How to Raise Chickens for Eggs
Raising your own chickens can be a wonderful experience, although it is a good deal of responsibility as you must protect your flock from the elements, potential predators, and even themselves. The rewards usually weigh out any cons, as you can have a fresh supply of eggs and meat, as well as reducing the amount of bugs, like ticks, in your yard.
When and Where do Chickens Lay Eggs?
When raising chickens for eggs, it usually takes around six months for a hen to begin laying. Often, if this means that they would begin laying in the winter months, it is common for them to not begin laying until it starts to warm up.
However, this is not always the case and certain breeds will lay all year. For example, my several hens in my most recent batch of chickens started laying in the dead of winter with several inches of snow on the ground, so this is by no way a set rule. With that said, in commercial settings, there is usually a good deal of climate control to reach the perfect temperature for laying, as usually there is a reduction in egg production during the winter months.
It is believed that chickens are at their peak when they are a year old and in fact, when farming for meat, if the chicken is too old, it would be used in a stew pot before it was fried. However, when raising chickens for eggs, chickens will continue laying for many years. Usually around one egg every day or so, but some breeds are again better as others, which is often in part due to their breeding.
It is a good idea to provide some sort of chicken house or hutch that they can go into at night. This is important not just to protect them from the elements, but also from predators, such as skunks and dogs. Often, the chicken will lay in the hut, especially if there is some sort of bedding on the ground.
Of course, some hens will lay in what are seemingly random places. For instance, one of my hens will usually lay in the house, but every so often I find one of her eggs by the water bucket.
If the chickens are not penned are instead free range, it can be much more difficult to find where they lay there eggs, but they often are drawn to a similar spot.
To help entice a chicken to lay in a certain area, it is possible to place a fake egg shaped object in their area. You can purchase fake eggs, but any relatively egg shaped white object should do. People have used door handles, rocks, and even golf balls.
Personally, I like to make an "X" on the egg with a sharpie and leave it out there for a day or two. Of course, you need to be careful that you don't leave it out there too long, so this isn't a good idea during summer months.
When harvesting the eggs, it is best to remove the eggs periodically during the day. You will quickly get a knack for the laying habits of your hens and will soon be able to predict when the hens will lay, but it is still a good idea to check several times during the day.
Eggs should not be used if they are older than a day, but this can depend on the weather, especially as it gets warmer. Eggs left in the house during the evening can attract predators and can be damaged by the chickens as they move around. Eggs in the open are more likely to attract predators, including other birds.
It is usually suggested to avoid washing the eggs if at all possible. In many cases, especially if you collect eggs several times a day, they will be relatively clean. When the hens lay the eggs, the eggs are covered by a small membrane that helps prevent retain moisture and prevent bacteria from entering the egg. If you wash them, this layer of protection, which is called the bloom, is lost, which dramatically reduces their lifespan.
If scraping the egg with your fingernail does not remove the crust, it should be washed. However, the egg should be used with 24 hours if possible.
If unwashed, the eggs will last much longer. The eggs should be immediately put in the refrigerator, and should be stored with the small cone shaped end down. This will help make the egg last longer. In general eggs will last at least two weeks or longer, but they do loose some of their texture over time.
Eggs can also be frozen, with little loss to flavor or their nutritional values. When freezing eggs, the egg shells should be removed and scrambled, with a half a teaspoon of salt or a teaspoon of honey added to each cup of eggs. This prevents the yokes from loosing its texture and becoming gummy, but when freezing whites no salt is needed. There are, of course, other ways of freezing eggs, but this one is very common and easy.
The eggs should be used within 24 hours after being thawed.
Many people like to use ice cub holders to store the eggs, but it is important to completely seal the eggs. Similarly, ice pop makers also work well. You can even cut the ice cub trays in several pieces using a dremel or carefully with a saw. This way, you do not have to thaw 12 eggs at once.
Frozen eggs will last about 9 months and can be a great way to preserve your expanding egg supply, while stockpiling some eggs for the slower winter months. Especially since with several laying hens, it is easy to get to the point where you have more eggs than you know what to do with.
Fertilized and Unfertilized Eggs
If you have a rooster, than the eggs will likely be fertilized, but this is not necessarily the case. Either way, if the eggs are collected regularly this is not a concern. The white sac attached to the oak is present on all eggs, but is perhaps larger in certain breeds. It is necessary to inspect the sac to see if it has been fertilized, as the mere presences does not mean anything.
If the eggs are to be sold or given away, they should be candled, which is the act of holding the egg up to a bright light and inspecting the inside of it. It is easy to make an egg candler, which is used to inspect the egg for blood spots or a cracked shell, which might not always be obvious. These are not generally a problem, but blood spots are not usually aesthetically pleasing, so it is a good idea to check any eggs that will be given away. It is also not uncommon for blood veins to be visible on the outside of the egg, but this is not usually reason for concern.