Eggs need to be collected every day. They should not be allowed to sit in the nest boxes for several days. Twice a day seems to be the a good number of collection times to shoot for. In average weather conditions that should suffice. However in the heat of summer or the very coldest of winter, egg's that are left all day could become unsafe to eat.
Eggs that freeze and crack should be discarded. Remember, chickens walk through poop and dirt all day long. Even if you keep their nest boxes sparkling clean, they will have bacteria in them. You wouldn't want to eat a split egg that has poo bacteria in it, would you?
Frozen eggs that don't crack can be eaten. Freezing does change their consistency though so certain dishes may not work out right when using thawed eggs.
To prevent freezing, eggs should be collected 3 times a day when temperatures are below freezing.
Ideally eggs should be stored at room temperature or refrigerated. In the hottest months of summer the outdoor temperatures are much warmer then room temperature. Eggs kept too warm for too long can begin to lose interior quality. Not to mention....if your going on a 3 day stretch of 100+ degrees, your fertile eggs might begin to develop all on their own!
To prevent issues in the summer, eggs should be collected 3 times a day.
Fall & Spring:
Morning and night gathering should suffice as long as the nest boxes are kept clean.
Other reasons for collecting eggs frequently:
- Egg eaters: To prevent chickens from becoming egg eaters, the eggs should be removed often.
- Poop: The longer the eggs remain in the nest box, the more chance that someone may poo on them.
- Bacteria: Bacteria can be carried into the nest boxes by the chickens, especially on their feet. Since bacteria can't be seen by the naked eye it is not easily removed. The longer the eggs sit there...the more hens visit the nest....the more chance of bacteria getting on the egg (and inside through the pores).
- Temperature fluctuations: Eggs should be stored at either room temperature or refrigerated. When sitting in the coop for several days they are exposed to air temperature fluctuations. If it gets up to 70 during the day but back down to 40 at night, that's too much of a difference! A cold egg that warms up can sweat which can facilitate the growth of bacteria. What temp are your eggs stored at?
- Predators: Snakes love eggs. Leave eggs around too long and a snake might find them. Predators generally remember where they got their last free meal, so if Mr Snake finds them once he'll be back! The day might come when he comes back and their are no eggs.....then he'll look to chicks or even attempt a full grown hen! Other predators like opossums, raccoons, skunks and rats also like eggs.
- Breakage: Eggs are hard. Hens move eggs around to make room for themselves and their new egg. Eggs break when knocked together. Broken eggs get eaten which encourages egg eating of unbroken eggs.
- Broodyness: Some people swear that leaving a clutch of eggs out will encourage a hen to go broody. I can't agree or disagree with this one (as it is a hormonal change). However, if you don't want a broody....why take a chance?
Now the truth is, most of us don't have the time to collect eggs 3 times a day. I'm pretty sure every chicken keeper I know has left the eggs out more then a day and nobody has died...right? My guidelines here are for optimum egg safety so: At the very least carry an egg basket during feeding times, or coop opening and closing and just grab them while there. I know I work way too hard taking care of my flock to lose the eggs they so sweetly provide me!
Oh, and if you plan on hatching those eggs check out my post: How to store and handle eggs to get the best hatch rate.