Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Little Lesson on Hens, Eggs and Procreation

Apparently, we aren't all up on our chicken biology. I've had a million questions about our recent Embryo Episode. For those of you who don't know, B.Rube cracked an egg for breakfast and found a partially developed embryo - or balut, as we are now newly informed. (which, disgustingly, is an aphrodiasic and popular source of protein amongst some Asian cultures).
I just puked a little in my mouth.

Here's the deal:

Hens lay eggs - every 1-3 days or so - regardless of whether there is a man around or not. The eggs that they lay are unfertilized. When you add a rooster to the henhouse, there is bound to be sex. The eggs that the hen then carries and lays are fertilized eggs. And they have the potential to turn into little chicks, if given the warmth and time that they need.
There is no difference between eating a fertilized or an unfertilized egg. (Provided the egg isn't two weeks old and being kept at 99 degrees.) If the eggs are collected and kept cool in a timely manner, nothing happens in there.

About 2 months ago, B.Rube brought a couple of roosters home from the auction (big surprise there!) and threw them in with the hens. They are pretty young themselves, but have started to show a bit of sexual activity in the last little while.

All of the hens lay their eggs together in one of the 5 laying boxes in their henhouse. Some of these eggs are fertilized and some are not, depending on who has seen some action from our roosters or not.
Most hens don't have a real interest in sitting on eggs, regardless of whether they are their eggs or some other hen's eggs. Laying hens, who have been bred to lay the most eggs possible, rarely ever become 'broody'. Brooding is the term given to hens who have a penchant for sitting on eggs. That hen is referred to as a 'broody hen' or a 'hen who has gone broody'. Different breeds of wild hens become broody quite easily, which is what has happened here on our farm.
We inherited 3 beautiful Ameraucana hens from our friend this summer and 2 of them just want to sit. This is why B.Rube bought the rooster. If we have broody hens, we might as well have chicks.

So, now we have 3 broody hens and boxes of fertilized eggs. (and an incubator of eggs, too, that hatched 2 days ago!)
The two hens have taken over box 1 and box 4. They sit there. They stay there. Occasionally another hen will even come into their box and lay an egg, although the broody hens are highly highly protective of their nest of eggs. They growl and cackle and bite.

So, we've only been collecting eggs from boxes 2,3 and 5. Boxes 1 and 4 are occupied and have old eggs and potential baby chicks.

Except for the other day. S.Rube was collecting eggs on her own and I was filling up water. And Broody Hen #1 got off her nest for a few minutes to eat and drink. She is far more relaxed than Broody Hen #4, who won't leave her nest for anything and who will not permit anyone coming near her.
S.Rube got distracted by a tiny cute white egg and came to show me. I went back in a while later to finish the egg collecting. There were a nestful of eggs in #1 and I made the assumption that S.Rube had not got that far in her collection. But apparently she had. For B.Rube found an embryo.

I immediately called my recent egg customers and warned them. All but one chose to discard the eggs and not risk the horrifying experience of finding a balut. Cari, on the other hand, found some humour and excitement in taking the risk and continued to use the eggs. And, she found 4 more. And is still a valuable egg customer of mine.

This is the long and necessary lesson on poultry procreation.

And then the chicks started hatching!!!! At first, we found two in the incubator and were shocked and excited. Over the next 2 days, 10 more hatched. And then the eggs from Box 4 started hatching, last night and this morning, and there's 3 more. We are going to be up to our eyeballs in chicks.

We have decided to remove the chicks from the hens and raise them all separate from the adult birds. We may leave one or two with 'mom' in the end to see what happens. But, removing them is easy and much safer and produces strong and healthy chicks. They are so cute and fun to watch!

(I have to share that one-day-old chicks are also a very popular delicacy in the Phillipines. The rooster newborns are separated from the hens and sold off, where they are impaled on a stick and barbecued with a hot red sauce. I can't imagine eating these little fluff balls. Can you?)


Magnolia said...

I only enjoy the cute little fluffies for about 8 days...then...not so cute anymore.

Anonymous said...

Eewww..... Not appetizing, roasted beets with goat cheese would be much better!

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