Freud And The Egg: Part II

She was not like other chickens.  She didn’t fight my grasp or spurn my affection. She sat in my lap like a well-fed cat, tucked up her claws, puffed out her feathers, lowered her eye lids and – I swear – started to purr. Not exactly like a cat’s purr, muffled but audible, but a silent purr, more chicken-like.

With the race on to sell the most popular American breakfast food, marketers are working hard to persuade us that their eggs come from blissfully free and happy chickens. “Free-range” is vying for the same attention “organic” has received, while “pastured” is the “it” claim of the moment.

What does it all mean.

(By the way, this post is Part II, so if you’ve not read it, see Part I: If you eat eggs, blame Freud, or – just keep on reading…)

Decoding the Egg

Grade (as in Grade A)  – If there are more than 3000 hens, the eggs must be inspected by the USDA, but grading is optional and costs money.  The grade is based on egg size, quality of the shell and visual quality of the inside (when held up to light). It says nothing about how the hens were raised.

Color of the Shell – Eggs were always white, now they’re always brown.  Chickens with white earlobes (they have ears!) lay white eggs (or light blue eggs in the case of Araucanas) and chickens with red earlobes, lay brown eggs (with a few exceptions).  The only way a brown egg is any healthier than a white egg, is if the hen that laid the brown egg was healthier than the hen that laid the white egg.

Color of the Yolk -The depth of color in the yolk is influenced by diet.  More bugs, (healthy) food scraps and grass, usually means darker yolks.  They can also be darkened by adding marigold or other “darkening” plants to the hen’s diet.

All Vegetarian Feed – Chickens are not vegetarian. If they had a say, they’d request meat (worms and bugs) along with grass and grains. This label simply refers to the fact that the feed does not contain animal by-products.

Omega-enriched:  The hens are fed flax, fish or other supplements to raise Omega 3 levels. You’ll rarely see this with truly pasture raised hens who get their Omegas the old fashioned way – from bugs and grass.

Farm-fresh: Doesn’t mean a thing.

Cage-free: Simply means they are free of their cage, but they may not be free of a life of cramped, indoor living conditions.

Free-range: This “range” that they cavort about freely, is unlikely to be a verdant pasture but could be an outdoor concrete slab.  Moreover, the door leading to freedom may be discrete and the chickens, not even aware of its existence. (Access to fresh air is required, actual fresh air time, is not.) Another fact that suggests these hens are not roaming with much freedom, is that most “free range” hens have clipped beaks, which is done in order to avoid (literal) blood baths that occur amongst close-quartered hens.

Organic: The term covers issues around feed, medication and animal welfare.  Only organic feed, no antibiotics unless sick, must not be in cages and must have access to outdoors. (See free-range.)

Pastured: Suggests they spend much of their time roaming about a large outdoor area foraging for bugs and grass. Many farmers market eggs fall into this category and some stores sell brands with this claim.  Be aware that “pasture raised” does not mean fed organic grains. The term is not regulated, so check the brand’s website for their definition.

Humane Certification: You might see “Certified Humane Raised &Handled“.  This is a pretty good indication of either pasture raised hens or at least hens raised in a humane manner.

Another fascinating difference between factory raised eggs versus small farm eggs is this: when a hen lays an egg, a secretion coats the egg (the “bloom”) to protect it from bacteria until it’s ready to hatch (in several weeks). Factories use a chemical wash to remove the bloom, making the porous shell far more vulnerable to salmonella (though they do add a thin film of oil which may protect it somewhat).  Eggs from small farms maintain the natural coating, which means they are not only naturally protected from bacteria, but can be unrefrigerated for a month without spoiling – not so with factory eggs.

Does lifestyle affect the egg?

Some studies have shown that pastured chickens do lay more nutritious eggs (higher Omega3, Vitamin E etc.).  Nothing has been conclusively proven but I can’t help feel that a hen who’s been allowed to play in the dirt, will produce healthier eggs than one who’s never experienced the joy of yanking a worm from the earth.

