The Journey of the Hatching Egg
Updated Friday, 22 July 2022 - Originally published Monday, Feb 25, 2013
We get asked so many weird, wonderful and humorous questions about hatching eggs and broody hens this time of year and all the ups and downs surrounding hatching that we thought it about time we did an article on ‘hatching eggs’.
Hatching eggs (fertile eggs) are the eggs collected from the breeding pens of our heritage breeds where a proven rooster is running with his flock of hens. The breeding season here in NZ usually kicks off late winter/early Spring and runs till the birds go into the moult in early summer.
We find the best time to hatch is July to December when growing the next generation in the length of the day and warmth of the sun and when food is plentiful has the best results. The progeny will grow quicker, bigger, and stronger, with better feather growth than their counterparts hatched in the latter part of the season.
Purchasing hatching eggs is good way of integrating new stock to an existing flock of birds. It is the economical option as transporting live birds involves expense, availability, stress on the bird/s and possible risk of disease.
All that is required to hatch fertile eggs is a reliable broody hen or a reliable incubator.
These two options sound pretty straight forward but they can work out to be not as straightforward as initially thought! Please remember a dozen hatching eggs do not automatically equate to 12 fluffy, ‘pullet’ chicks! With hatching eggs can come the joy of surprise, new life and cute, fluffy chicks (and a few boys!) or sometimes disappointment when it does not turn out the way intended. With hatching eggs there are no guarantees as there are so many variables to consider in the journey from when the egg is first made until the day it pips and hatches.
Could not resist this image of the rooster with his cuppa…the caption could be something like “Being a dad is never easy!
Candling is the only way to check as there is no other way of monitoring fertility that we know about.
Candling involves shining a bright but cool light into the egg so the inside of the egg becomes illuminated.
If the egg is clear at day 7 to 10 then the egg is infertile.
Red Spider Veins
If a small red streak or blood ring is evident then the egg was fertile but it has died at an early stage.
If red spider veins can be seen with a little moving black dot then the egg has a live peep inside and is alive and ticking!
Yeah! It is great to see and fascinating to monitor the growing peep as it develops from the spider red veins into a darker mass with an air sac at the one end (rounded end) from day 7 to 21. Peeps can die along the way for many reasons and by candling the eggs again on day 14 and again on day 18 these can be identified and removed.
We know that feeding out a complete, balanced quality feed to our breeding stock makes a huge difference to fertility and hatchability. Quality feed goes a long way to making good, strong growing peeps that are going to develop through today 21 and hatch well.
Environmental conditions are also important and changes in weather do impact on fertility. We know vitamin D is vital for good fertility so sunshine is very important. Prolonged wet weather, too much wind and long spells of hot weather can keep chooks sheltering in hen houses and the roosters not necessarily as active as we would like them to be. (or having a cuppa at the local cafe!)
Roosters might not get to cover all the hens in his flock; they can have an off day if feeling under the weather or injure a toe nail or have a sore foot. Rooster can also have favourites and ignore certain hens. The breeding pen is an interesting set of relationships – everyone has their place in the pecking order!
We collect our hatching eggs daily from our breeding pens. We ensure they are stored correctly under the right conditions and turned twice daily prior to sending out. We believe in doing the best we can to ensure our hatching eggs have the best chances of success. If stored correctly hatching eggs can be stored up for up to 10 to 14 days prior to setting. The eggs we courier out are fresh and have been laid anything up to 5 days prior to courier. We package our eggs with extreme care in sturdy cardboard boxes. Eggs are individually wrapped and boxed and well protected with shredded paper so extreme temperatures hopefully should not affect them. We only courier at the beginning of the week to avoid unnecessary postal delays and the risk of eggs sitting idle in depots over weekends.
Please note we no longer sell hatching eggs.
Once eggs leave here with the courier they are out of our hands. We have no control how they are handled in transit. We do our best to mark packages well on all sides with fragile stickers. Rough handling/shaking or dropping of a parcel will greatly affect fertility as eggs are not designed to travel and be shaken around. Once eggs are in your hands it is up to you to handle and store them correctly prior to setting under a broody hen or in an incubator. We recommend resting eggs before incubation.
Hatching eggs need to settle for at least 24 hours if they came via the courier/mail.
This allows the air-cell inside the egg to return to its normal size. Eggs should always be stored with the pointy end down while they are ‘in the hold’. It's a good practice to follow and it will help your hatch. Do not write on them in felt tip or permanent marker as this will affect the fertility as eggs are porous.
Don’t wash or clean hatching eggs.
The cleanliness, soundness and integrity of the egg shell influence the hatch. Washing removes the protective cuticle, making the egg more susceptible to contamination.
Remember when purchasing hatching eggs they do not come with any guarantees of every egg hatching.
We are dealing with Mother Nature, 'the courier man/postie' plus 'the incubation' process (either under the hen or in the incubator)....and as the well know saying goes...never count your chickens till they have hatched.
We regularly get asked "How many hatching eggs should I place under my broody hen?"
We recommend 6 standard sized eggs for a bantam or silkie hen to sit on or 12 standard sized eggs (a setting) for a larger hen to sit on (light sussex / rhode island red or Plymouth rock)
“How many eggs will I need to hatch if I want 6 pullets.”
We recommend setting 18 to 24 eggs for 6 pullets or a dozen eggs for 2 to 3 pullets. Remember their will be casualties along the way. Some will be infertile, some will die as peeps, some will not hatch, some chicks might have an accident(squashed/drown/hawk/hedgehog attack) and then some will be inevitably cockerels…and then you still have to grow them on to point of lay (POL).
Chicken genetics is another interesting factor to consider when purchasing hatching eggs. It is important to realize that there is no such thing as the perfect chicken.
Chickens do not hatch out identical to their parent stock.
They are a bit like us humans and are packed full of DNA - our children are not replicas of ourselves! They might have inherited great grandma’s fiery red hair or the dimple in the shin of daddy’s mother’s great, great grandmother! In fact chickens are even more complicated as they are covered in feathers that carry all sorts of colour and pattern genes that can be dominant or recessive/ barred or partridge etc. A real soup of genes! Welcome to the wonderful world of chicken genetics!! So please remember not all chicks hatched will look identical to the parent stock – they will inherit different genes from both parents - some will exhibit good qualities and others will reveal faults (faults that might not have been present in their parents or grandparents) All poultry breeds are essentially work in progress so it is worth remembering that the prize winning birds at the shows are the chosen select few! That is what breeding is all about – working to achieve good stock that conforms to the poultry standard. A good breeder might hatch out 40 birds over a season. A good number will be culled early due to obvious faults, more will be culled along the way due to minor faults appearing as the birds feather up and mature – this might only leave one or two fit for the breeding or showing pen. Many newbies to hatching do not understand this and the variables of hatching and expect 100% hatches of perfect, coloured and patterned birds. That’s what makes breeding poultry a challenge and a passion for those of us that are smitten by the bug!
Here are some of the wonderful questions we have been asked over the years! 🥚🥚🐤
"Please send only the pullet eggs as we do not want any roosters?'" (If we could ‘sex’ eggs we would be multi-millionaires!)
"Our chook wants to be a mum please send me an egg!"
"Must we bring a hot water bottle when we pick the eggs up?" (Eggs do not require to be kept warm prior to incubation)
"How will the eggs stay warm in the post?" (as above!)
"My hen is all fluffed up and pregnant when will she have her babies?" (Chicks hatch from eggs they are not born)
"My hen has been sitting on her broody eggs (fake eggs) and nothing has hatched?" (fake eggs do not hatch – plastic chicks are made in china!)