Perhaps the greatest joy of keeping a small chicken flock happens when an egg hits the frying pan. The bold orange yolk is as pleasant to the eye as it will soon be to the taste buds. No grocery store egg can compare with it. That egg followed an amazing journey before becoming human breakfast.
Months earlier, folks at Hoover’s Hatchery collected hatching eggs from their numerous brooder flocks and trucked them to Rudd, Iowa, then gently tucked them into incubators. On each egg’s yolk is a tiny cell with combined genes from the rooster that mated with the hen who laid it. Enveloping warmth stimulates the cell to divide and divide again. Soon the embryo begins looking like a tiny chick, complete with heart, lungs, liver, legs, beak and other body parts.
If the embryo is female, all the eggs she’ll ever lay are inside her tiny body before she hatches. Then, on that miraculous 21st day of incubation, she’ll peck and push her way out of the shell. Once she dries off, Hoover’s staff quickly box her with companions and ships her to families or farm stores across the country.
Bring home peeping baby female chicks, or pullets, give them great care and nutritious food, and within four to six months they’ll reach puberty and begin laying. If a rooster is present, most eggs will be fertile and could hatch. Lacking a rooster eggs will be just as numerous but infertile and can’t hatch. Either way, they’re delicious to eat.
The egg that a hen lays today started developing yesterday when a yolk was released into her oviduct. After about three hours the albumen, or white, forms around the yolk and a shell membrane begins to enclose it. After about 20 hours the shell forms over the membrane and a protective bloom covers it. Soon the egg will be ready for her to lay. She’ll sit in the nest a while and eventually the egg will emerge with the large end first.
Eggs are beautiful and amazingly diverse. Many breeds lay white eggs that lack shell pigment. Crack a brown egg and carefully examine the shell. You will notice that it’s actually white on the inside of the shell with a brown veneer on top. In contrast, blue eggs have color permeating the shell.
There isn’t a direct correlation between a hen’s weight and the size of her eggs. Giant Brahma’s usually lay small or medium sized eggs that often are nearly round. In contrast, a White Leghorn hen is about half the size of a Brahma and usually lays bigger eggs.
With good care and nutrition Leghorns, Rhode Islands, and many hybrids lay upwards of 300 eggs a year. That’s about six a week. Fancy show breeds may often only lay a hundred, or so, a year.
Whether a newly laid fresh egg is fertile, brown, white, or blue it is a beautiful and nutritious gem freely given by a family’s hens.