I buy my eggs from the farmers market where I occasionally see feathers in the carton  – a sure sign that a chicken’s been there.

What can you share with us about eggs?

Related Posts
If You Eat Eggs Blame Freud
You Put An Apple Where? (With link to apple, sage omelet recipe)
Spinach and Dill Omelet (Recipe)

Click here for more details on eggs from the USDA.

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  • alyssa

    Hi there, Michelle! Great blog and great post! I’ve been following you ever since you were featured on Daily Candy and have really enjoyed reading your blog. This post struck me enough to comment because I began buying my eggs from a local farmer this past summer and have both tasted and seen the difference. I will NEVER look back. The color of the yolk is incomparable to the store-bought eggs I’ve purchased in prior years… These eggs have yolks that are a deep gold, almost auburn shade of yellow. Simple scrambled eggs are now screaming with flavor… I highly recommend everyone give their local farmer a shot if they have the means to. It’s something your body will thank you for. Mine did!

    • Michelle

      Thanks Alyssa! One thing to be aware of is that in colder months the hens may have limited access to the pasture and grass+bugs, hence more indoor time and a diet of pure grains. I have certainly noticed that at times my farmers mkt eggs are not always deep yellow, but I would not be put off by this as I would still choose eggs from a smaller farm, even in the winter months.

      • alyssa

        Good call, Michelle… I will definitely keep that in mind and pay attention to the color of the yolk in the winter for pure observation’s sake. I have no intention of ever returning to store bought eggs again.

    • Deborah

      Leave the yolks whole until you bite into them (not scrambled) to get the most nutritional value from the egg!

      • Michelle

        Interesting … did not know this … do you know what the logic is behind it?

  • Jiggsy

    Great blog Michelle. Wow, what an overwhelming load of information, who would have thought there was so much to think about when buying eggs, a lot of food (egg) for thought! Thank you for all your hard research, it’s so nice to be able to access it so quickly, I’m sure it took you alot longer to write and research than it did for me to read and learn.

    • Michelle

      Ha! Actually the learning has been collecting in my head for months! Every time I go the farmers market I have a new question for them and they always have new answers for me. I highly doubt there is any other customer that asks them about the color or their chickens ears ….

  • Cheryl – itty bitty foodies mama

    Michelle – can you comment about double yolked eggs? What do you think about them? I’ve been buying them for years at the farmers market. My children love yolks and it seems a good way to get more from one egg. the eggs are huge btw and the farmer tells me it’s from Rhode Island Red hens.

    • Michelle

      It can occur either when ovulation occurs too rapidly or two yolks get joined OR it may be a hereditary condition of some hens. There is not a problem eating them though.

      You’ll never find them sold by larger retailers, as they would fail the grading system which values consistency over originality…

      • Cheryl – itty bitty foodies mama

        I always use them if i’m making custard bc i use less eggs since there’s already two eggs in one.

        • Alicia

          It happens more often with young hens starting their egg laying life. The ovulation cycle can take a bit to regulate, thus the two yolks in one egg. My Rhode Island Red girls laid double yolkers for about 3 weeks their first year. The mixes and buffs haven’t laid any. Perhaps it’s more common in the Rhode Island gals?

  • Kate

    Michelle, why do the factories wash off the protective coating??

    • Michelle

      It’s required by the USDA that all Graded eggs must have the protective coating washed off with a chemical wash as soon as the egg is laid, in order to eliminate any bacteria from the outside and make it “clean”. The irony though is that they may be making the egg MORE vulnerable to bacteria and contamination.

    • Michelle

      Kate–Take a look at this piece from the USDA which goes into a bit more detail. In fairness, there IS bacteria and even fecal matter that could be on the outside of the shell, but if this posed SUCH a risk to human health, then allowing the sale of “unsanitized” eggs by small farmers or allowing individuals to raise their own chickens/eggs, would be illegal. Which it is absolutely not!

      I have never heard of a single case of people getting sick from their own hen’s eggs or from eggs from small farms. The salmonella outbreaks that occur (such as the massive one this spring) are from huge operations where all the eggs are “sanitized” to keep us healthy. Makes you wonder….

