Fresh Eggs, European style

In La Jolla, San Diego (yuppie-ville to the MAX), at the hugely popular farmer’s market, I made the mistake of asking the gentleman who was selling farm eggs, if they had been refrigerated.

Several Hens use the same nest

He lit into me,“You crazy americans, why do you want to refrigerate your eggs! We NEVER do.”

After a minute or so of this tirade he wound down, and I said to him, “I just wanted to make sure they had NOT been chilled”.  His feathers no longer ruffled, we exchanged dollars for eggs and I went on my way… amused that he was so fanatical about the issue, but understanding totally where he was coming from.

It’s amazing that all of Europe is not dead or dying considering they consume raw milk and eat eggs that have NOT been refrigerated. And eat fresh veggies and meat that don’t have a USDA approved stamp on them. OMG, don’t they understand how dangerous they are living.. .

uh, wait… I think,.. yes, didn’t I just hear… now… they live longer… and healthier than us americans. With much lower obesity rates, heart disease, or diabetes. What are they doing different? How can that possibly be?

But back to the eggs…

Obviously 100 years ago they did not put eggs in the fridge.  What changed? Why were eggs suddenly going “bad” if they were not retrieved twice a day and immediately washed and put in the fridge?

A little biology… eggs stay fresh enough kept at room temperature (warmer and cooler than that actually) for a minimum of two weeks and probably longer than that.  At least fresh enough for a broody hen to collect her eggs (i.e. lay them) over a two-week period, and THEN start to “set” on them.

Chicks hatching over two days

They are fresh enough to develop into quite healthy little chicks. I’ve actually seen them do that! Just amazing.

After two whole weeks, without being washed or put in the fridge!

When an egg is laid it has a coating called “the bloom” which is anti-bacterial in nature, and helps protect the future embryo.

When we collect the egg and wash it, we actually remove that protective layer.

Eggs are then placed, in the industrial industry, in a fridge because now the egg DOES need to be protected…  and chilling it prevents bacterial growth.

Eggs are an excellent media for bacterial growth… they use them to grow vaccines, etc., in the medical world.  If eggs are washed they are at risk of being infected with bacteria. Hot water, opens the pores the of egg… and each egg has 3-6,000 pores that enable a chick to exchange O2 & CO2 while it is developing. Those pores now become “freeway systems”.

And what does putting the eggs in the fridge do, washed or not washed? The egg is chilled and when taken out of the fridge moisture condenses on the shell (basic physics here). That moisture can conduct bacteria.

Salmonella bacteria endemic in the commercial populations

Commercial eggs, even so-called free-range, cage-free, pastured (those descriptions have been

Cage-Free Hens, commercial style

pretty much co-opted by the egg industry) are raised in huge numbers (up to 20,000 hens in a laying house). They are collected, washed, packed, and chilled to go to market. Commercial eggs are fighting an ongoing battle with Salmonella while getting their eggs to market.  Markets that can be hundreds of miles away… and if the trucks were NOT refrigerated, the temps in the summer could get very, very high. High enough, long enough, to trigger the deterioration of the egg itself, or incubate bacterial growth.

I can’t imagine the industrial costs to do all this… a refrigerated truck? But they MUST do it, because the risks are so high.

Farms that have 50,000 thousand laying hens (yes, 50,000 or MORE) must follow specific rules to decrease the risk of Salmonella bacteria, in their eggs. Some 600 hundred farms were to be inspected in 2010-11 . Salmonella is endemic in the commercial egg production population. Egg products (yolk, white, etc), with the shell removed, must be pasteurized. Some large  egg producers are fighting the salmonella problem by pasteurizing ALL their eggs (shell & all).

You should NEVER eat commercial eggs unless they have been well cooked, to protect your family. My mother would get sick even if the eggs were cooked… G.I. upset every time.  We finally figured out she could eat real farm eggs without any problems.  Every time she came to my house, she could eat the eggs, without later running to the ladies’ room.

Down on the Farm

What do I do if I get an egg with “stuff on the shell”? I wipe it off gently.

