What Do You Call a Mischievous Egg?

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About a month ago we delivered fourteen dozen fertilized eggs and incubators to fourteen elementary classes in Lee County. Beginning the first of May, broiler chicks began to hatch in these classrooms around the county. NC State University’s Poultry Education Unit provided these eggs to our county this year and students were able to learn about life cycles through the experiential learning model that is integral to the 4-H program. Over the past few years of learning through the 4-H Embryology Program and the hands-on experience with own my backyard chickens, I have picked up a few “nuggets” of wisdom that may be of interest.

What is the difference between a broiler chicken and a layer chicken? I told you the eggs we delivered to the schools this year were broiler chickens. This means they are bred for meat production. A chicken that has been bred for egg production is called a layer. A layer chicken is hatched with several thousand ova that will form into yolks and become eggs as they pass through the oviduct. 

Did you know that a chicken will lay eggs even if there isn’t a rooster present? Egg production in a chicken is stimulated by light. Typically with the optimal conditions, a chicken will produce, on average, one egg a day for around five years.

Did you know that you can eat fertilized eggs? The embryo will not begin to develop until the environment is proper for incubation. This year I had a dozen eggs in the refrigerator that would not be needed for our embryology program. One educator in the county rescued these undeveloped chickens from the scramble when her incubator malfunctioned on day three after the set. She continued to incubate her original dozen but we also gave her the extras to ensure her classroom would get a good hatch. The difference between a fertilized and an unfertilized egg is the appearance of the germinal disc, which will contain a tiny white spot on the yolk. There is no difference in the taste or texture. If you need reassurance, your store-bought eggs are most likely unfertilized because there is no rooster present at the poultry farm.

Have you ever heard the term candling? Candling, or shining a light source through the egg, is used to monitor chick development during the incubation process. We might even want to candle to be sure the eggs have no tiny cracks that would comprise the development of the chick. Once the eggs have been incubating for a few days, we candle to see if the chick is viable and affirm fertilization has occurred. A candled egg shows the air cell, which is the part of the egg that the chick will peck through with its egg tooth around day 20 of incubation to practice breathing prior to hatch. Amazingly, there is just enough air in the cell for the chick to survive while it breaks out of its shell and the absorbed yolk will sustain the chick for up to three days. Oh, by the way, what DO you call a mischievous egg? A practical yolker!

Pam Kerley is the 4-H Program Assistant for N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a positive youth development program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4H’s programs are available in Lee County and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn, and grow. In NC, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use every day to improve your life.