      • Alissa

        I totally agree! I have a friend who raised chickens (until they became a bobcat’s dinner) and she would always give me eggs. I only washed them before cooking if they were dirty on the outside to make sure I did not get pebbles in my breakfast! I never once got sick.
        Also, it’s good to know that this coating protects the egg without refrigeration. I was never too sure if the eggs I received were fresh from that day or from a few days prior. I always ate them anyway, but I can’t help but feel slightly relieved!

        • Michelle

          Two additional interesting things to note: one of the readers in his comments reminded us that the salmonella in the recent out break was most likely due to tainted feed and hence did not enter the laid egg.

          You do not have to refrigerate farm eggs IF they were never refrigerated before you bought them. But if they WERE kept in a cooler before you bought them, then you should keep them in a fridge. The change of temp from cool to warm, can make the egg more suceptible to bacteria.

          • fifty

            Chickens can harbor salmonella in their bodies and pass the bacteria in their oviduct into the egg as it’s formed. So contaminated feed can contaminate eggs that are laid by a chicken eating that feed. Most growers and backyard chicken owners get their chicks from large hatcheries, they don’t hatch their own, so don’t know their chick’s history.

      • fifty

        I certainly am taken aback by chemically sanitized eggs from factory farms, as you are. But I’m betting that farmers market eggs are also washed, tho it’s probably with just water or soap and water. So the bloom is still washed off.

        Esp if it’s muddy and/or hens are allowed to roam, their feet get poopy and muddy and eggs can have brown and black smears, which no one would buy. I do as Alissa does, wash them with water just before eating, and no one in our family has gotten sick.

        • Michelle

          I actually asked one of the farmers at my mkt what the process is for washing their eggs. He said they use only water (and soap if necessary) and he confirmed that this does NOT remove the bloom. Because of this his eggs actually don’t need refrigeration (though I do).

          • fifty

            Hi, Michelle! Hmmm. My source is Gail Damerow’s “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens”, a well-written 300 page book that’s a resource for many small growers of chickens. Gail has also contributed articles to “Backyard Poultry” magazine.

            Anyway, she says “The bloom, or cuticle, is a light coating that seals the pores to preserve an egg’s freshness by reducing evaporation and preventing bacteria from entering thru the shell. Sometimes you’ll find a freshly laid egg before the bloom has dried. When you wash an egg, the bloom dissolves, making the egg feel temporarily slippery. To replace natural bloom, commercial producers spray shells with a thin film of mineral oil, which is why store bought eggs sometimes look shiny.”

            She later states “Discard eggs that are seriously soiled. Altho moderately soiled eggs may be washed, in doing so, you’ll rinse away the bloom that seals the pores and keeps out bacteria. In that event, sanitize the cleaned shell by dipping the egg in a solution of water and chlorine bleach. Dry the egg well before placing it in a carton.”.

            So now you know all I know about bloom and cleaning! It’s implied, and I’m assuming, that the bloom is water soluble and even just soap and water washes it off.

          • Michelle

            Thank you for bringing an authority in on the bloom conversation! I suppose this is why it is simply a good idea to keep ALL eggs refrigerated, regardless of whether they are from a small farm or not.

  • Tijen

    Great information! Thanks Michelle. Well again, being in Turkey, the classification is different but at least we nowadays have free range eggs, omega enriched eggs, organic eggs that are sold at big supermarkets. But still, the dirty eggs (I mean not washed) that I buy from the farmers’ market are soooo much better than the supermarket eggs.

  • Jess Mahler

    Really cool stuff. THANKS!

    I don’t understand why the factories would wash off the protective coating and I wonder if they even have a clue. Does anyone know?

