by Meredith Chilson
The spring chicks have begun laying eggs, and the older hens are winding down their cycle toward the annual molt. As a result, I gather a wide variety of sizes of eggs: from the tiny first eggs known as pullet eggs or “pee-wee” to the extra-extra large eggs that often contain a double yolk. I displayed one day’s gathering on our kitchen table, and there was such a difference in sizes, I thought, “This week I’ll write about grading eggs!”
I remember helping my mother grade eggs in her cool basement “workshop” in the farmhouse. She had a big flock of White Leghorns, and sold eggs to people in the neighborhood as well as to a commercial chicken farm not far away. Every week, we washed, sorted, candled and graded on a little scale plain white eggs and packed them into flats and on into cardboard crates. Then we’d take the backseat out of the car and load the crates and take them over the hill to the poultry farm to be sold.
Another way to grade eggs internally, though, is through the “break-out” method and then following the Haugh unit system to judge the yolk and white of the egg. 4-H members taking a poultry/egg judging unit will learn this method. Just as the name suggests, an egg is broken onto a flat surface and points are added or subtracted. In a very fresh egg, for example, the white (or albumen) will be clear and quite thick and the yolk will be firm and round. Looking at the egg at eye level, you should be able to see the egg white as well as the yolk.
The USDA sets these grades and they apply to commercial chicken eggs. As it turns out, I “grade” my own chickens’ eggs a bit differently. I don’t sell eggs—although any we don’t use here in my kitchen I “give” to my friends and neighbors, and they almost always donate a bit back toward chicken feed. I like to make sure that any eggs given out from this homestead are clean and fresh. A dozen eggs will always have 12, but there might be a USDA Grade AA, three Grades A and eight Grades B. Quite often, shells show calcium spots and are irregular; they might have a stain or two, and internally these eggs may have a blood meat spot—the largest eggs are coming from girls that have been laying eggs for four years, and that sometimes happens
with eggs from older hens. Sometimes lately, I’ve been including two pullet eggs in place of one larger egg, too. I know which eggs come from which chickens. Jimmy lays nice, big pink eggs. One of the Rhode Island Reds has been laying double-yolkers lately, and one of the Buff Orpington hens has been leaving tiny “wind eggs” in her nest box. One of the ways I check up on my small flock is by checking over—grading—their eggs. The Rhodey and the Buff are no doubt ending their laying cycle for the year. Jimmy is healthy—I find about five of her eggs a week in the nest. The occasional “egg in a sack”—the one without a solid shell—is coming from one of the new layers. Just like those that lay tiny pullet eggs, their internal egg-laying mechanisms are gearing up for production.