In addition to the challenge of keeping your backyard chickens’ water from freezing in the winter, preventing frozen eggs is another problem those in the northern climates face. If you’re at work during the day, by the time you get home the eggs your chickens laid early in the morning might well have frozen and cracked.
One reason I don’t choose to light my coop through the winter to boost production is to alleviate that concern. In addition to giving my flock a well-deserved rest from laying after coming out of the molting season, I figure the fewer eggs they lay, the easier time I’ll have preventing frozen eggs. I’m perfectly content to wait for longer days and warmer weather for them to start up production again.
Since eggs are such a precious commodity in the winter, here are a few tips for preventing frozen eggs.
Preventing Frozen Eggs
1.) Collect your eggs more often. If you won’t be home all day, try to enlist a neighbor to check for you at least a couple of times throughout the day.
2.) If possible, position your coop with the nesting boxes facing east – so the rays of the rising sun reach them.
3.) If you have external nesting boxes that jut out from your coop, consider insulating your nesting boxes.
4.) Try stacking bales of straw or hay around the boxes for the winter. Straw is a wonderful insulator because warm air is trapped inside the hollow shafts and the stacked bales will help keep your entire coop warmer.
5.) Similarly, use a thick nest of straw in the bottom of your boxes. If you normally use shavings, consider switching to straw, at least for the winter months.
6.) Hang curtains over your nesting boxes.They’ll help retain the hen’s body heat inside the box and can be as simple as a feed bag or piece of burlap over the front of the box.
7.) Think twice about discouraging a broody hen. She’ll keep the eggs warm for you until you can collect them! She doesn’t care whether she’s sitting on fertile eggs or not, so even if you don’t have a rooster, your hens might still go broody.
8.) Of course heating your coop is an option, but I don’t recommend that for several reasons, including the risk of fire, loss of electricity leaving your hens unaccustomed to the cold and greater chance of frostbite due to the moisture the heat creates.
9.) Hang a light bulb over your nesting boxes. Often the heat a regular bulb gives off will be enough to keep your eggs from freezing. Again, there’s a risk of fire involved with any heat source, so I don’t recommend doing that.
One other consideration for preventing frozen eggs would be to raise ducks instead. Ducks usually lay their eggs just before sunrise, so you should be able to collect them when you open up the coop before heading off to work. Ducks also lay their eggs right on the floor and like to cover them up with straw and hide them, which helps keep the eggs warm longer.
In all my years raising poultry, I have collected more than a few frozen chicken eggs, but very rarely a frozen duck egg – and only when the duck laid her egg a bit later in the morning after I let them out – and the egg ended up under a bush or right in the snow.
Handling Frozen Eggs
Despite your best efforts, preventing frozen eggs isn’t always possible. Sometimes you might miss one in a back corner of the box, or a hen might lay her egg on the floor of the coop. A few cautions are in order as to the handling of frozen eggs.
-Often frozen eggs will crack, but many times they will still be intact. If an egg appears to be frozen but hasn’t cracked, then go ahead and refrigerate it. It should be perfectly fine to eat after it defrosts, although the texture might be a bit off. Probably better to scramble it or use it in baking.
-If the egg is cracked, but the membrane seems intact and the egg isn’t visibly dirty, you can still use it, but I would suggest cooking it right away and be sure to cook it completely just in case any bacteria got in through the crack.
-If the egg is cracked, the membrane broken and the white oozing out, I would toss it. There’s just too much risk associated with any bacteria that may have contaminated the egg. If you can’t bear to throw it away, scramble it up, cook it really well and feed it to your chickens or your dogs. It’s a nutritious treat, and their stomachs and digestive tracts a capable of handling bacteria far better than humans.
Although eggs generally don’t need to be refrigerated as long as you don’t wash them, regarding of whether you think they are frozen or not, when you’re collecting eggs in temperatures below 45 degrees or so, it’s best to refrigerate those eggs. Once they warm up, condensation will form, compromising the effectiveness of the natural protective “bloom” on the shell, which is the first barrier against bacteria entering the egg through the pores in the eggshell.