What Do You Call a Mischievous Egg?

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We will deliver twenty dozen fertilized eggs and incubators to thirty elementary classrooms in Lee County very soon. Beginning the first of May, layer breed chicks will begin to hatch. NC State’s Department of Poultry Science provides these eggs to our county, and Mountaire Farms sponsors this important school enrichment program. Students will learn about life cycles through the experiential learning model 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 owning 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? We have hatched both as a part of this program. Broiler chickens 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. The eggs we get will be laid during the previous week and refrigerated until the big day. 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 taste or texture. If you need reassurance, your store-bought eggs are most likely unfertilized because no rooster is present at the poultry farm.

Have you ever heard the term candling? Candling, or shining a light source through the egg, monitors 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 or the part of the egg the chick will peck through with its egg tooth around day 20 of incubation to practice breathing before hatching. 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.

This year the county will re-home the newly hatched chicks to families interested in starting a backyard flock or with an established flock. Education opportunities will follow beginning on April 29th when our NC State Poultry Specialist will hold a question and answer session at the Sanford Farmers’ Market. At this time, interested families can sign up to receive chicks. Future education opportunities for youth will include backyard chicken care and egg quality judging.

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 Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use every day to improve your life.