When we announced that our feathered homies had begun laying eggs this summer, loved ones asked the same questions we asked before bringing chicks home this winter. Before raising chickens, I had no idea how much I didn’t know about one of my favorite foods and wanted to answer those great questions in a post in case you, too, need to know if eggs come out of a chicken’s butt.
Beginning at the beginning:
If you just brought home fuzzy chicks, when will you get eggs?
No time soon. Fuzzy baby chicks are usually a day or 2 old. Chickens don’t lay until at least 4 months. Generally…
- Hybrids, like many “production” or sexlink chickens, begin laying earlier, usually 16-18 weeks.
- Hatchery heritage breeds, like our Brahmas and Langshans, often start at 20-30 weeks.
- Heritage breeds from a breeder – bred for appearance, personality, and quality of eggs over quantity – may not lay for an entire year.
Other factors include weather (some breeds don’t lay in winter or extreme heat), nutrition (malnourished or obese chickens can have trouble laying), and other stressors. And sometimes a hen just will or won’t be a big layer. Chickens are individuals.
Oh, and with chicks, you have to wait a few weeks before you know how many hens you have. Chicks are hard to sex, so even if you buy “sexed pullets,” there’s a chance you’ll end up with a rooster or 3. Odds are much worse if you buy “straight run,” the poultry-world’s version of “as is” or “we didn’t even try to figure out which of these tiny creatures are roosters or hens.”
This is one reason people may choose to forgo the adorableness of baby chicks and purchase “started pullets,” female chickens old enough to clearly confirm their sex and who may be laying already.
Can you eat the first eggs chickens lay?
Yes. Pullets (young hens) may lay small eggs for the first few months, called “fairy” or “pullet” eggs. Or “fart” eggs because they lay them without realizing it. Oops! But they’re all good to eat. Some even prize pullet eggs for their flavor. Here you can see pullet-egg size in comparison to the 2 store-bought eggs at the bottom of the photo.
Several of our ladies were so surprised by their first eggs they laid them off the roost while sleeping. Those eggs broke, so to minimize losses and keep the chickens from starting dreaded egg-eating habits – chickens will happily eat broken eggs but need to be discouraged from getting used to them – I piled pine chips high under their roost as a “soft landing” and snuck ceramic eggs into the nesting boxes to help them figure out where eggs go.
The day after the fake eggs were in the nesting boxes, Miss Eula laid an egg in a nesting box. Hooray, Eula! Peep, on the other hand, made a nest of the soft-landing area for a whole week before moving to a box. She is her own chicken.
Early eggs can be yolkless or go the other way, with 2 – or rarely 3 – yolks as a chicken’s system figures out how to build an egg. Miss Eula made double yolks weekly in her first 2 months of laying. They’re much larger than a normal pullet egg (see below photo of a phone charger next to a normal pullet egg and a double-yolk), so you kind of feel bad for the chicken. But I was around while she was laying some of these, and she appeared unphased.
More than once, 2 of our chickens laid double yolks on the same day, which was interesting. Look at those pretty yolks!
Lastly, early eggs’ shells may have more speckles or different color saturation than they will later in a hen’s life.
Speaking of color…
What’s up with different colored eggs?
Have you ever seen a blue egg? Or a green one with brown spots? Different breeds lay different colored eggs, from bright white to pink, blue, green, terra cotta, and even dark chocolate brown.
“Egg rainbows” are all the rage with backyard chickens right now, so if you buy backyard chicken eggs, you may see fun colors in the carton. One of the most popular color layers is a mixed breed called “Easter Eggers” that can lay green, blue, pink, or brown, though each hen only lays one hue in her life.
As mutts, Easter Eggers can look like just about anything, but many have cute cheek poofs thanks to the blue-laying purebreds (Ameraucanas or Araucanas) who frequently contribute genes to Easter Eggers. They’re known for friendly dispositions, so we decided to add a few hens to our flock…true to form for chick sexing, here’s our Easter Egger cockerel Stilton.
Do blue, green, or brown eggs taste different? Are they healthier?
Studies say the color of an egg’s shell doesn’t affect its flavor or nutritional content. However, if your carton includes non-uniformly brown, pink, blue, and green eggs, you probably got them from a backyard keeper. In comparison to commercial egg operations, conscientious backyard “chicken tenders” will do all of the following:
- Feed better feed.
- Use fewer medications.
- Allow chickens to roam and forage and flap their wings and be chickens.
All of which equates not only to fewer chemicals in your eggs but to far more humane treatment of the animals producing your food, which is good for so many reasons.
Humans have gone unbearably off track in the way we treat our world and the animals we share it with. The food industry is not only often cruel; it’s inflicting a horrific amount of damage on the environment in a struggle to support the population while turning a profit. If you’re not raising your own food (it’s super fun; you should try it!), you can make a significant difference by taking that detour on the way home from the grocery store to buy fresh eggs from the neighbor.
How different are fresh chicken eggs from store eggs?
If doing good isn’t enough motivation to connect with small-scale, local farmers, do it for the deliciousness. If you cook a fresh egg in a way that showcases its flavor, you’ll taste a richness that’s hard to describe. It’s the egg version of the difference between a good wine and a 2-buck Chuck. A crispy-fried fresh egg is sublime.
