Keeping chickens at your home is a good way to produce protein-rich food on a small amount of land (even within city limits), and helps to transform kitchen scraps and garden waste into beautiful eggs. I love to see my children interacting with our backyard chickens, and raising chickens for their eggs is a delightful and adorable journey. While there are SO many aspects to getting started raising chickens, I am going to focus here on egg production, storage, and ideas for using all those eggs once they start coming in!
So you’ve taken the plunge, added a chicken coop and a run in your backyard, bought your chicks, and protected them from predators. Now how long until the chickens start producing eggs? If you acquired your chicks in the spring, you can expect your first little pullet eggs (they are quite charming, and called pee wees) in the fall. Expect to wait a good 6 or 7 months for those first eggs, and you may get several pee wees, eggs with no yolk, or other misfits while the girls are learning. The good news is that in this first year, they will continue to lay through the winter. It is not uncommon that at this same time you start to hear an adolescent crowing at all hours of the day. It is a good idea to have a plan in case one of your beloved chicks grows up to be a rooster.
By the following spring your hens should be in full production, and you may be getting one egg a day from each. Your eggs can start piling up fast, so store them in a way so you are using the oldest eggs first. You may reuse paper egg cartons and number them with a permanent marker on one end, or you may go for something more aesthetic (and washable) like one of these ceramic egg trays. Different colors can indicate which are the oldest, and at my house, we always place the oldest eggs closest to our reach. I have seen other pretty egg containers that are made from wood, but you may want to consider how you are going to keep the egg containers clean.
First off, fresh eggs do not need to be refrigerated, but the warmer the eggs are kept, the faster they will go bad. Fresh eggs will last much longer in the fridge, and I am comfortable eating them 4-5 weeks after being gathered and stored in the fridge. This is also the best method of storing eggs if you are washing your eggs.
So, you ask, how long do eggs last unrefrigerated? It is totally okay to keep your fresh eggs on the counter, but do not wash them. Eggs have a naturally protective coating on them before they are washed or scrubbed that keeps anything from getting into the porous shell. (Pretty cool, right?) Keep your unwashed eggs on the counter in a cool area and they will last 7-10 days.
This is really my favorite trick because you can test the freshness of your eggs with nothing more than a bowl full of water. Make sure your bowl or pot has at least 4-5” of water and gently set in a few eggs at a time. Fresh eggs are the heaviest and will sink to the bottom. As eggs get older, the air pocket in them increases, and they will start to lift off the bottom of the pot. When an egg is quite old it will float to the top. Go ahead and discard all floating eggs. This egg float test comes in handy if you find one of your hens has been hiding her clutch of eggs, or if you simply lost track of which eggs are the oldest. Here is a cheat sheet:
Springtime is generally when you get the most eggs from your backyard chickens. There are an endless amount of egg recipes out there, and sure enough, every spring I am digging out my cookbooks, looking for my favorite egg recipes for breakfast or dinner. I will prepare weekly dishes of hard-boiled eggs (which I actually steam, recipe below), frittata, quiche, Tortilla Española, lemon meringue pies, egg salad sandwiches, and, as soon as the cherries are ripe, cherry clafouti. If you have never made this provincial French dessert, I highly recommend it. Clafouti is easy (traditionally you don’t even pit the cherries), recipes use a ton of eggs, and it is only lightly sweetened, so even my husband will eat a slice. Another simple egg recipe that I adore is Dutch Baby. You’ll find my Dutch Baby recipe below!
It’s no secret, fresh eggs are hard to peel. The shells cling to the white and you will lose a lot of your beautiful egg. It can be rather frustrating. The best thing you can do is to use your oldest eggs. Two or three weeks in the fridge, or a week on the counter can make a world of difference. The next thing you can do is to steam the eggs instead of boiling. My steamed eggs recipe is easy; add water in a pot below your steamer basket and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and add the eggs. A single layer of eggs will take about 15 minutes if they start at room temperature. (Steam cold eggs for 17-20 minutes.) Transfer eggs to ice water, and cool before peeling.
Preheat oven to 425*. Whisk together flour, eggs, milk, nutmeg, and salt. Melt butter in a 12” skillet (I prefer cast iron) and swirl to cover the bottom.
Pour batter into the skillet (it may have some small lumps), and bake 15-18 minutes, until puffy and set.
Remove from oven; sprinkle the powdered sugar evenly over the top, followed by the lemon juice. Return to the oven and bake for 2 minutes more. Serve warm.
Sienna Orlando-Lalaguna is the owner and maker behind Sienna Ceramics. She is a foodie, urban gardener, and plant-lover with a background in professional cooking. Her interest in food preservation stems from a love of local, organic produce, and a desire to extend the harvest from season-to-season. Sienna is interested in reviving the knowledge of fermentation, and bringing this ancient process back into modern communities like yours!