How To Get The Freshest Chicken Eggs

August 13, 2010   14 Comments

Snack Girl went "country" when she moved to the middle of nowhere. Plaid shirts, a pick-up truck, and cowboy hats have been added to my wardrobe.

Freshest Eggs

Not really :)

But, what she has been wondering about is keeping chickens in her backyard. The freshest eggs you can get are from chickens in your yard. One of the great benefits of living in nowhere is having a backyard.

These eggs are nutritious, amazingly yummy, and fun! You get a pet AND fresh eggs. How cool is that?

Recently, I made friends with a local backyard chicken activist, John Gerber, who teaches about sustainable food and farming at the University of Massachusetts. He showed me his yard and I was impressed.

He was kind enough to do this interview so Snack Girl readers could learn about backyard chickens (and super fresh eggs).

Snack Girl: Why did you start keeping chickens?
I started keeping hens by accident. I'd been raising broilers (meat birds) for several years. They are all males, since they grow faster and bigger than female chickens. About 5 years ago, one of our 25 "meat birds" didn't gain weight as fast as the other 24.

It was also much more curious and playfull and started wandering around the yard. The other 24 birds mostly sat around waiting to get fed, but this one was different. Turns out we had a female! We named her CJ (after my Mother-in-law, who we called "crazy Jeanne" because she was a creative type.

CJ was a blast to watch. She nested in trees.... went visiting the neighbors yards (but always returned)... walked along the pool fence when we were having a party - she became part of the family.

When it came time to kill the meat birds, I just couldn't kill CJ. I also didn't want to keep just one hen in our yard, so we gave her to a neighbor who had a dozen or so hens and she fit right in. But my interest was peaked.

The hens were fun to have around, so my wife, who works in the schools, brought home 6 chicks that were hatched in her classroom the next spring. We kept the "girls" and were hooked. Now we've got 3-5 hens yearround - and of course eggs as well!

Snack Girl: Is keeping chickens for everyone with a yard? What is the smallest size yard that will work for chicken raising?

I surely don't recommend hens for everyone. It takes very little effort each day to take care of the girls, but it does take daily attention (even if it is just to collect the eggs). I spend a half hour or so once every 10-14 days cleaning the hen house and giving them fresh water and food - that's it.

The key is to provide a house and an outdoor run that protects the birds from predators. The size of the yard isn't important, as they can be kept in a very small outdoor space (as small as 2 ft. by 8 ft would be fine for 3-5 bir although they do like to roam if given the chance). Most chicken folks recommend 2 square feet in the hen house for each bird.

Snack Girl: What are the downsides (if any) to having pet chickens?
The downside to hens is to make sure they have water and food when you are on vacation. We have neighbors that do this for the eggs. Not really a problem! We also have lost birds to predators from time to time.

Its not a happy occasion when you find dead chickens in the yard (mine were due to a coyote and a fisher cat). Of course a good fence would have kept them out - something I learned the hard way.

Snack Girl: What is your favorite egg snack?
My favorite egg snack is surely, one fried egg - sunny side up - with sliced tomato on top from my garden. A great mid-afternoon snack, although not "fast-food".

Snack Girl: Where can we find out more about keeping chickens?
I've created a resource page for folks interested in learning more: Just Food Now. We offer a workshop at a local farm in the spring for folks who want to raise a few hens.

Would you consider keeping chickens?

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Every six weeks, or so, my curb-side dog groomer cames to give Maggie (terrier+?) her beauty treatment. The bonus is the dozen eggs Scotty brings us from his hens. He lives out in the unincorporated area of the county and has free range chickens. I have not seen the chickens but the eggs range in size and color and are the most delicious. I look forward to him and his eggs and Maggie just loves the attention she gets! It is such a win win!

I was interested in keeping chickens too - for the experience my kids would get out of it, but when I added up the cost of the feed and the heater for the winter, it just didn't make a lot of sense. Besides, I am a little perplexed about how to manage the heat situation in the winter in general, and I have a very small yard. Chickens are great for your garden because they eat pests there and leave behind fertilizer. I am still considering it, but the "free" eggs don't cover the cost of the chickens.

