When thinking about chicken eggs, you might find yourself asking, “Why are farm fresh eggs different sizes?” Eggs from the farm are not uniform in size the way you find eggs at your local grocery store. Chicken eggs can range from “too small to use” all the way up to “Holy crap! Is that really a chicken egg?” Getting familiar with the size difference, along with the reason behind it, can make a transition to cooking with farm fresh eggs an easy one.
Eggs arrive to grocery store isles based on the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) idea of acceptable, based on their egg grading procedures, and then packaged by size and color. Most eggs we see at the store are white (or sometimes brown) and appear to be about the same size. While this uniformity is what consumers have come to expect, it’s just an illusion; eggs can vary drastically in size. In the photo above, you can see just one example of the difference in size you can find in the eggs on our farm. Looking at the quarter, you can see the egg on the left is amusingly small!
What would make one egg mimic a quarter and another fit into an egg carton like it was a second skin? An overly small egg can usually be explained by multiple things, including the egg being laid by a pullet (a hen less than one year old). A young pullet is known to lay small eggs until they get into the swing of things. Another possibility is an interruption in the hen’s natural reproductive process. Sometimes when a hen begins a new laying cycle, they lay a few eggs that are smaller than normal that may or may not contain a yolk sac. When this happens, and there is no yolk inside of the egg, it’s called a fairy egg. These eggs are nothing to worry about (absent of additional issues for concern) and can happen at any stage of a hen’s laying life.
In addition to natural, physical changes impacting egg size, some farmers agree that egg size can be partially determined by a hen’s living area. Things like stress, extreme heat or cold and crowding could be an explanation for egg size as well. If that does determine the size of eggs, we must have a few really happy hens here. The large egg on the right definitely does not fall into the “average size” category. I’m not sure where this egg would fit in on The American Egg Board’s size chart. They categorize eggs in six different sizes, from pewee to jumbo.
When you purchase eggs from you local farmer’s market or stand, focus on the fact that they’re fresh and you know where they are coming from. When you buy a couple dozen eggs from a local farmer or friend, you’ll be getting a couple dozen eggs from one place. If you bring home eggs stocked at your store after being sorted in a USDA facility, they may come from a couple dozen places. I take comfort in the fact that I know where my food comes from when I eat items from our homestead or trade with neighbors.
You might be wondering where all of those non-uniform eggs go since you don’t see them at the store. You can usually find eggs that aren’t suitable for the carton in prepacked foods, baked goods and egg-white only products such as Egg Beaters. Bakeries and others making bulk egg purchases are often on the receiving end of too small or large eggs at a reduced price per pound.
Since farm-fresh eggs can be so different in size, it’s important to remember those differences when you’re in the kitchen. A recipe that calls for two eggs may really need only one large farm-fresh egg. At the same time, it could mean you need three eggs from the farm, because they could be smaller. I’ve made a handy chart to reference while cooking to help make a switch to farm-fresh eggs easier.