On Nest Eggs

Chicken feed, scratch, nest eggs. Why is there so much chicken-related money slang? I haven’t a clue. But then I guess there are quite a few garden-related money words: beans, lettuce, cabbage. I tend to favor bread and dough myself. But then I digress…no surprises there.

Most of us foodie types are at least peripherally aware of the rise in chicken-keeping as a hobby. I’ve noticed several small coops in my neighborhood here in the Louisville Highlands, and I often come across escapees running around in nearby parks. Indeed the missus and I nearly bought a house from a fellow who kept chickens and let them roam freely around his fenced-in yard, a big double lot. He normally kept six, but that particularly week had only five thanks to a hawk that had recently moved into the neighborhood (a small pile of feathers in the middle of the yard marked hen number six’s last known location).

Ed was his name, as I recall. I think we spent more time talking about his chickens than his house the day we met him. He spoke at length about the challenges of securing fresh eggs from free-ranging hens, since they never put down an egg in the same place twice. Of course they would have if left to their own devices, but a clutch isn’t something you want as a chicken owner, at least if you’re planning on eating the eggs.

For eggs age much faster when they’re under a chicken vs. inside a refrigerator. But there are other edibility issues as well. Eggshells, as I mentioned yesterday, are porous. Sitting on dirt, all sorts of undesirable flavors and/or odors can enter them, starting with those of the chicken’s hind end. The secret to securing a really good eating egg, therefore, is to separate it from the bird as soon as possible.

But back to clutches for a moment. According to Ed, a just-laid egg was the best for eating. A day-old egg was still very good, a two-day-old egg was fine. A three-day-old egg was sorta palatable, a four day-old-egg, well…let’s not go there. Which meant that whenever Ed came upon a clutch of say four eggs, he could be fairy certain that at least two of them were decent for eating, one was on the border and one was truly nasty. But how to tell the difference without actually tasting them? Not easy. That left Ed in the unfortunate position of having to search every corner of his yard for single eggs each morning as his hens constantly searched for new nooks and crannies in which to start (and hopefully finish) a clutch.

It was obviously an inexperienced suburbanite’s attempt at chicken husbandry. Poultry farmers long ago invented a device that would a.) entice a chicken to lay in the same place every night, and b.) eliminate the guesswork of trying to figure out which eggs were the freshest. That invention? The nest egg.

A nest egg is nothing more than a fake egg, either ceramic or fashioned out of wood. Placed in a nest, it gives a hen the impression that she’s working on a clutch. She’ll lay a real egg beside it each night, trying to work her way up to a full clutch of eight or ten. All the farmer need do is drop by the nest in the morning and take the fresh one. The hen won’t bolt the nest for fear of abandoning her clutch, so will keep laying willingly in the same place night after night.

And thus the explanation for the term “nest egg”: the bit of hard-earned booty that never leaves home (or the bank). Pretty interesting, right? I need to go back and tell Ed about those sometime. I’ll bet he needs a break.

9 thoughts on “On Nest Eggs”

  1. Goodness, I keep eggs much longer than that at room temp. Never had a nasty one yet.
    It’s surprising to me the number of people who don’t know (but should, like chefs and cookbook authors) that really fresh eggs are best for poaching (forget swirling the water, vinegar, bits of glad-wrap, etc; a really fresh egg stays in a nice round lump), but that old eggs are best for hard boiling. Their shells come off easily, whereas a fresh egg’s shell sticks to its white like concrete.

    1. Eggs fresh from the chicken? Or eggs from the store? I ask because store eggs are coated with oil and/or wax which helps keep them fresh.

      1. Eggs fresh from the chicken, but not washed. My egg supplying person (a friend with 6 chooks) told me never to wash or refrigerate them, and I did a bit of an experiment a while ago leaving them in a bowl on the bench. Even after a couple of months they were fine. Not good for poaching, however.

        1. Interesting. Maybe it’s a climate difference (it’s darn hot in Kentucky in the summer). However I also understand that not having them on the ground helps quite a lot too.

  2. The water test works as well Joe.

    Put the egg into a bowl of water, a fresh egg will sit on the bottom, with a slight tilt, a day old will be nearly vertical, but still on the bottom, 2 day old, still touching the bottom, but efinitely vertical.

    Once they start losing contact with the bottom of the bowl, and then definitely floating, they aren’t recommended.

    It is to do with the size of the air sac in the egg, as you mentioned, egg shell is porous, the air cell expands over time, presumably to provide the growing chicken with enough air to carry it through breaking the first chip out of the shell at hatching.

    Another way we were shown, many years ago in Chef school, was how the white sits when the egg is cracked onto a plate, fresh 1 day/2 day old eggs have a white that sits high, and doesn’t spread, after a couple of days the white becomes more and more liquid, until it is more water than albumen.

    1. Thanks Warren! And you read my mind. I was planning to talk a little about how eggs go bad today…

      But I’ll remember that test!

  3. That is really fascinating. I had no idea of the origin of the “nest egg.” It’s funny you should mention the spike in chicken growing, especially in urban settings. I’ve noticed a bunch of that in NYC, which is interesting and odd simultaneously. What’s next pot belly pigs?…oh wait.

    1. I’ve been wondering whatever happened to the pot belly pig rage from a decade ago. It seemed to vanish with the rise of foodie-ism. You don’t suppose the two are related, do you? Hmm….

      1. Hmm, you may be on to something. The rise in bacon-mania may have signaled the decline of pot belly pig rage, thereby causing an uptick in chicken fanciers…until. OK, time for lunch…BLTs!

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