I used to have back yard chickens; before i moved. I loved them all and was lucky to have a husband that created a 'chicken condo village' for me. We had so many eggs, I gave many away. I even hatched the eggs in an incubator sometimes. Very fun..(I ordered them from other states) and I also sent eggs off to other states. My family adored my chickens and eggs. I used to go outside with a cup of coffee every day and turn them loose to roam. They were great pets. I had 3 eggs hatch while driving home with the parents, on the nest. (Coming from Atlanta to N. Ga.) Yep, I was really into them at the time.

Interesting... We had hens when I was a kid for a while (until a coyote got them). But it was pretty fun, I'd never considered this for us because we live in a neighborhood of track homes and don't have a huge yard... But maybe it is possible... Thanks for planting the seed Snack Girl!

We have 5 hens and we love having them. We live in a semi-rural area of New Mexico and have lots of predators so our girls are fully contained in a chicken house which is 4'x8'x6' high. They are very happy and productive. A great resource for backyard chickens is and If you are interested, watch the local resources or google for a local chicken/gardening group to see if they may have a tour/classes coming up. Here we have an annual tour of urban chicken coops where anyone can visit multiple chicken keepers and talk to them about chicken keeping. I visited my first year on the tour and now I have been a stop on the tour the past two years. Chickens are fun!

this is very interesting, i have never thought to build a hen coop in the backyard, but it looks very tempting. My favorite snack is boiled egg which i eat everyday, of course the eggs are never that fresh and perhaps it can never be fresh enough unless we have it in our backyard.

lets see if i can finally manage to keep and raise hens for eggs,

Well, google Chicken Coop on google and you will get many great ideas. Or google Backyard Chickens. As for boiled eggs. Fresh ones are almost impossible to peel anyway. I only boil the ones about 2wks old. A fresh layed boiled egg just doesn't work!

We started with 6 chicks last March and 1 turned out to be a rooster so we sold him and then we lost Snake Eye Sally due to heat a couple of weeks ago, but we have 4 left and are having lots of fun with them. I love having chickens and the eggs are a huge bonus!

Our fresh eggs boil and peel just fine, I also thought that the fresher the harder to peel, but with ours that's not true.

I love a boiled egg sprinkles with salt and pepper, simple and good!

But thanks to snackgirl I also soft boil them!

I have thought about raising chickens on and off now for over a year. I get chickens from a farm down the street, so I suppose that's what's keeping me!

I have a question. I'd been getting my eggs from a farmer down the road, but then I became pregnant and stopped because they're not pastuerized. I don't even really know what pastuerized is, so is there any way you could ask your expert his opinion about the safety of eating unpastuerized eggs for pregnant and non-pregnant people? THANK YOU!!

I hav never heard of pastuerized eggs. Far as I know, there is no such thing unlss you are buying them already out of the shell in a pour container or something. There is no risk to pregnancy in eating eggs as long as they are not raw. Raw eggs have the possibility of carrying salmonella like any raw chicken product.

In any case, as your doctor about food issues during prgnancy.

I am no expert, but pasturizing eggs is only a real issue if you are eating them raw, or so I am told. Eggs have a built-in protective layer in the shell. If they are cracked, discolored or smelly, disgard them. The freshest eggs you get at the supermarkets are at least already 2 to 3 wks old, and many cracked, therefore the pasturization isn't guaranteing anything. If you want to pasturize your own fresh backyard chicken eggs, then raise the temp. on them to 130 to 140 degrees for 2 to 3 min. But, only 1 on 20,000 eggs will carry would know it when you crack it open....and that could not be a fresh egg.

Well, blame that dumb question on "baby brain"! I don't know what I was thinking. I blame my husband! He's always been a little skeptical of the eggs from the farm and was probably trying to steer me back to the non-brown eggs. Thank you so much for such a swift reply and feel free to delete my comment.

Chickens are a piece of cake. The only hard part is building a predator-proof coop. (My husband's proudest moment was when his coop design was featured on!) Once that's done, pretty much all they need are food and water. You get eggs and amusement.

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