Answer: In laying operations, most of the eggs are generally laid within five hours of the first light in the morning. Collect eggs often — twice in the morning and once in the afternoon — to help decrease the number of dirty and broken eggs and start cooling eggs. Collection should be more frequent in very hot or cold weather. Eggs should be held at 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 percent relative humidity before cleaning. Eggs stored at room temperature, about 75 degrees F, can drop as much as one grade per day. Embryos can start to develop in fertile eggs held at a temperature above 85 degrees F for more than a few hours. Keep egg temperature relatively constant until the eggs are washed to avoid sweating. Sweating occurs when eggs are moved from cold storage to a warm environment. Condensation on the surface of the egg facilitates the movement of microbes inside the shell due to moisture. In the past, eggs were held in plastic-coated wire baskets so that the air could circulate freely among the eggs and cool them. Now, eggs are also held in fiberboard flats that hold 30 eggs per flat. Misshapen, cracked, broken, or extremely dirty eggs should be separated from clean eggs.
Manual egg gathering is labor-intensive. An egg cart, filler flats and a nearby storage site will help reduce labor. In mechanized egg collection, a moving belt brings the eggs to a section of the house where the eggs can be packed into flats. Eggs are positioned in the flat with the small end down, the same position they should be in the carton as well. Roll-away nests simplify egg collection because the eggs can roll from the sloped floor of the nest to a collection area or belt.
Eggs are ideally packed within 24 hours after they are laid. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules require that eggs be packed within 30 days of lay. In programs that assure high- quality, eggs are usually packed within three to seven days of lay. It is important to remember not to store eggs in coolers with items that give off odors, such as onions and citrus, because the eggs can pick up the odor through the shell’s pores.
You’ll benefit from reading the ATTRA publication Small-Scale Egg Handling. This publication discusses collecting, cleaning, candling, and grading eggs in small-scale production, as well as storage and distribution, site facilities, and more.
You might also be interested in these ATTRA titles:
Pastured Poultry: Egg Production
Tipsheet: Organic Poultry Production for Meat and Eggs
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