Collecting Eggs in the Winter & Handling Frozen Eggs

women in purple coat and gloves collecting chicken eggs during winter
Winter is a natural time for some older hens to slow or cease egg production. However, if your hens are still blessing you with beautiful fresh eggs this winter, you may wonder if there are any special storage or safety tips to consider when collecting and storing eggs during cold weather. Today, we are going to talk about egg production in the winter and how to properly collect and store your eggs when the temperature starts to dip below freezing.

Egg Production Expectations in the Winter

If you have owned chickens for more than a couple of years, you probably have learned that egg production naturally decreases or ceases in the winter months. There are a number of factors that contribute to how well our girls lay eggs each winter. For a more in-depth examination of these factors, check out our article Egg Production Expectation During the “Off” Season. Generally, age is one of the major factors that affect egg production. Hens, in their first winter, are often great layers. However, as each year passes, we can usually expect our older hens to lay fewer eggs and take longer breaks during the molt and winter seasons. I usually say, “1st Winter Hens are good layers, 2nd Winter Hens are okay layers, and 3rd Winter Hens are on vacation!”

Can I Still Use an Egg That Was Frozen?

If your hens are still producing this winter, you may encounter a time or two when you collect eggs and find that they have frozen. It is generally good practice to collect eggs, at least, every 24 hours. In the winter, if possible, you may want to increase your collection to two times per day. This will give less opportunity for the eggs to freeze before being collected, especially if you have one or two girls that like to lay on a different schedule than the rest of the flock. Can you still collect and use an egg that was accidentally frozen? The answer to this question can be tricky. If you remember from some of our webinars, one of the last things a hen does before laying an egg is put on the cuticle. The cuticle, or bloom as it is often known, is a coating that is deposited over the outside of the egg. The purpose of this coating is to protect a developing embryo from invading bacteria or pathogens while that embryo is inside the egg. It’s a built-in safety feature! However, if that egg freezes, the contents inside the egg expand and the eggshell will crack. It’s the same thing that happens to your water pipes if they freeze in the winter. Once cracks or checks - a check is when the shell cracks, but the membranes stay intact and the egg contents do not leak - develop on an eggshell, the bloom has been compromised and there is now an open highway for any yucky stuff on the outside of the egg to travel inside the egg. Since we can’t always see pathogens or bacteria with the naked eye, it is generally a matter of good practice to not use eggs that have frozen. However, I am well aware that some of us just can’t be wasteful! If you really cannot bring yourself to dispose of cracked eggs, I would recommend breaking them open immediately upon bringing them into the house and refrigerating the contents or cooking with them immediately. We definitely do not want to leave cracked eggs on the counter where any bacteria that may be present will slowly warm and start looking for easy access to a lovely food source - like the inside of your egg! If you do choose to cook with cracked eggs, choose dishes where eggs are fully cooked and follow all food safety recommendations for safe cooking temperatures.

Can I Take Eggs from the Coop to the Kitchen Counter in Winter?

Most of us probably know the rule “Once eggs are refrigerated, they need to say refrigerated.” The refrigerator rule is true because most eggs that are refrigerated have been washed first. Washing removes the cuticle (the built-in safety feature) and makes the egg more vulnerable to bacteria entering the pores of the shell. Bacteria in warm environments thrive while bacteria under refrigeration are much slower to reproduce. That is the primary purpose of refrigeration. 1. Refrigeration extends shelf-life but, more importantly, 2. refrigeration slows or prevents bacteria and pathogen growth. If you think about the temperature inside a winter chicken coop, it’s probably not that different from a refrigerator. So, that leads to our conundrum. Can we take our eggs from cold chicken coop to warm kitchen counter safely? Yes, you probably can as long as they have not been washed and they are allowed to warm slowly. If your usual practice is to leave your eggs on the kitchen counter, then I have good news. When an egg goes from cold (not frozen!) to warm, the contents inside that egg usually expand and push bacteria away from the inside of the egg. This is why it is recommended that you wash eggs with water that is warmer than the current temperature of the egg. This expansion coupled with the presence of the cuticle can help keep your eggs safe when brought from the chicken coop to the kitchen counter in the winter. If you can, it is a good idea to allow the eggs to warm slowly. A mudroom or a cooler area of your home may be a good initial resting spot for the eggs before they make it to the kitchen counter. If you prefer to wash and refrigerate as soon as you collect your eggs, you can continue your current practice. Just make sure that you wash with water that is warmer than the egg to push dirt and bacteria out and way form the pores, then refrigerate as usual. Keeping poultry is such a wonderful experience and the rewards are many! At Kalmbach Feeds, we are always here to help. If you have any questions about the nutrient needs of your birds, feed options, or general poultry keeping, please let us know. We are so excited to continue writing about all of the topics that are important to you and can’t wait to continue learning about your flocks. Stay tuned and thank you for choosing Kalmbach Feeds!

Nancy Jefferson, Ph.D.

Dr. Nancy Jefferson has been a member of the Nutrition and Technical Services team at Kalmbach Feeds since 2013. She received her Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 2008 and has worked in the feed industry for over 15 years. She lives on a farm in Crown City, OH with her husband, John, and their children. Dr. Jefferson is a passionate poultry enthusiast and loves her chickens! Together, she and her family raise beef cattle and she keeps an ever-growing flock of backyard chickens.