    • Michelle

      See response I just sent to Kate who had the same Q. I am quite certain they do know. It’s not a simple solution b/c on the surface (pun intended) it would appear that eliminating all bacteria via a chemical wash is the best way to keep consumers safe. In fairness, there is a chance that dirt and even hens fecal material could be on the outside of the egg, but if an egg operation is run in a responsible manner, it seems to me that the risk of these contaminants entering the egg is low. Disclaimer: I am not a scientist but from all my reading, talking to farmers, and personally consuming nothing but “unsanitized” eggs for years, I feel perfectly comfortable consuming “dirty” eggs.

  • Tonya

    I love the post, Michelle! Three years ago, I was frustrated by the lack of choices for fresh eggs where I live so I decided to get a few chickens to produce my own. It has been wonderful in SO many ways and is so much easier than taking care of our big yellow labrador!

    In response to a question I saw posted, producers wash eggs because often times there is more than just the egg that is produced. Nobody wants an egg with poo on it so it is washed and replaced with another type of coating.

    • Michelle

      Thanks for this clarification. I believe though that any dirt or fecal material on the outside of the egg though, can easily be washed off with water without the need for chemicals which destroy the entire coating. If this were not the case, then the sale of “unsanitized” eggs (ie from small farms or even from hens raised in ones own backyard) would be illegal. Which it’s not.

      I had never hard that producers coat the egg with a substance that protects it in the same way that the natural coating does, but if you have any more info on this practice, I’d love to learn more about it.

      • Tonya

        Gail Damerow, a chicken expert of sorts and also the author of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and a regular contributor to Backyard Poultry, has the following to say:

        “The bloom, or cuticle, is a light coating that seals the pores to preserve an egg’s freshness by reducing evaporation and preventing bacteria from entering through the shell…When you wash an egg, the bloom dissolves, making the egg feel temporarily slippery. To replace natural bloom, commercial producers spray shells with a thin film of mineral oil, which is why store-bought eggs sometimes look shiny.” – pg. 136

        I believe that commercial producers routinely wash all eggs because they don’t have the time to sort through through the eggs and pick out those with poo and individually wash them. And it would be cutting into their profits to throw them away.

        Also, believe it or not, locally-produced eggs are illegal to sell in some places. Or they may be governed by very stringent guidelines. Laws vary from state to state and sometimes even from county to county!

        • Michelle

          Thank you for this! I did not know that some states do not allow farmers to sell eggs directly to consumers… would love to know which ones. Would be very sad if this spread to all states.

  • The Table of Promise

    I am curious whose eggs you buy from the farmer’s market. I buy mine from Knoll Crest Farm, they are in USQ on Wednesday but up by me in Inwood on Saturdays. They are not certified organic, but the farmer prefers not to spray their crops (except apples I think), and I trust them to use the same ethical practices with their livestock. However I have recently started to feel like maybe I should be looking for a better egg.
    Who do you recommend?

    • Michelle

      My #1 pic for pastured eggs is Violet Hill (only in USQ on Sat) and they sell out by noon! I also buy from Northshire Farm (they also sell out fast). They are both on the West side of USQ about half way up. (Neither sells eggs exclusively and you often see no eggs on display – but ask for them!)

      Knoll Crest is a pretty big operation. They have “graded” eggs which connotes size and I’ve never met anyone at the stand that seems to know much about the eggs or the hens.I have no reason to doubt them, but if I have the choice, I’ll go with smaller vendors who know more about their operation. (I also don’t think that KC hens are pastured – ask them when you’re next there,as will I, but I’m quite sure they are not.)

    • jenny

      i was going to ask the same… i mentioned in egg post numero uno that i have loved feather ridge farm eggs, stone barns’, and my friend bonnie’s eggs from earth sky time farm in vt. but would love to hear your preferences as well, michelle.
      thanks again for all of this.
      love the dialogue.

  • Hollywood Farm

    I miss my hens after moving back to LA from our Midwestern farm. The school bus driver is fostering them until our return. They were very happy chickens. Now they are lonesome in a sea of strange hens. Do you think they were traumatized by the move?

    • Michelle

      My experience with poultry-specific post traumatic stress disorders is limited, but perhaps the new friends your hens made, made up for the disruptive move? And who knows, the bus driver may be taking them out for a spin in his school bus! Which, if I were a chicken, I think I might greatly enjoy.