If you’re making a cake, the difference is mostly visual (though expert bakers may tweak recipes due to variations in egg size or composition). The size and shape of backyard eggs will be less consistent, the shells may be interesting colors, and the yolks will be extra bright in the batter.
A note that the egg industry long ago realized that US consumers prefer dark-yellow yolks, so dyes are added to hens’ feed to produce darker yolks. This isn’t science fiction, and it’s not new: studies published all the way back in the 1930s discuss how to manipulate yolk coloring through chicken feed. Scientific interest in how synthetic dyes can affect human health is unfortunately more recent. Sigh.
Meanwhile, compounds in plants and bugs foraged naturally make our chickens’ yolks even darker than dyed commercial yolks. Our scrambled eggs glow like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
Another difference: if you gather fresh eggs straight from the nest, you may not have to wait for them to reach room temperature, unless you’re waiting for them to cool down. Fresh-laid eggs are warm! A chicken’s body temperature is over 100°F.
The last difference isn’t something you can taste or see: comfort with the treatment of the animals providing your food. It’s far easier to be a consumer than a producer, but being a consumer can unfortunately mean supporting a brutal food industry desperately in need of reform. I’m not on a soapbox looking down. Chris and I rely on the food industry for most of what we eat. However, we’re also actively working to grow our awareness, shift our habits, and find ways to be part of the solution.
Raising poultry is one way we can contribute positively and is a weight off the soul. Our chickens spend their days foraging, gossiping, chasing down bugs, dustbathing, preening, and napping together laid out under the trees. They eat nutritious feed milled as locally or sustainably as I can find. Truly, even if we couldn’t tell a difference in the eggs, having happy chickens in the yard is priceless.
How many eggs do chickens lay?
Chickens can lay every day or every week. Their individual schedule depends on breed, age, weather, whether they’re shedding feathers (called “molting”), etc., but it takes approximately 24 hours to form an egg, so they shouldn’t lay more than that.
Chickens can live into their teens, and many continue to lay through their lives, but they may lay less frequently after 2-4 years. That’s especially true with hybrids, which humans have bred to lay so many eggs they may only live a couple years. Laying daily is good for food production but tough on chickens. Hybrids may be bred to lay extra large eggs, too, which can be deadly for the chicken.
As a family of 2 with plenty of space, we decided to focus on heritage breeds that don’t lay as much. Ours are supposed to lay standard-sized eggs 1-4 times a week. Surprisingly, by the time 1/2 our pullets were laying, we were regularly collecting enough eggs to share.
Do you need a rooster for eggs?
No, not only do roosters not lay eggs, but a hen lays eggs regardless of a rooster’s presence.
Ew, wait, can you eat the eggs if you have a rooster, or will there be chicks in them?
You can eat the eggs the same as you would without a rooster. Eggs have to spend a ton of time at a specific temperature and humidity level to turn into anything other than breakfast, e.g., not in a basket on the counter or carton in the fridge.
Do eggs come out of a chicken’s butt?
We thank our 3-year-old nephew for this one, but he’s not the only person to wonder. In fact, it was one of the first questions addressed at the farmers co-op chicken class I went to this winter.
Eggs do pop out of the chicken-butt region but from an egg-only part of the chicken’s system – not the digestive tract. Hens have a special mechanism that closes off their intestine when they lay, so no there’s no contact with poop. If you have nice, clean nesting boxes, the eggs should be pristine and not need washing.
So the “my pets poop breakfast” T-shirts and hashtags are kind of true, but not really.
Wait, you don’t wash eggs?
If eggs don’t get poopy, many people believe there’s no reason to wash them. Eggs are covered in a miraculous protective layer called a “bloom.” The bloom seals an egg so bacteria can’t get in, and it may tint the shell color, like BeBe the Langshan’s “high bloom pink” egg in the photo below. It’s nature’s Glad Wrap.
The wisdom taught in the chicken classes I’ve taken at County and farmers co-ops is that unwashed eggs can be stored safely at room temperature for at least a week. Washed eggs should go in the fridge. Here’s another source on that, and of course do your own research to decide on an egg-keeping method that works for you.
Are the chickens angry when you take their eggs?
Usually, no. They hop up and walk off after they lay.
I do drop the eggs into my pocket as soon as I gather them, or some of the ladies will run up and try to peck them out of my hand. Not sure why they do that. Those may be our “broody” hens in the future, trying to defend the eggs, or maybe they think I’m carrying a piece of fruit or some other treat they’d like to have.
Going broody is when a chicken decides it’s time to hatch eggs, even if she has no rooster. A broody hen will peck you hard when you reach for an egg.
Hens stop laying when broody, and they eat less, which can make them susceptible to illness, so people have devised all kinds of sneaky ways to make broody hens go back to “normal,” like putting a bag of frozen vegetables under the nesting material to lower their core body temperature.
Six months into chickens, we haven’t had a broody yet. Nor have we experienced plenty of other chicken milestones, but we’ll continue to share discoveries as we do. Thanks for reading, and feel free to ask other egg questions in the comments.