If it’s totally yucky I wipe if off with a damp room temperature dishcloth, and use it ASAP. If I’m really short on eggs (think winter)… those eggs I might put in the fridge and use them immediately, when I take them out.  I would NOT take a whole carton of eggs out, put them on the counter for a while, and then put them BACK into the fridge. Not if that protective bloom has been removed.

Actually, in my setup for the most part, the eggs would go into the pig bucket because they are extremely high in nutrition and are prized for the food value they give our pigs.

 At our house, we keep things pretty basic.  Eggs are collected, kept at room temp, dusted off but generally NOT washed. Any suspect eggs (very dirty or cracked) go to our pigs. NO WASTE, I just love it!

Teaching the chicks, finding food!

Our hens also get their real diet…. i.e. NOT vegetarian.  They run around freely, for the most part (to the dismay of a neighbor occasionally) and eat bugs, worms, etc. as well as a layer feed. They choose. We do protect garden areas, or a neighbor, by putting up an electric net that encourages them to go elsewhere.  They could jump the fence if they wanted to, but for the most part choose to meander where it’s easy to go.

Backyard Chickens are the way to go!

I encourage everyone, raise your own hens! They are great waste disposals; eat just about everything, give you fertilizer and eggs. You don’t have to have a rooster (hens still lay, just the eggs won’t hatch!). Put down a bed of straw to absorb any odors. It makes a great garden amendment when it breaks down, along with the fertilizer  mixed in, from the hens.

If a hen goes broody, let her set on her infertile eggs and after a couple of weeks trade them out. At night, slip some chicks from the local feed store, under her and let her raise them up. GREAT entertainment and fun for kids, dads, moms, & neighbors.

It’s incredible how good fresh eggs are… commercial eggs are  a bland watery substitute for real food. Can’t raise your own… seek out a local farmer who is and support them.  You will get much more for your food dollars, I assure you!

Update: Turkey & the Hen, pt 2

I’ll be dang.  That turkey Hen, after a full week, is still sitting on her eggs*. I say her (almost) eggs because we actually put her eggs under the hen, and gave her fresh chicken eggs to sit on.  If she was gonna run off and visit the “guys” I wanted to be able to save her chicks.  Chicken chicks are pretty easy for us to get, but not turkey chicks, so if we lost  her “chicken eggs” it was not quite a disaster for us.

But, she is finally hanging in there.  I peek in every day (sometimes twice) just to make sure… and she just looks at me. Doesn’t get flustered at all.  The hen gets pretty grouchy at me if I try to check her eggs. She rustles up her neck feathers and tries to peck me if I get to close.  She’s definitely into protecting her (turkey) eggs. Her eggs were actually moved to the incubator, along with some turkey eggs as there were too many eggs for her to sit on.

The Alternate Surrogate – an incubator!

A couple of days ago we had a surprise in the incubator, the hen’s eggs are starting to hatch!  A constant churp-churp-churp alerted us to a hatching chick.

We’ve been struggling a bit with the incubator, at the start, to make sure we had the temp in the right range… 99-100 degrees F, so I was SURE we had killed off the developing chicks. Nope, tough little guys.  It turns out they can tolerate short periods of temps down to 90 degrees for hours. It may slow the hatch but high temps (103  F) for even 30 min, will kill the embryo.

Temp & Humidity Levels

We bought an instant read digital thermometer with a probe that went into the incubator.  It would give us the internal temp and the humidity level.  Things you need to know… and difficult to actually find out WITHOUT opening the top of our little incubator. Every time you remove the top you alter the very things you are trying to keep stable.

The little funnel you see in the top of the lid gives us access to putting water inside to increase the humidity level WITHOUT opening up the unit. The humidity inside the unit needs to be in the 55-65% range or else the growing embryo’s get too dry and stick to the membrane inside the egg.

We use an automatic turner in our forced air incubator. The mother hen normally turns the eggs multiple times a day, to keep the embryo from “sticking” to the internal membrane. If the eggs are NOT turned consistently you end up with a very poor hatch rate. Years ago we started out turning them manually but as soon as we could afford to add the “turner” we did. You are supposed to stop turning the eggs for the last three days, but out little hatchling did just fine.

Automatic Turner w/eggs

You can see the chicken and turkey eggs (light speckled eggs). They are placed in the slot with the large rounded end up.