  • Dawn

    Wow! This is some great information. I am feeling the pull of the farmers market more than ever!

  • Becky

    Great set of posts! I also have been reading since your Daily Candy feature and appreciate the information you provide.

    I eat eggs every morning and spent MONTHS trying to find the right eggs for me — the labels are deceptive and paying more doesn’t mean that you’re getting a higher quality egg. I also found my perfect eggs at a farmers market and talk to the farmer every week about those happy hens (and the happy cows that produce the milk for the cheese I buy there).

  • Abbey

    No one has addressed the whites yet. I normally avoid any recipes where stiffly beaten egg whites are required. I finally made waffles and was amazed at how quickly farm egg whites separate and whip into lovely, stiff peaks.

    The shells are usually thicker so it is easier to break the egg and then separate it by tipping the white over the edge of the broken shell. I don’t think I’ve tried meringue since switching to farm eggs. Now I’m looking forward to trying an oldChristmas cookie recipe that has a meringue topping. Yum!!

    Another thing with farm eggs, my farmer tells me once the eggs have been refrigerated, it’s best to keep them in the fridge just to be safe. My county has very strict requirements on selling eggs and most farmers won’t bring them to market. So I just asked some of the farmers and found some that sell eggs direct to consumers from their farms but not at the market.

    As far as washing the eggs, my farmer does not do that (she tells me every time to make sure I wash them first). I just spritz a little vinegar water on each egg and wipe it off just before I cook them.

  • Jess Mahler

    Thanks Michelle and Tonya — for all the info and your thoughts. The bottom line on the washing is probably about the bottom line/$$$ in profits. *sigh*……

  • velojoy

    Michelle, I had always wondered about the difference between white and brown eggs. Thanks for your eggs-tensive research. You’ve inspired me to re-consider how I buy eggs.

  • Marianne

    You asked for more information about eggs. I have backyard chickens, and they make fun pets. Each has its own personality and quirks, and they learn quickly. Did you know you do not need a rooster to get eggs?

    Eggs come in two colors – blue and white. Depending on the breed of chicken, some coat their eggs with a brown tint during the formative process. If you break open a brown egg, it is white on the inside. For hens regarded as “easter eggers” (mixed araucana or amaracauna with other breeds), the “green” egg comes from a blue egg covered with the brown tint. Break open a blue or green egg, and it will be blue on the inside. There is no nutritional or taste difference between colors of the egg.

    So much more to tell about chickens and eggs…

  • Tonya

    Another thing I wanted to point out is that salmonella can be inside of the eggs regardless of whether the shell is sanitized or not. The big outbreak that occurred recently was traced to chicken feed that was contaminated with salmonella. So when the hens consumed the contaminated feed, a small amount of salmonella would deposited inside the sac. Very scary stuff.

  • Lisa G

    Can anyone suggest a brand from for instance, Whole Foods that wold be humane and organic? Thanks!

    • Michelle

      Try Vital Farms. From my research they are by far the best store-bought brand. They are avail in NYC at Whole Foods so check if yours carries them.

    • J. David Auner

      Not mentioned in what I read of this blog are some points which determine the egg which enters my house. Natural and vegetarian include industrial oils which Taco Bell (and others) has burned for a couple of weeks and added to make varying percentages in chicken feed. Cheaper feeds probably have 50% of their calories from industrial sources – no wonder chickens fryers start dying at 4 weeks and have tumors when butchered at 5 weeks. Organic was bought by Walmart in 2006 – Grain Fed leaves no wiggle room – Dr. Phil’s at Whole Foods and 2 grain fed brands at Kroger are the 2 sources available in MO. Pale yolks are really a sign of something white – cool vegetable shortening from a fryer vat near you would be that color. Farmers not pushing the laying cycles with laying mash have darker yolks – the hens live longer as well.

