In this 16-part series, Kate MacLean of Longest Acres Farm draws upon her expertise as a farmer, agrarian, mother, and writer to provide the information you need to raise your own backyard chickens.
Words by: Kate MacLean of Longest Acres Farm
If you like chickens enough to make them part of your family, tend to them daily, and allot some of your land to them, then you probably also enjoy eating eggs. Keeping up with the yield from your backyard flock shouldn’t be too difficult if you have just a handful of birds. If you have children to feed, you'll use up your steady supply of eggs in no time; my kids eat at least two a day. As they grow, I find that a proper breakfast consisting of eggs helps keep them much more happy and energized until lunch than a bowl of cereal might. The protein and fat content in an egg is so valuable for all types of people, but especially for growing bodies.
When bringing your eggs in from the coop, be sure to discard any with cracks—these can go in either the compost bin or the dog bowl. Eggs that are covered in chicken feces should also be discarded. If you notice chicken feces becoming a frequent issue, consider cleaning your coop and nest boxes more regularly or collecting eggs a couple times a day rather than once daily.
All eggs have an outer layer known as bloom or the cuticle. This waxy, natural coating protects the egg's contents from any outside contaminants, acting as a seal for the porous shell. Eggs with little streaks of poop or dirt on them can be gently cleaned off with a brush or fine grade sandpaper, but should not be washed. When eggs are washed with a solution as simple as water and mild soap, the bloom is removed, and any bacteria on the outside of the egg is then free to enter into the interior. I repeat, do not wash your eggs.
Once they're out of the coop and free of any of the feathers and poop that came with them, eggs should be refrigerated. Although unwashed eggs with cuticles intact can safely be stored at room temperature, refrigerating your eggs will help them last longer; about 5-6 weeks. Unless I am about to make a large soufflé or another egg-heavy dish, I place all of the clean eggs I have collected into the fridge each day. Local co-ops and health food stores may have extra egg cartons that you can take home for free, but you can also find cartons online for a fairly low price. They remain the best way to store eggs in the fridge. In spite of all the handsome ceramic offerings out there, a standard egg carton that can be stacked, is lightweight, and won’t break is the best option for keeping your eggs safe from the perils of a busy refrigerator. I like to keep a permanent marker right next to the fridge so that I can write the date of collection right on the carton: that way, I can be certain that our family is always eating the oldest eggs first and avoiding any food waste.
If your dating system has failed you, leaving you unsure how old an egg is, simply crack it into a bowl. If it looks and smells normal, chances are it's still good. Trust your eyes and your experience. When in doubt, there's always the water test.
You may find that in the springtime, your hens are laying at a much higher rate, yielding more eggs than your family members can reasonably absorb into their diets. This is a great time of year to start sharing the bounty with your friends, extended family, neighbors, and colleagues. Around this time of year, I usually cut cartons in half and fill up a pile of them to give out as gifts. Just be sure to tie a little ribbon or twine around halved cartons so they don’t spill open.
The FDA implores you to eat your eggs cooked all the way through, but most people take that recommendation with a grain of salt. In general, FDA guidelines are intended for industrial food served to individual consumers, and meant to protect consumers from the great unknowns of a long and convoluted supply chain. The eggs from your backyard, however, are yours. You know everything about them, from the ins and outs of production to the sanitation of the facility and how they were handled in the kitchen. The safest way to prepare any type of food is to cook it to a nearly charred crisp, but we can all agree that this isn't the most delicious or nutritious way to eat.
If you're like me and keep your kitchen clean, the bits of chicken feces in your coop separate from your house, your egg boxes free of chicken litter, your cartons full of pristine eggs, and your hands washed about 25 times a day, I highly recommend living a little when it comes to preparing your eggs. I prefer my eggs runny, and so do my kids. I have one nephew who loves a good hard-boiled egg, so we indulge him from time to time. But in general, we are a runny egg family that manages to stay quite healthy. This is all a matter of personal health and safety, and if you feel like the risk isn’t worth the taste, by all means, do what makes the most sense for your family. For us, that's a messy breakfast plate with golden yolk running every which way, just waiting to be sopped up.
