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Tips on Buying Fertilised Chicken Eggs for Hatching Chicks

Updated on August 24, 2011
A rare Wheaten Marans chick hatched from an egg shipped from British Columbia to Ontario. She had 8 siblings from a dozen mailed fertilised eggs!
A rare Wheaten Marans chick hatched from an egg shipped from British Columbia to Ontario. She had 8 siblings from a dozen mailed fertilised eggs! | Source

If you want to start a backyard chicken flock (especially with Rare Heritage Breeds) with hatching eggs, you need to buy fertilized chicken eggs from established poultry keepers. Often people are disappointed at what should be an exciting beginning. Eggs aren't fertile, or chicks are crossbred.

If you want to know what questions to ask your egg suppliers to make sure you are getting the eggs and chicks you want, read on. I'll include some useful definitions and reason so you know what you are asking about, and why! Everyone should have a great fertilized egg buying and chick hatching experience!

For more help on mailed or shipped eggs in distress, read another of my hubs on Hatching eggs


Why do we care what the hatching eggs are like?

Fertilized eggs can be expensive, generally 4-50 times the cost for eating eggs. With mailing or gas costs to get them, then the time and electricity cost to incubating them, you want the most chicks for your time and money.

Incubating eggs is a far from certain venture anyway, but there are things you can do to maximize your chance of hatching success. If you are informed it can only help your chances! Common disappointments with hatching fertilised chickens eggs are

  • Eggs cracked or dirty
  • Not fertile
  • Fertile but too old or poorly handled
  • Start to grow but die along the way
  • Eggs hatch but chicks are not purebred
  • Eggs hatch but chicks are weak or unhealthy

Any one of these things means wasted money and time and disappointment for the family. With the chance of unpleasantness trying to figure out what went wrong and asking the egg-seller how they collect and treat their eggs after the fact.

A successful hatch of Lavender Orpingtons, Wheaten Marans, and Blue Laced Red Wyandottes mailed across Canada.
A successful hatch of Lavender Orpingtons, Wheaten Marans, and Blue Laced Red Wyandottes mailed across Canada. | Source

Things to Ask When Buying Fertilised Chicken Eggs

How long have the parent birds been together?

Ideally "at least 4 weeks".

If less than 1 week, not all the eggs may be fertile even with a busy rooster. Longer than a week is fine. Especially if the seller has cracked eggs open or hatched to see if they are fertile or has one rooster with just a few hens.

How long since the hens were with a rooster of another breed?

Answer should be "at least 4 weeks".

One mating can lead to the next months eggs being fertile from that rooster. If the rooster was another breed, you can get crossbred chicks for up to 4 weeks.

How many adult birds in the pen?

  • If there is 1 rooster to 20 hens there may be many infertile eggs as the rooster is too busy to mate all the hens.
  • If there is one rooster to 2 hens you won't get many eggs in the short time needed for ideal hatching.

What is ideal depends on how active the rooster is and often depends on breed. Anywhere between 2 and 10 is ideal. Smaller more active roosters can handle more hens.

What are the fertility rates?

Ideal answer "over 90%".

Fertility rate refers to how many of the eggs have been fertilized by the rooster. If an egg is not fertilized it cannot begin to grow a chick, so those are dud eggs right from the start. It is best if the seller has already done a "test hatch" so see what fertility rates are-how many eggs grew.

Do you wash the eggs? How clean are they?

Ideal answer is "no" to washing.

The best hatching eggs are clean when taken from the nest. Eggs should not be washed before shipping. Improper washing can lead to bacteria being drawn inside the porous shell. This can lead to bacterial infection of the egg and possibly blowing up in the incubator. This will infect the other eggs ruining the whole hatch.

Do you candle before shipping?

Ideal answer is "yes" to candling.

Candling is the shining a light on the surface of an egg in a darkened room to see the contents and shell details. This shows cracked eggs or blood spots/partially incubated eggs which should not be sent to you.

How old are the eggs you sell?

Ideally "less than a week old".

Eggs can hatch up to 3 weeks old, but the success rate gets lower as the eggs age. If being mailed, factor-in the mailing time to add to the eggs age before you get them. A good egg seller won't have your eggs arrive in the mail over 10 days old (or a week is better) unless you have arranged ahead of time 2 weeks is OK. This is done only when numbers are extremely limited. If meeting in person for the egg swap,10 day max is great but again if numbers are limited 2 weeks is OK.

How do you store your eggs before shipping?

Ideally They are tilted or turned 2-4 times a day and stored in a cool but not cold area with constant temp around 60-65 degrees F

How do you ship and package the eggs?

A description of the process with lots of bubble wrapping, and history of no broken eggs is ideal. Putting self heating heat pads or hand warmers in frigid conditions help keep the eggs warmer too.

Shipping early in the week by 1-3 day mail/courier is best to avoid packages sitting in freezing or scorching storage depots over weekends and holidays.

It`s important to remember

Most egg vendors cannot guarantee their eggs as there a million factors out of their control once the eggs leave them in the mail or shipping or and the way you handle and incubate the eggs. If fertility rates are low, replacement eggs is a reasonable request, though shipping costs are usually paid by the buyer.

If you are getting answers you don't like, you have the option to go elsewhere before risking your money and hopes! Good poultry breeders will not take offence to these questions and will be happy to help. It is always great to get feedback from others who have received and hatched from them.

Other questions that you might ask depending on what you want the birds for.

What line are they? What was your source? Important if you are looking for unrelated bloodlines to your birds or looking a show line.

What are the faults of the line? Things to look out for? For the more serious, you will want to know if crossed scissor beaks, wrong coloured feathers, side points (sprigs) on combs, feathers (stubs) on leg in smooth legged breeds. These can be recessive genes that can start to show up when a line is getting inbred.

Also just the vigour, strength of chicks and fertility rates. If a line is had been inbred improperly or for a long time with no fresh bloodlines introduced the offspring can be weaker.

Other Egg Care Questions about markings on the eggs are helpful. I put the initial of breeds on mine and the date collected. Also a C or W for temp so I can select the best cared for eggs to ship. Other breeders will have other systems. High frequency of egg collection in a day is a good sign the eggs aren't being exposed to extreme temperature for a long time before collection, and generally fare slightly better.

Our first Wheaten Penedesenca Chick
Our first Wheaten Penedesenca Chick | Source


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    • Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

      Emmanuel Kariuki 

      9 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Hi - Thanks for the tips you gave me on improving my incubator to hatch my own chicken. I have hatched 7 this time, and the good thing is I am eliminating errors each time. See the pictures in the hub - Home-made Egg Incubator.

    • Skeffling profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Wiarton, Ontario, Canada

      Interesting comment Roosters. I had no idea it was like that in the UK. I guess you have so many fluffy-bloomered chooks there! It interferes with the process I`d bet!

      10 days ago, I sent some Euskal Oiloa eggs to a lady in BC, 2000 miles in the mail, and 11 are growing out of 12! She`s pretty happy. We consider 40% hatching after being shipped a decent distance (say 500-1000 miles) good, depends on the breed too. But you need a high fertility rate to start with so when the Post Office are done with them you still get a few chicks. Shipping distance are vast here, hard to imagine. So what breed do you want? Grin.

    • Roosters profile image


      9 years ago

      It looks like things are very different in Canada compared to England. A fertility rate of 90% plus is un-heard of. If only I could ship eggs over from where you are :-)

    • Skeffling profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Wiarton, Ontario, Canada

      I am glad you enjoyed it! Thanks ;-)

    • marimccants profile image


      9 years ago

      I love it.


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