by Grace McCaughey
The very best quality egg you can possibly have is one that is collected from a spotlessly clean nest box within an hour of being laid by a healthy, well cared for hen. This egg will be perfectly clean, still warm, have a lovely strong even shell, will be a good shape with one slightly pointed end, and be an attractive colour.
When broken out into a pan, the yolk will be exactly in the centre of a compact layer of thick white. It will cover less than the size of a small saucer. When hard boiled, the yolk will not be visible through the white, there will be no discoloration around the yolk and it will have a pleasant clean fresh-egg smell. And of course these fresh eggs will taste delicious. Many people will have tried one straight from the chook. When an egg is laid, it is perfectly fresh and clean, so the owner needs to work out ways and means of keeping it that way.
The nest this fresh egg was laid in will have a 7-8 cm layer of fresh clean pea, wheat or oaten straw, rice hulls or coarse wood shavings with no droppings or mouldy spots. Sawdust, grass hay are not so good for nesting material as they tend to go mouldy quickly, thus affecting the egg quality. The nest will be big enough for one hen, raised up to a metre or so off the ground and be on the cool south side of the hen house. It will be dark, either with a hessian or black cloth front blind with cuts 6-8cm apart to allow access. It will have an easy entry, up clean stepped perches to a running board across the front.
The hen house will have an area of at least one square metre per bird, with wire netting on the north wall. The water fountain/drinker and food hopper/trough will be in a cool well shaded place, preferably on the south wall. The floor will be concrete/clay/ wood, and will be dry at all times, so the drainage and guttering must work properly. The litter on the floor will be straw of any kind, coarse wood shavings, rice hulls, peanut shells, or other similar material. The pen will be vermin proof. Access to the outside is necessary for sunshine (Vitamin D), green feed (good yellow yolks), natural scratching in the soil, exercise. Let them out after midday and they will go back in at dusk. Watch for foxes in late afternoon!
Eggs need to be collected at least twice a day preferably three times, in the morning when most eggs are laid. They must be collected into a clean container or wire/cane basket so that they may cool as quickly as possible. Any soiled, weak shelled or cracked eggs should be kept separate from the good ones. They are good for cooking or scrambling. Eggs should NEVER be collected into egg cartons especially re-used ones. These are well insulated and any warm eggs will be kept warm for a longer period and hence quality will be reduced very quickly. They may contain pathogenic bacteria. Cartons for well cooled eggs are OK.
- Well constructed hen house and nest boxes, as above
- Clean fresh nest litter
- Frequent egg collection and stored pointed end DOWN
- A balanced ration, supply of soluble shell & insoluble grit. Free range (no parsley, has a bad effect on some chooks)
- Clean, COOL water must be available at all times. Birds do NOT like warm water.
- An adequate number of nests must be provided
- Avoid overcrowding in the hen house and in the nests
- Hen house well ventilated, free of draughts, cool in summer and warm in winter
- Adequate perching space for all the hens
- Freedom from frights by dogs/foxes/humans etc to be avoided, if at all possible.
Problems to look for
- Weak shelled eggs—caused by lack of calcium or grit or general poor nutrition or health or poor breeding
- Sick, quiet birds, early moulting, paralysis—many causes—isolate such birds into a sick bird cage/pen
- Blood on perches, in litter or nest boxes-can be caused by damage from jumping too high or due to disease. Blood in young chicks vents shows coccidiosis. See vet for a sulpha drug and isolate affected chicks.
- Pale yolks-caused by lack of vitamin A/carotene. Fresh greens / maize/dry lucerne/grass needed daily
- Blood or meat spots in the eggs-caused by internal damage from jumping up too high, poor strain of bird
- Wet litter or nest boxes
- Leaking water troughs
- Vermin or snakes eating food/eggs
- Hens eating eggs. Hens do not break eggs, but they love a broken egg! Weak shelled eggs break easily and only then will the chooks eat them. More grit required.
Laying hens need to be trained when they are young. This is done by simply providing the facilities as above.
Chickens on the point of maturity will naturally start looking for a dark high place to prepare a nest.
Many eggs are laid on to dirty or wet litter, or in dirty nests and then must be washed or rubbed with steel wool to clean. All this reduces the quality.
In Northern Ireland as long ago as 1956, eggs were tested under UV light to ascertain if they had been washed. If so the producer was heavily penalised, because washing severely reduces quality.
The wet layer on a freshly laid egg is the “bloom”, which protects egg against invading bacteria. It washes off and leaves the egg defenceless.
© Grace McCaughey