My favorite breakfast to serve my family in the wintertime is a bowl of warm, steel-cut oats topped with a runny fried egg and a sprinkling of shaved Parmesan. You can add sautéed kale and mushrooms to the oatmeal to make it a little more compelling for adults, but our kids forgo the additions and opt for just oats and eggs. We call them savory oats, and they tend to fill our family up more than their sugary counterparts do. You can find a similar recipe for savory breakfast oats, plus everything from shakshuka to egg in a hole in the Pete and Gerry's egg recipes collection.
A note from Pete and Gerry's:
For generations, our family of farmers at Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs has been dedicated to revolutionizing the way eggs are produced in the United States. We believe that consumers deserve better eggs from happier chickens living on small farms run by fairly paid farmers, and that’s what we have dedicated our business to. We also believe deeply in the transparency and verification of our standards, which is why we became a Certified B Corporation in 2013. It’s also why our farms meet the rigorous Certified Humane Free Range and USDA Certified Organic standards. We take the welfare of our hens, the sustainability of our farms, and health and happiness of our partner farmers and consumers very seriously. The resulting eggs are ones that stand out in the supermarket; they remind consumers of the eggs from their childhood farms and excursions abroad in Europe. And we're happy to be second best. In fact, we believe that everyone deserves a chance to raise hens right in their backyard and experience the joys that come with raising and growing food at home. Kate MacLean of Longest Acres Farm is here to tell you how.
Kate MacLean lives and works on 120 acres of land known as Longest Acres Farm in Chelsea, VT with her husband Nick, son Leland, and daughter Amelia. As an ex-city-dweller, she gained valuable experience working on friends' and neighbors' farms before making the move to rural Vermont with her family in search of a fulfilling, self-sustaining way of life.
Her breadth of experience in farming and raising countless varieties of chickens and other livestock on Longest Acres Farm not only makes Kate an expert in her field, but an advocate for home grown food and self-sustainability.
March 04, 2021
“Do not wash your eggs”
It’s what I’ve heard. And I believe you. But what about just before using them? It’s awfully tempting.
March 06, 2021
Hi Larry, The shell oils from freshly laid eggs will extend the refrigerated shelf life of eggs. However, due to FDA regulations, we are required to wash our eggs with a light, organic approved soap to wash our egg shells. After the eggs are washed, they are sanitized with a mild chlorine solution.
January 13, 2020
Any suggestions on how to get my hens to lay eggs? I have a variety of breeds. They are well into their egg laying years and I'm lucky to get maybe 1-2 eggs a week if that!
January 14, 2020
Hi Kim! That's a great question. The truth is that egg production does change as hens get older in age as well as due to changes in light, temperature, molting, or stress. We recommend looking at all of these factors and seeing if any of them have been more noticeable or changed recently. You can also find great information from other backyard farmers at https://www.backyardchickens.com/. We hope this helps!
January 09, 2020
really enjoyed Kates advice ,and know how !! I learned a lot from this post
Isn't she great? We loved hearing from Kate! Be sure to check out the rest of her blogs in this series, you can find them all linked here: https://www.peteandgerrys.com/blog/complete-guide-to-raising-backyard-chickens
January 07, 2020
Thanks for this post!!! Should you wash your eggs before boiling them for hard boiled eggs though?!
We're glad you enjoyed the post! If you're in the process of making hard boiled eggs, washing your eggs beforehand is not necessary.As Kate explains here, the purpose of leaving your eggs unwashed is to prevent bacteria from penetrating the shell. Boiling the eggs will also kill any bacteria present. So long as the egg is free of any poop, feathers, or dirt, we would skip the washing and go straight to boiling!
October 30, 2019
October 04, 2019