.

But what to do with all the eggs you gather?

GIVEAWAY: We’re giving away 2 books perfect for any chicken farmer — a copy of Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living and Put an Egg on It: 70 Delicious Dishes that Deserve a Sunny Topping. Carla Emery’s extensive country wisdom pairs perfectly with this delightful cookbook filled with egg-ceptional recipes. Use the link below to enter!

Finding Eggs: A basic principle for gathering eggs from any poultry is this: the more you take, the more they lay, and the less they go broody. And you should gather every day to make sure the eggs are fresh. If your birds are confined in a hen house, it’s easy to gather regularly and gather often. If not, it can be an adventure. All hens like to lay where there are already eggs. That’s helpful. But they’ll often pick a new nest spot if you keep emptying it completely of eggs. Then you’ll have to discover it all over again. So leave an egg in there marked with a pencil so you won’t let it get too old before gathering that one and using a new one. Homestead mail-order suppliers often offer wooden or plastic “eggs,” or a smooth white stone can serve the purpose.

The biggest trouble with letting chickens run loose is that sometimes you never do find the eggs — until mama shows up with a family, or you discover a heap of woefully overripe ones. The best way to keep free-running chickens laying in the hen house (besides shutting them up completely, which would probably throw them into a molt and decrease production), is to feed them in there generously last thing in the afternoon when it is about their bedtime (well before true dark), and then shut them up for the night (keeps out night predators, too). They will tend to lay their eggs first thing in the morning. Waiting a few hours after their rising hour to open their door gives you extra security. Then you can let them go on their foraging way. It also helps if you have a roomy, nice chicken house with lots of nesting boxes made the way hens like them, and plenty of clean straw bedding inside.

Various Eggs: Your home-grown eggs may vary considerably in size, color, and freshness. Pullet eggs are smaller than those the hen will lay later. You can tell when a pullet starts to lay eggs because she gets broad across the behind (same thing happened to me having babies). If you have a small and varied flock you’ll learn to recognize each hen’s egg — they are a unique combination of size, shape, and color. Then you’ll know who’s laying and who isn’t. (But the heredity will be an undesirable mish-mash.)

Bizarre Eggs: You may get an egg with 2 yolks. It’s fine to eat — just trying to be twins. You may get an egg covered with chicken poop — just wash it off. Your egg yolk may be darker in color and stronger in taste and the egg white thicker and firmer — the whole egg held together more firmly — than store eggs. That would be because your chickens have had access to a richer, more natural diet than commercial layers, which are required to do their most with the least (and the egg shows the difference). Your home-grown egg may have a speck of blood. That’s a hereditary characteristic in some chicken lines and doesn’t affect the edibility in the least. The egg may have a distinguishable white speck. In that case, it was a fertile egg and, given the right conditions, could have become a chick. Such an egg is also fine to eat. Your egg may have a weirdly shaped shell. It’s good to eat, but don’t incubate such eggs because you don’t want that hereditary trait passed on — besides, they are less hatchable. Your egg may have an egg inside an egg, a curiosity caused when an egg backs up in the oviduct for some reason and thus goes through the last couple production stages twice. The only obviously undesirable egg is one that has a half-developed chick in it or is full of rotten gunk. Otherwise, if you’re in doubt, you have to test for freshness.

Note: Use cracked eggs only if it’s just the outer shell that is cracked and the inner membrane is okay. The membrane is okay if there isn’t any egg oozing out the crack. But just to be on the safe side, cook such eggs thoroughly or use them in foods that will be cooked.

Fresh or Rotten? If you discover a nest where some hen(s) hid and laid 25 eggs, then the problem is to distinguish which eggs are still fresh enough to use:

The Bowl Test. The simplest way to determine freshness is to put eggs on the menu. Start by examining the eggs carefully. Usually you can tell a bad egg without even breaking it clear open. It’s hard to crack because the membrane inside the shell has become tough. It may smell bad, and if you just start to crack the shell, yucky stuff may come oozing out.
Okay, those you toss. Then come the marginal cases. You have to shell them into a bowl to find out for sure. You’re bound to get surprised sometimes: an egg that looks dirty and old will turn out to be just fine, and vice versa. If the egg in your bowl doesn’t have a funny smell and looks average, I’d say go ahead and use it. So pour it out of the small bowl into your mixing bowl, and go on to the next egg. Incidentally, if the last egg was a rotten one, be sure and rinse your testing bowl well before you pour another egg into it.

Float Testing. If you want to know about the egg without opening it — which, once you’ve encountered hydrogen sulfide, is understandable — use the float test. Put the eggs in a pan of water. Fresh eggs will lie on their sides on the bottom of the pan. If an egg’s a few days old, one end will tip upwards. If stale, an egg will stand on end. If plumb rotten, it will float. This is all because an egg contains an air cell at the large end of it. Eggshells are perforated through by tiny holes that would be needed by the chick for breathing. Thus, with time, a part of the liquid content of the egg evaporates, the white and yolk shrink, and the resulting new space is filled by an enlarged air space. But, like life, this float test is not 100 percent dependable.

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