Raising your own flock of layers is a great way to get fresh eggs, but particularly during wet, mucky weather, the chickens will tend to get their eggs dirty. Here are a few things you can do to minimize that:
1. Encourage hens to lay in the nest boxes
Put nest boxes in the coop before your hens start laying. This will give them time to explore the nest boxes and get comfortable with them being there.
Hens prefer to lay nest boxes that are dark and somewhat secluded, so place them away from the main paths of traffic through the coop and orient them so that sunlight does not shine directly toward the box’s opening.
If you have difficulty getting your hens to lay in the nest boxes, you can put in a few ceramic eggs to train them where to lay. The idea is that they’ll see the eggs and recognize the nest box as a safe place to lay eggs.
2. Discourage roosting in the nest boxes
Since chickens produce manure all night long while roosting, you’ll want to prevent them from roosting in the nest boxes. They’ll tend to roost in the highest places that they can get to, so place roosts higher than the nest boxes to encourage roosting on the roosts rather than in the nest boxes.
3. Gather eggs daily
Eggs are more likely to get dirty the longer they’re left in the nest box. Gather them once or even twice a day if possible.
4. Have plenty of bedding in nestboxes
If eggs get accidentally cracked in the nest box, it can be a real mess to clean up, and it soils the nest box, the bedding in the nest box and other eggs in the nest box. To reduce the chances of eggs being accidentally cracked keep plenty of soft bedding material in the nest boxes. Pine shavings work well for this.
5. Have plenty of nest boxes
Aim to have at least one nest box for every five to six hens. If you have too few, sometimes more than one hen will try to occupy the nest box at a time, and that can lead to broken eggs. Plus, with too few nest boxes you’ll have more eggs in a nest box, increasing the likelihood that eggs will get stepped on or jostled around and broken.
Even with plenty of nest boxes, hens may develop a preference for a particular nest box, or often they will prefer laying in a box where there are already some eggs, even though there are other, empty nest boxes.
6. Have plenty of bedding on the coop floor
This helps in two ways. First, if the hens occasionally lay eggs on the floor, they will be cleaner when there’s plenty of fresh, clean bedding there. Second, it helps their feet to stay cleaner, reducing the amount of dirt and manure that they’ll track into the nest boxes and onto the eggs.
7. Washing eggs
Even with doing all the above, you will encounter some dirty eggs. Eggs that are lightly soiled can be cleaned carefully with sandpaper. Eggs that require a more thorough cleaning can be washed, as long as they’re not broken and not too deeply soiled. We offer several products for washing eggs, and we plan to go into more detail on how to wash eggs in a future article.
By following these steps, you can maximize the cleanliness of your eggs and minimize the amount of extra work you have to put in to cleaning them. Do you have additional ways to ensure that you get clean eggs from your flock? Please post your ideas in the comments below.