      • fifty

        I grow a handful of layer chickens for personal use (and also raise meat chickens for personal use). The chicken books I’ve read and my personal experience is that yolk color really is about chickens eating something that’s got that color. The easiest way to for me to get bright yellow-orange colored yolks (and I’m sure for other small growers) is to add corn to the chickens diet. Also, greens (which true foraging chickens eat a lot of). As many greens are like fall leaves – the overwhelming green covers up the yellows and oranges until the leaves die and only the yellow or orange is left. Don’t know why they don’t produce green eggs, tho. This also means that chickens that eat certain plants with other colors in them can lay eggs with a brown, green, or even black color to yolks (supposedly, as I’ve never seen any).

  • Angie

    This is a great graphic from the NY Times showing the percentages of eggs coming from battery cages, cage-free, and free-range farms:

    The breakdown is as follows:
    97% from battery cages where hens have less space then a piece of notebook paper. This is generally considered one of the cruelest practices in animal agriculture.

    2% from cage-free birds that live exclusively indoors in crowded and filthy sheds. These are also considered “factory farmed” eggs.

    1% from free-range farms, where, as you mentioned, the conditions range from spending the entire day in a grassy field, to having a small door opened at certain times that leads to a concrete slab.

  • Bhakti

    So is there any significant advantage in buying a store-bought brand that is ‘organic/farm raised/free range’ etc over the cheaper and presumably worse non-organic/free-range eggs? I guess no antibiotics is an important difference but the other clarifications you provide does not suggest there would be any real difference between the two? Am I wrong in thinking so? I am trying to a cost-benefit analysis for those who do not have access to farmers markets. Advice?
    Thanks for all the information!

    • Michelle

      It’s a great question — yes, there is the antibiotic issue with non-organic eggs, but there is also the organic feed issue. Organic feed is expensive for producers to use. If you go with non-organic, free-range eggs, then the hens were fed feed that likely has trace amounts of pesticides, and contains GMO soy, wheat etc. Organic feed is not allowed to contain GMO produced crops. If you have a farmers market close by, I would chose eggs from one of those vendors and ask them about their feed, as well as where the hens live, the outdoors situation etc.

      • fifty

        To add to this. At least at our local farm and feed stores, the organic feed is literally twice the cost of regular feed. It’s hard to make money, as a result, when you have to sell eggs from chickens fed organically for 6-7 dollars a dozen.

        And, of course, true free range chickens get their food from the land, not a feed store. But it’s hard to truly forage more than about 50-100 chickens, unless one has a very large, fenced chicken forage area.

        I have read of a natural chicken grower who does about 250 true foraging chickens by regularly collecting scraps from restaurants and feeding his giant compost heap that the chickens have free range over.

  • Marci

    Eggs were always white, now they’re always brown.

    Not so! Here in New England, the birthplace of America, brown eggs have always been the standard, dating from the days of the early settlers with their Plymouth Rock and RI Red chickens.

    • Michelle

      Thanks for pointing this out. I think the popularity of the brown egg has grown enormously in the past 10 years since people associate brown food with nutrition (whole wheat for example), so these breeds are becoming increasingly popular across the ENTIRE country …

  • alexander

    Great blog! As a raiser of very tenderly cared-for chickens, I can tell you lifestyle makes a big difference in the taste.
    One question: Do you know what the average time from laying to the shelf is for supermarket regular eggs? All of ours are less than a week old when we sell them. I have a feeling the big chain eggs are considerably older. Thanks.

    • Michelle

      From my research, I believe that producers have 30 days to get their eggs to the stores from the time they are laid. And the “best before” date must be within 30 days after the eggs are packed. BUT … it raises the question of whether a producer could hold-off packing the eggs for a couple weeks and THEN get them to the store and STILL have the 30 day window of “best before”.

      So I think the answer is that it can vary wildly and it would not surprise me to learn that some eggs sold at a store had been laid a month earlier.

      I agree 100% with you on the taste difference- this past summer I had the pleasure of eating eggs hours after they were laid, and it was an entirely different food – far richer and heartier than any egg I’d EVER eaten!

