Cold winter temperatures can effect your chicken’s laying patterns. Chickens lay less eggs in cold weather because they know that now is not the time to be starting a family. Less daylight during the winter is also a clue that they should rest and reserve their energy for springtime. Each egg that is laid in the winter is like a gift to your family and you want to protect it in every way that you can. Nothing is more disappointing than picking up an egg and seeing the open, gaping cracks.
Eggs become frozen and crack due to the fact that the moisture inside of the egg expands as it becomes a frozen solid. This expanding mass has nowhere to go but out and the shell cracks under the pressure. Eggs will freeze within 36 minutes of temperatures below 32 degrees F. However, if they are protected they can last longer.
Many people ask whether or not you can eat eggs that have become frozen out in the coop. There are different degrees of frozen when it comes to eggs. Sometimes an egg seems frozen, but it has not cracked. You can go ahead and refrigerate it and use it after it has defrosted. These eggs are best hard boiled. Frozen eggs do not work well in baking. The rise is never very good. Freezing causes the yolk to become thick and syrupy. The yolk will not blend well with the white. Do not keep them for more than a few days after thawing.
If the egg is cracked, but the membrane does not seem to be split, you can still use it but do so right away and cook it completely. If the egg shell is dirty, I would not use it. You never know if somehow bacteria could have entered. Sometimes the crack is just a hairline and hard to see.
If the egg is cracked and the membrane is broken, the white will be oozing out once it is thawed. These eggs should not be used for human consumption. Bacteria will have entered through the broken membrane and shell. You could cook the eggs and feed them back to your dog or your chickens. This is what I do. Their digestive tracts are better equipped to handle bacteria than ours are.
Unwashed eggs can be left out of the counter for many weeks without being refrigerated because they are surrounded by a protective bloom which is deposited by the hen as she lays the egg. Washing removes this bloom. If an egg is outside in cold conditions and then is brought inside into a warm environment, condensation can occur on the outside of the egg. This condensation will make the egg wet and remove the protective bloom. Make sure that you refrigerate these eggs and do not leave them out. Rain and snow can do the same thing.
There are many ways to prevent having frozen eggs. The best way is to collect your eggs as often as possible. Most eggs are laid in the morning. If you work during the day you could ask family members or neighbors to help you out. My silkie hens like to sit on the eggs whether they are broody or not. They will keep your eggs nice and toasty until you can retrieve them.
Hanging curtains around your nesting boxes will help to retrain heat inside. As the hens sit inside to lay their eggs, they will give off body heat. Use as heavy a material as possible for curtains which will be good insulators.
Use a thick nest of bedding in the bottom of your boxes. Straw is a wonderful insulator as air is trapped in it’s shaft. Pine Shavings also work well. I like to kick the shavings with my boot in order to loosen it up and create a soft, insulated area. My silkies do not use nesting boxes and just pick a corner of the floor. It is important to keep these corners clean and fluffy.
You may want to heat your coop with panels. These can be placed near nesting boxes in order to raise the nearby temperature. Heated dog mats can be placed in areas where eggs are laid. Even seedling mats can raise the temperature where the egg is sitting and prevent cracking. Survival blankets or hand warmers can also be used in the egg laying area.
Consider insulating the top, bottom and outer walls of your nesting boxes or packing straw around the outside for winter. Position your nesting boxes so that they face east or south blocking cold wind. Make sure that there are no ground level drafts in your coop. I find that eggs can be laid anywhere. Most frozen eggs that I find are laid near the pop door or in the run. Hang clear plastic tarps up in your run to use as a wind barrier on the north and west sides.
When I collect eggs during cold weather, I place them in cardboard egg cartons. This helps to insulate and keep the eggs somewhat warmer. It also keeps them from knocking into each other as I carry them. Eggs often crack after they have been taken out of the nesting box and are jostled around in the cold.
It is also ok to just not let chickens out into the run in very cold weather. They will be fine in the coop and their heat can help keep the eggs warmer. In the wintertime, each egg is precious.
For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com . VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul. We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available. Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.
Victoria J. Peterson