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About Eggs and Egg Laying

"Cluck old hen, cluck and sing,
ain't laid an egg since late last spring.
Cluck old hen, cluck and call,
ain't laid an egg since late last fall"
--American Mountain Ballad

Of fresh eggs on the nest, what we read and observe tell's us that eggs could sit around for a while without requiring refrigeration. You have to figure it would be about as long as it takes to hatch a chick, but exactly how long this is depends on many things. The density and thickness of the shell is a factor. So too is the temperature. If the egg has a crack or imperfection that can greatly shorten the life of the egg. Fecal matter stains can shorten an eggs usability (the old farmer eats those right away). The general cleanliness and healthfulness of the chicken's environment is also a factor.

Eggs are laid with a natural antibiotic coating that is washed off when you clean it. This coating serves to protect the egg from disease. Commercial washing removes it and so raises the permeability of the shell. This shortens the time an egg can sit at room temperature. Condensation from being cold in the refrigerator, then being exposed to moist warm air, can be reabsorbed by the egg. This might not be that great if the egg were not clean. This creates a paradox. To clean...or not to clean...

But yeah, you can still eat unrefrigerated fresh eggs. It wasn't so abnormal in bygone times, but most people play it safe nowadays. After a few weeks time takes its toll. Even before the egg falls prey to infection, it starts to lose water. A small air sack begins to enlarge inside the egg. An egg that floats has lost enough water to effect negative bouyancy. Floaters are to be consumed immediately or discarded, its up to you. Cracked eggs are trash.

Of course waiting around for eggs to age is an inherantly risky thing and fresh eggs are so much better in cooking and taste. Yes, collect them every day while they are laying in season, because predators or the chickens themselves might damage or soil them. if eggs are not collected, they will stop laying when the nest fills. so collecting stimulates laying. One way to look at it: use the egg 'right out of the chickens butt'. Another: all eggs should be washed and towel dried, then refrigerated in fairly air tight containers, to prevent but not trap condensation.

To sell eggs legally one must register with the California Department of Agriculture (well, if you live in Califiornia, you do). Eggs must be tested for freshness by the water method, must be candled (hasn't proved at all necessary for us. Meat spots are very rare in well cared for birds. Oh yes, did we mention, the chicken is a bird!), they must be graded as to freshness and size, and labeled according to packaging conventions. Eggs must be cleaned (this is a good time to water test). But we should also mention that a cleaned egg has of necessity had a natural protective coating removed, and once this is done the egg must be consumed within a month or so to avoid spoilage (all store-bought eggs are washed.)

A free range or wild chicken's egg, (not from a chicken kept in a pen and fed a restricted diet) is a rich orange yellow. When it is cooked, its albumen is strong - it is a Super Egg! When hard-boiled, the shell has a hard time pulling free from the egg. Don't you hate that? Well that's a fresh egg! Fresh eggs are more active in recipes, almost doubling their thickening and bonding ability. Cakes are firm and moist, custards readily thicken, pancakes stay together. Pies firm up!

"Real" eggs are tastier than store bought eggs. And they taste great! They are more nutritious (due to the nice weeds, bugs, dirt and stuff). It's good that store-bought eggs are there for those that cannot have chickens, but if you can, any good cook who knows about this would certainly go for it!

When chickens first begin to lay eggs, they lay on their own time, oriented as it is to their individual maturation. A 'new' chicken can begin to lay anytime after six months of age, but over the course of a few years the chicken will orient itself to the cycles of lengthening day and night, and to a small degree temperature and general climate stress-load. The resultant pattern in this area is a heavy spring lay and a short fall lay (after the stressful summer heat has passed.)


"Also, my mother is very concerned about cholesterol and dietary benefits of eggs, and she is curious if there is a particular diet to feed the hens so they produce eggs that are lower in cholesterol (she reads the cartons in the supermarket that credit the lower cholesterol in some eggs to a different diet)."

I will give an answer, but it is heresay. i am no doctor or nutritionist, so what i have to say should be considered lore, or perhaps even urban myth, but here goes: this egg issue has been around for a while, and my understanding is that it is vastly more complex than saying eggs contain choleterol so don't eat them. from what i understand there is absolutely no connection between dietary cholesterol and artery clogging cholesterol.

furthurmore i've heard that there is no solid proof that eating eggs raises cholesterol and probably it's just the reverse. i've heard that fatty meat and even more so: "saturated" and "trans-fat" are the actual culprits. here's a link that says it as well:

eggs from chickens that are allowed to forage have even more benign qualities like more vitamins, etc. so eat up!!!

--Karl Franzen & Lyn Stafford

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