Buying local eggs

If this is your first venture into the world of farm fresh eggs, you are in for a treat.  Fresh eggs behave better in many recipes due to the larger protein structures in the whites.  As they age the proteins break down and the albumen becomes watery.  More and more studies are showing that the nutritional content of eggs from pastured hens, as many small hobby farmers do, are higher than those that are mass produced.  And the best part – the onesyou get from the small farm down the street taste so much better than those store bought bland things that you will never again want to waste your money on that tasteless stuff in the grocery store.

You'll want to brush up on the basic facts before you read this to help put some of these points into context.  Before heading out to the farmers’ market, or the neighbor down the road, there are a few differences between eggs from the two sources that you might want to be aware of.

eggCredit: JestMeColor.[1]  Different breeds of hens produce different colors of eggs, yes, but even the ones from the same hen will change in color throughout the season.  The shells generally lighten as the months go by, but there are color variation from day to day as well.  Sometimes you get darker freckles, or lighter rough spots.  All of these variations are perfectly normal.

Poop.  There may be chicken poop on your eggs, but there is a very good reason for not washing it off.  When the it is first laid, it’s coated in a substance called “bloom”.  The bloom dries quickly on the shell and acts a protective barrier for the contents.  The poop comes from the next hen entering the nest box and stepping on the shell.  Washing off the chicken poop means washing off the bloom.  This leaves the egg more vulnerable to bacteria and spoilage.  If the shells are washed and not coated with another protective substance such as oil or wax, they need to be refrigerated and eaten quickly, usually within a week.BrahmaCredit: JestMe

Size[2] Size is pretty consistent for any individual hen for one laying season, but you do occasionally get anomalies.  A very large egg might be a double yolker, or could somehow just have ended up with a lot more albumen.  Once in a while a hen will lay a very tiny egg with no yolk at all.  Your local farmer will keep these odd sizes out of your cartons, but if you’re looking for unusual sizes, maybe for a painting project or other art, ask if he or she could save some for you.

Hens and BoCredit: JestMe

Contents[2] Your fresh egg will have a firmer white, darker yolk, and a lot more flavor.  The firm white comes from freshness – and these are really fresh – while the darker yolk and better flavor come from the hens’ diet.  Most hobby farmers try to either pasture their hens or provide fresh greens if pasturing isn’t possible.  Chicken hobbyists also give their girls plenty of variety in the form of table scraps and sunflower seeds.  And you know, maybe part of the flavor comes from the happiness of the hens, too.

Blood spots.  You’ll probably see these.  They are completely harmless as you read when you brushed up.

Fertilized[3] The eggs you buy from a hobby farmer might be fertilized if the farmer has one or more roosters.  Unless you ask, you’ll probably never know, and there is no reason to worry about it.  If you look closely at the yolk you might see a little white dot.  That’s the germinal disc where an embryo would start to grow.  If your yolk is fertilized, this spot is a little bigger and looks more like a bullseye than a dot.  It takes some practice to even see the difference.  For the embryo to start developing it takes temperatures of around 100 degrees (and 21 days of this for the chick to hatch).

Mulberry and the kidsCredit: JestMe

If they’re fertilized, can I hatch them?  Well, maybe.  Fertile eggs for hatching are quite a bit more expensive than those that are for eating.  Most farmers refrigerate eggs for eating to decrease viability and discourage people from hatching chicks.  Eggs that have been coated with wax or oil will never hatch; the coating disrupts the flow of oxygen through the shell.  If you want to try hatching eggs, and you're prepared to take care of chicks,  talk to your farmer about buying eggs specifically for hatching.

Are they organic?  Ask.  Very few small farmers will go to the trouble and expense of being certified organic, but they choose organic feeds and natural health remedies because they believe in them.  Create a relationship with your local farmers so you know how they run their business and treat their livestock, and don’t expect a certificate, only honesty.

Fresh eggsCredit: JestMeAvailability.  Chickens need 12-14 hours of light to consistently lay eggs. At higher latitudes, some farmers use artificial lights in the coop to keep production up over the winter, but egg production in even the best lit coops is lower when the days are shorter.  Many farmers prefer to give their hens a break from laying (there are many advantages to this) and simply stop selling eggs.  If your egg supplier shuts down, think of the return to store bought eggs as your reminder of why you started choosing farm fresh eggs in the first place.

eggsCredit: JestMe

Go shopping.  Every farmer, and farming situation is unique so look around to find someone you like that can provide the types of eggs you’re looking for.  You might want a dozen green and blue ones for Easter, or just enjoy having a variety of colors in your carton every day.  Chickens are omnivores so don’t expect “vegetarian fed” hens to be providing local eggs. This is a marketing technique and can only be done if the hens are caged and kept separated from the outside.  Not a nice way to keep your girls.  You might find a source that chooses not to feed soy to their birds (a good thing), or can provide a chicken diet without some particular grain if you have an allergy and want to be sure your eggs won’t cause you problems.  Again, ask.  That’s the benefit of buying from someone you might see later in the store, or on the bus.  You know them and can ask them anything.