Over the years, several common ideas about eggs, laying and hatching have evolved. Be the first of your chicken-keeping friends to set the story straight.
Myth 1: You need a cockerel for hens to lay eggs, but fertilized eggs shouldn’t be eaten.
Fact: A hen or flock of hens will quite happily lay eggs throughout the laying season whether or not a cockerel is present. Introducing a cockerel will potentially result in him treading the hens and consequently fertilizing the eggs. However, this doesn’t mean the eggs can’t be eaten, as the actual development of the eggs would occur only if they were subject to the correct incubation conditions.
Myth 2: The sex of a hatchling can be determined from the outward appearance, size and weight of the egg containing it.
Fact: Despite various claims, inventions, hearsay and handed-down tales, this is not as yet possible. Since the early 1900s, researchers around the world have studied and tested various hypotheses and have found no statistically significant way of being able to define the sex of the hatchling by observing the characteristics of the egg itself.
Myth 3: It’s essential to turn eggs during incubation for successful hatching.
Fact: If you don’t turn eggs during incubation, some will hatch, but if you do turn them, the hatch rate will be significantly higher. Turning the egg prevents the embryo from sticking to the side of the shell, allowing the chick to move into the hatching position when the egg reaches term. It also ensures that an even temperature is achieved within the egg, and it improves and refreshes the contact between the embryonic membrane and the nutrient-rich albumen within the egg.
Myth 4: If a broody hen is away from the nest for more than a few minutes or if there is a power outage and the incubated eggs begin to chill, then the embryos will die.
Fact: In the event of a power outage, switching the incubator off or a broody hen accidentally being locked out of her nest box for a long period of time, embryonic development does slow down, but the embryo generally only dies if the time period exceeds 15 hours or the weather conditions are extremely hot or cold. Such breaks in incubation will delay the hatch and may result in slightly reduced hatch rates but will not necessarily result in complete failure.
Myth 5: Brown eggs are better for you than white eggs.
Fact: The color of the eggshell is simply linked to the breed of chicken that produced it, while the quality and flavor of the egg are dictated by the diet of the hen that laid it. The myth that brown eggs are healthier came into being because the chicken breeds favored by commercial producers (particularly in the U.S.) invariably laid white eggs. In most cases, these commercially produced eggs came from cage or barn systems where the diet of the birds was strictly controlled. As such, any tinted or brown egg would more than likely have been laid by a small, probably free-ranging, flock on a farm. The diet of these hens consequently would have contained more varied and flavor-enhancing foodstuffs foraged from around the farm, the result being an egg that probably tasted better but just happened to be in a brown shell.
Myth 6: The stronger the color of the eggshell, the better the hen that that laid it.
Fact: Good coloring of eggs in, for example, Welsummers or Marans is most visible at the beginning of the laying season and is valuable when it comes to exhibiting the eggs. However, as the hen lays more and more eggs during the season, her ability to color them so intensely diminishes. The process is similar to an inkjet printer, with the start of the season being equivalent to a new cartridge that slowly runs down over the year. A hen laying solid brown eggs toward the end of the laying season therefore hasn’t laid many eggs through the season.
Myth 7: It’s possible for a hen to change sex and crow like a cockerel.
Fact: Occasionally, a hen that has been laying eggs will suddenly appear to become a cock bird. She will no longer lay eggs, her comb and wattles will develop, her feathering will become more male in appearance and structure, and she will even begin to crow. She is, however, still a she. She has only phenotypically transitioned into a male, while genetically she remains female.
The reason for this is usually an environmental stress or illness such as a tumor, problems with the adrenal gland or an ovarian cyst. Not all hens develop both ovaries during their embryonic stages, and instead have one developed ovary while the other remains as a regressed male gonad. In the event that the developed ovary becomes damaged and ceases to function, the gonad can take over, and the subsequent increase in male hormones causes the hen to develop male characteristics. She will, however, remain female but will not be fertile.
This article was excerpted from Chicken & Egg: Raising Chickens to Get the Eggs You Want (Ivy Press, 2015), a publication of i5 Press, used with permission.