Let’s quickly review the three basic types of containers used for collecting eggs: wire egg baskets, galvanized buckets, and plastic buckets, and why you’re probably using the wrong one.
You could probably find something worse than a plastic bucket, but I don’t know what it would be.
Plastic buckets have flat bottoms, allowing the eggs to roll around freely, cracking each other. The bottoms are solid, so if you acquire some rainwater, or some eggs break, you get a yucky pool at the bottom of the bucket, dirtying up all the eggs on the bottom row. This is especially bad if the eggs sit in the bucket for hours or overnight before being washed or packed.
Finally, plastic buckets don’t transmit heat well, so warm eggs don’t cool down very quickly.
Avoid plastic buckets. If you must use one, put a little straw or wood shavings in the bottom to help prevent the eggs from rolling around so much.
Whatever you do, don’t try to fill up a five-gallon bucket with eggs. The eggs on the bottom will be crushed.
A much better choice is your basic ten-quart or twelve-quart galvanized bucket. The bottom of such a pail is dimpled, which prevents the eggs from rolling around so much. Being made of metal, they have better heat conductivity than a plastic bucket, so eggs cool down faster after collection.
The solid bottom still allows water, broken eggs, and crud to pool at the bottom, though.
My experience is that plastic buckets become brittle and break after a couple of years, while galvanized buckets seem to last forever.
Wire Egg Baskets
Frankly, the classic wire egg basket is what you should be using. Why? The open construction means that crud, rainwater, and the contents of broken eggs exit the bottom of the basket instead of pooling there.
The wire construction allows airflow, so eggs that are warm or damp when collected can cool and dry easily.
Finally, the first eggs you put in the basket have little tendency to roll around, because the wire bottom tends to hold the eggs in place somewhat.
Bottom line: Use wire egg baskets.
But What About Egg Flats?
directly into egg flats is okay if you’re set up for it. Caged layer operations often have a cart that you push down the aisle, collecting eggs directly onto flats and putting the flats into egg crates. This is less practical in less controlled environments.
Egg flats are tempting if you aren’t hand-carrying the eggs after collection, because they’re designed as part of a shipping system. Once you’ve boxed up crates of egg flats, you can put the crates in your truck and drive them home. But filling up the flats in a small-flock situation is a recipe for dropped flats and broken eggs.