  • Claire

    Finding this blog was a nice surprise. I raise chickens for eggs and meat on a little homestead in south Texas. If you keep plenty of fresh hay in the laying boxes and do not let the chickens sleep in the same area, you will pretty much always get eggs that clean and need no washing. I have a toothbrush that I dip in some slightly bleachy water to scrub off any gunk but I NEVER dunk my eggs in anything.

    My hens are pastured, along with some ducks, and they are sweet, productive birds. In this case, pastured means 2 acres of fenced in land and brush. They sleep in a 3 sided shelter with roosts – there are not layer boxes there. There is a feeder that we fill once a month with mostly corn and a little layer mix, but mostly they scratch all day long and rid the world of bugs.

    BTW, chickens are so NOT vegetarian. Mine like nothing more than a frog or mouse for a meal. It is rather funny to watch one run with a mouse in its beak, with several other chickens chasing them. The frogs, however, are definitely the funniest. Small snakes are also in danger there.

    The sex-link hens of almost any sort are some egg-laying machines, for me anyways. I have Delawares for dual purpose birds and they lay consistently, producing really nice large eggs. And they are some sweet birds. Quiet and stay behind a fence. Good luck to all in their egg-ventures.

    • Michelle

      Thanks for these colorful anecdotes! Those poor frogs ….

  • Linda

    It is true, and I know this from time spent on farms and eating fresh eggs, that a really fresh egg, when you crack it open, the white stays around the yolk. That’s a good way to tell the freshness of the egg.

    I used to know people who “candled” their eggs to determine freshness. I could never get the hang of that.

    • Alicia

      When you candle an egg (easily done with a flashlight, toilet paper roll tube and a dark room) you can see the size of the air cell inside. The smaller the air cell, the fresher the egg. As the egg ages the pores of the shell allow some evaporation of the moisture (egg white) inside and air into the egg. Thus, the larger the air cell the older the egg.

      Another way to check freshness is to “float” your eggs in water. The fresher, small air-celled eggs will stay on the bottom. The bigger the air cell, they start to “stand up” in the water, and then float.

      On the occasion that I find a nest in the sagebrush and am unsure of freshness, I scramble the “floaters”, cook em and feed them back to my hens.

  • Larry

    Regarding Linda’s comment; The eggs that I buy at our local farm have yolks that sit on top of the white when you fry them. It’s the same quality in the white that makes them so much better for baking and meringues. I think the white stays more firm and elastic when the eggs are fresh. I like them fried over easy, and have found that they need to be cooked slower and a bit longer so that the white cooks thoroughly and the yolk is still mostly runny.

    Thanks Michelle for the blog on this topic. I’ve added your site to my favorites.

    • Michelle

      Thanks Larry! Sign up for the (free) emailed posts (on the homepage) if you’re interested, and get a shot at 6 mos of artisanal food on your doorstep!

  • joe

    The natural coating on the egg is called the bloom. In addition to the bloom, my chickens are pretty liberal with the droppings too. For every clean egg that I get from the coop, I get an egg with droppings on it. With all the eggs, I usually leave them in the basket for a week and then enzyme wash (soak them) all at once. Then they go into the fridge. We’ve never gotten sick.

    • Michelle

      Joe–Just out of curiosity, does your enzyme wash remove the bloom or simply clean the egg while leaving the coating intact? I am still curious as to why the large producers do not choose a wash that removes the bacteria but keeps the protective bloom intact ….

  • David Barnhill

    I’m amazed to see the comment about ‘Certified Humanely Raised’ by the United Egg Producers guidelines. This is an egg industry sham, the equivalent of greenwashing. Check out what the very moderate US Humane Society says about this phony labeling system:

    • Michelle

      David–Thanks for pointing this out — I have looked into this further and I agree with your valid concern. I have removed it from the post and left only “ Certified Humane Raised and Handled” as a certification that I DO believe has integrity and actual meaning, as it is not a voluntary certification but a third party organization that “awards” this statement to those producers deserving of it.