There is an air pocket inside the egg as well as the yolk, the clear ‘white”, and the embryo surrounded by a white layer. Did you know that the yolk is NOT the chick? It is the food the chick will use while it is developing. Just before it actually hatches, it draws the rest of the yolk sack into its gut, and uses it for food, for the first couple of days, after it is hatched.

Chicks do not need food or water the first two days, which allows them to be shipped all over the country, from hatcheries. They draw on the yolk reserves for their energy needs.  Now, of course nature did not design this process for OUR use… so why does it work that way?

People are often astounded when I tell them that Hen’s do NOT sit on their eggs right away. But instead, lay eggs for up to 1-2 weeks before sitting.

Think about it.  A hen, at most, lays one egg a day. If it takes 21 days to hatch a chick, and she was sitting on 10 eggs, starting from the day she laid the egg, she would have chicks born over 1-2 weeks.  How could she keep her unborn chicks warm AND take care of her new chicks.

Momma Hen with her new chicks

Actually, she lays a clutch of eggs over a couple of weeks, and THEN she sets.  That way all the eggs are “warmed up” beginning at the same time.

They generally hatch over a two-day period (maybe some were at the outer edge and weren’t quite as warm so the hatch is slightly delayed).

As the chicks begin to hatch they stay under mom to keep warm.  After two full days she will then leave the nest. Any eggs that have not hatched, are left.  It’s time for mom to take care of her new hatchlings. The oldest chicks have two days food supply on reserve but after that mom needs to show them how to scratch and eat/drink.

So, contrary to public opinion, eggs do NOT have to be kept refrigerated to be fresh. If an egg can sit in a nest for two weeks and still be “fresh” enough for mom to set … and hatch out a clutch, I bet they are still good eggs.

In Europe, it is unheard of to put eggs in the refrigerator… you must WARN people, by law, if you do that.

What’s the deal?  I’ll address those issues in my NEXT post!

Newborn calf doing well!

Our area got hit with over 6 inches of rain!!! It quickly creates a river that runs between the house and the barn, and pools into a shallow lake in the pasture.  We’re quite lucky that the pasture area drains fairly quickly.  Despite it being winter this was a relatively warm storm.  No freezing temperatures.

Glad that our newborn calf had a few days of warm, dry weather before the start of the rains.  He handled the change in weather without a hitch.  Kicking up his heels and playing…. instead of curled up in a miserable lump as I fantasized.  It’s a pretty human characteristic, to super-impose our reactions onto animals.

Barns are mostly for people… for storing items like tools, hay, feed, etc. We don’t use the barn for our livestock. Overall, it’s not healthy for them.  Cows, horses, etc. prefer the outdoors and tend to choose a tree or windbreaks for their shelter.  Livestock closed up in a barn are at risk for respiratory problems… the build-up of manure and urine produces fumes that are irritating to their lungs. They have survived for tens of thousands of years… outside.

Well, except for our chickens who are closed up inside the barn at night, but only because it was a convenient place to put an enclosed cage to protect them from predators. Not that THEY needed the barn. It could be in a chicken tractor, outside. Now, our weather here in coastal california is rather mild.

We don’t have drifts of snow for livestock to dig through, looking for food and water.  Instead our chickens, turkeys and guinea hens roam freely, except at night, where we have closed down The Heritage Barn Chicken Buffet that a Red Fox, last year, helped himself to.

The calf did not miss a beat… he frolicked and played in the rain. His coat is thick and water-resistant, seemingly untouched by the steady rain.  We had three days, off and on, of rain.

halter, calf, train

Halter Training

Of course, then it came to the time to put a halter on the calf and get him used to being led around.  You can see from the picture how excited he was about this new adventure. He actually acclimated rather quickly and our intern was able to led him around the pasture.

Niki, our intern, also discovered the easiest time to put the halter ON.  When the calf was napping!

They are almost dead to the world.  You can do just about anything to them and they don’t wake up.  And mom has usually parked the calf, for his nap, and she’s gone off to eat so she’s not there to run interference in putting a halter on her baby.

We’ll try to lead him around a short while each day… and spend time with him, socializing.

Then he is let off the lead rope, races over to mom, and get’s a comforting drink of milk!

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