There are some important points to remember if your chickens’ eggs are to arrive in your kitchen clean, delicious and healthy. Julie Moore explains

Having your own hens should mean that your eggs are fresher and more nutritious than those available to buy in the supermarket, unless, of course, your eggs are allowed to become contaminated before they even reach the kitchen.

Just before physically laying an egg, a thin, nearly invisible layer called the bloom, is applied to the eggshell. This coating seals the thousands of tiny shell pores, preventing air and bacteria from getting inside the shell and reducing moisture loss from within the egg. Washing eggs removes the protective bloom, decreasing the ‘shelf-life’ of the egg. Collecting clean eggs allows you to keep the bloom intact without any need to wash your eggs.

Keeping eggs clean in the nest box is therefore crucial for egg safety. Obviously, accidents do happen from time to time resulting in an egg becoming soiled.

Follow our tips to ensure that you collect naturally clean eggs.

1. Positioning of the nest boxes is crucial to help keep eggs clean. Hens like privacy, choosing to lay eggs in enclosed, dark, quiet places. Site the nest boxes as far away from the entrance to the house as possible. Not only does this provide the privacy and darkness hens seek when laying eggs, it ensures they clean their feet in the house litter before entering the nests — this is particularly important if it’s wet and muddy outside!

2. Ensure that you provide enough nest boxes for your hens — ideally you should allow one nest for every three hens. If there aren’t adequate nests, you may find your hens jostling for position in a nest box which may result in broken eggs. Too few nests can also encourage subordinate hens to seek out alternative nesting sites which may be dirty or their motivation to find a nest passes and the egg is laid whilst the hen goes about her other activities!

3. Nest boxes should be large enough for a hen to be able to stand and comfortably turn around easily without the danger of treading on eggs. A lip of around 8cm across the entrance to each nest box will prevent litter and eggs from being kicked out when the hen leaves the nest.

4. Nest boxes should have sufficient soft bedding materials. A freshly laid egg that has a soft landing spot is less likely to crack or break than an egg falling on to the bottom of a hard surface nest box. This also helps to prevent hens from becoming egg eaters.

5. Use sand as litter in the coop. As sand doesn’t retain moisture, droppings dry out quickly and keep chickens’ feet cleaner than any other litter type. Hens that enter nest boxes with clean feet do not soil the nest or eggs with mud or droppings that they may have walked through en-route to the nest box.

6. Replace the bedding litter regularly to keep it clean and parasite-free. Never use hay — even though it looks clean and fresh on the surface, beneath it can start to sweat and become damp, creating the perfect environment for fungal spores to develop. These spores can cause serious respiratory problems for your girls. Chopped straw is often used in nest boxes and is more resistant to mites than conventional straw, but you’ll still need to be vigilant. Wood shavings (from non-treated softwoods) seem to be attractive to hens when performing their nest building repertoire. The downside is that the hens leave a trail of shavings behind them as they exit the nest boxes.

7. Collect eggs frequently, throughout the day, if possible. The less time eggs spend in nest boxes diminishes their chances of becoming broken, eaten or accidentally soiled.

8. Keep nest boxes clean and tidy. As you collect the eggs throughout the day, tidy up the boxes, removing any feathers or poo you may find. Accidents do happen and occasionally a hen will soil the nest regardless of all your efforts to prevent it happening. Checking nest box cleanliness regularly provides the opportunity to clean the nest before too many eggs become potentially soiled.

9. Sleeping in nest boxes is prohibited! Chickens that sleep in nest boxes, poo in nest boxes. When eggs are laid on faecal matter, they become contaminated. Discourage chickens from sleeping in nest boxes from the day they move into the coop — you may at first have to physically pick them up and put them on the roosts. Instilling good habits from Day One is imperative as bad habits are notoriously difficult to break!

10. Remove broody hens from nest boxes to a temporary ‘maternity ward.’ A broody hen will take up valuable nest box space that your laying hens need. Broodies can also intimidate other hens when standing their ground, protecting their eggs — this is when eggs are likely to get broken. It’s also common for a laying hen to join a broody in a nest box, lay an egg and then depart. Unless the hatching eggs have been marked, you won’t know which are hatching and which are freshly laid. If chicks are allowed to hatch in a nest box, they’ll poo in the nest overnight and when they leave in the morning, other hens will use the dirty nest to lay their eggs.

As the days begin to lengthen, your hens’ bodies are starting to rage with hormones in readiness for the forthcoming laying season. Now’s the time to inspect your nest boxes and review your egg collecting regime so that you can be sure you’ll be collecting naturally clean eggs each and every day.

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