  • Lindsey

    I have six hens and I always tell people that my chicken eggs are better purely because they get hugs (that’s what happens when you have a four year old!). I don’t have to deal with poopy eggs because I am very fastidious about keeping the coop clean. Less poop = cleaner eggs, less “chicken” smell in general, but more importantly: it doesn’t attract unwanted critters (rats, etc).

    It really does amaze me when people say they’ve never had a fresh egg before. When my hens go into their molting phase in the winter, I occasionally have to buy eggs at the store. I don’t know people eat those things! The shell is so thin and the yolks are a sad yellow.. my chickens produce eggs that are nice and strong and have a strong golden-colored yolk.

  • Barbara Forbes-Rhouni

    Hi Michelle, thanks for this truly educational post! I am going to scour my local area for a farmers market that sells eggs (I always go for the produce).

    Also, what happened to the chicken you had on your lap?!?! I think chickens are hilarious to watch.

    Thanks again!


    • Michelle

      The chicken eventually had to go back to her hen house to roost … I was in Napa, visiting a friends farm, we had dinner outside close to the hen house. The hen spent the first half of dinner on my lap.

      • Margaret

        I have pretty fond memories of my neighbors chickens growing up. They were friendly, curious, and with character. My partner grew up on a chicken farm and hates everything about chickens. We are both vegetarians, but I occasionally eat SPCA-certified (a very strict animal welfare authority in Canada) eggs because I remember the chickens as pets. My partner on the other hand had an entirely different experience, and wants nothing to do with their existence. Our neighbor had ten hens and one rooster who all had names. When they died, they were buried. My partner on the other hand, couldn’t count how many they had.

  • Cheryl

    Great post. Glad to see consumers are so very interested in eggs. My husband and I raise and sell at a local farmers market eggs, poultry and waterfowl and I have to say that I could go to market with 50 dozen eggs and still not have enough to sell! Yes, generally speaking, the egg color will not be as deep during the winter months because there isn’t enough grass, bugs, etc. for the chickens to eat and they need more feed. And, the hens don’t lay as well during the winter months due to less daylight hours. Very happy to see you mention that flax seed feeding is unnecessary since hens that are actually allowed to free range obtain their omegas the natural way. Keep up the great work!

    • Michelle

      Thank you Cheryl! It’s interesting that you say that about selling out, as I always buy my eggs from the smaller producers at my market and if I don’t get to them by noon, the inventory has been cleaned out! I do think people are becoming far more aware these days of egg issues (both from a humane standpoint as well as a nutrition standpoint).

      • Cheryl


        I have become a firm believer that, overall, consumers are more aware of how ALL their food has been raised – meats and vegetables alike. However, there is still much work and educating to do and blogs such as yours are helping the small farmers of America be more successful in feeding more and more localvores each day!

  • Fred Belcher Jr

    Excellent article, Michelle…thanks. I became curious about the comment from one of the bloggers comparing the nutritional value of scrambled eggs vs lightly fried with the runny yolk. It seems to imply the more ‘raw’ the yolk, the more healthy.

    After venturing to numerous sites (the most helpful being North Carolina Egg Association and, it appears that there is no researched and documented difference. In fact, according to NC Egg Association (, the cooking process increases the digestibility of the protein.

    Keep up your good efforts!

  • Alicia

    Love the egg posts!
    I started my chicken venture two years ago with 12 hens. I now have 25+!

    After having a constant supply of deep gold yolks, lovely whites and thick shells I’d rather go a month or two without eating eggs than buy any from the store!

    My girls have 3 acres to roam which include a horse pasture, cow pasture and some time in the garden in early spring and fall. The fly population is kept down, earwigs are a rarity, and I don’t mow my grass as often as my pre-chicken days.
    They only get closed into the chicken house at night as a predator precautionary measure.
    They eat bugs,garden scraps, and some table scraps and dig dust bath holes to their hearts content.

    I’ve always said horses were my passion, but chickens and turkeys have come in a very close second! They are such characters! Turkeys ,too, have a wonderful disposition, they become like feathered dogs. And turkey eggs make the most wonderful omelets!

    I hope someday you get to enjoy some feathered friends of your own!

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